“I’ve got the most peculiar talents of any doctor you ever met.”
The assistant (Chico Marx) to the owner (Maureen O’Sullivan) of a struggling sanitarium tries to help solicit much-needed funds by hiring a horse doctor (Groucho Marx) who a wealthy hypochondriac patient (Margaret Dumont) has a crush on. Meanwhile, O’Sullivan’s boyfriend (Allan Jones) buys a racehorse, hoping that a jockey (Harpo Marx) will ride him as a money-making winner at an upcoming race.
While this successful follow-up to A Night at the Opera is beloved by many (it was chosen by the American Film Institute as the 59th funniest American film), it nonetheless seems to subtly mark the beginning of the Marx Brothers’ decline as a comedic force to be reckoned with. Irving Thalberg (an enormous supporter of the brothers at their new home of MGM Studios) died suddenly during its production, and Groucho claimed to lose all interest in making films from this point forward — which can somehow be sensed here. All the right ingredients are certainly available, with plenty of humorously conceived interactions between the three brothers and their diverse supporting cast (including the “fifth Marx Brother”, stalwart Margaret Dumont) — but I simply didn’t find myself laughing out loud very often. Plus, at 111 minutes, the film definitely feels far too long, with numerous lengthy (and often tedious) musical dance sequences trying one’s patience. Interestingly, one such scene — in which Harpo plays a flute amidst a cast of African American stable hands (led by Ivie Anderson), singing “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” — was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction, and the dancing is impressive (as long as you can get past the painfully commonplace stereotypes presented).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Plenty of humorous situations, dialogue, and one-liners:
Whitmore: Do you actually give those to your patients? isn’t that awfully large for a pill?
Dr. Hackenbush: Well, it was too small for a basketball, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Say, you’re awfully large for a pill yourself!
No, though of course it’s worth a look. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.