Room Service (1938)

Room Service (1938)

“I’ll give you the best performance you ever saw in a hotel bedroom!”

When the agent (Philip Wood) for a high-end investor reneges on backing a play written by a penniless playwright (Frank Albertson), the play’s producer (Groucho Marx) and his two associates (Chico and Harpo Marx) arrange for an irate hotel manager (Donald MacBride) to secretly foot the bill until opening night.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ann Miller Films
  • Comedy
  • Let’s-Put-on-a-Show
  • Lucille Ball Films
  • Marx Brothers Films
  • Play Adaptations

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is utterly dismissive of this unusual Marx Brother outing (their only film for RKO Studios), “based on a Broadway play by John Murray and Allen Boretz that was adapted by Morrie Ryskind for the comedy team”. (Of course, one wonders why it’s included in his book at all, given how much he dislikes it — but I digress.) At any rate, he argues that “it’s shattering hearing Groucho say one unfunny line after another, and seeing the three [brothers] act almost civilly”. He further complains that “there’s no sharpness to Groucho’s delivery, [and] no chaos initiated by Harpo”; however, Harpo DOES get to maintain his standard persona throughout, and is given at least a few brief moments in the limelight — most notably during what Peary calls out as the best scene in the film, in which the brothers “simply gorge themselves on the first meal they’ve had in days”.

Ultimately, it seems as though Peary disapproves of the Marx Brothers’ attempt to move outside of their usual schtick — and my rebuttal is that I think they were brave to do so. Unfortunately, the play itself — while not terrible — isn’t all that scintillating, and director William Seiter’s pacing is far too slow for a screwball comedy. Thus, what could have worked as a perfectly legitimate alternate venue for Groucho et al. is instead a rather tepid (though watchable) affair. What I found myself missing most was Groucho’s zany wordplay with Chico and others. For example, Chico says to Groucho at one point, “You haven’t got a leg to stand on” — a statement absolutely ripe for word play, but which Groucho simply accepts at face value. Too bad Ryskind’s rewrite couldn’t have allowed for the team to fling back more creative responses at each other…

Note: Watch for both Lucille Ball and Ann Miller (only 15 years old!) in early supporting roles.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Donald MacBride as Mr. Wagoner

Must See?
No; this one remains a Marx Brothers curiosity but not must-see viewing.


One thought on “Room Service (1938)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    I’m in agreement that it was brave of the Marx Brothers to attempt something different. It’s just unfortunate that this script is what they tried. It’s certainly not funny – well, the first whole hour isn’t, outside of the occasionally amusing line (“I still think it’s a terrible play – but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.”) …And, yes, the ‘gorging’ scene is a little bit of a highlight.

    Things do pick up a little in the last 30 minutes (why did we have to wait so long?!) but, even so, it’s not enough to save the movie.

    Overall, the Brothers weren’t called on here to completely forfeit their characteristic tones. And, since he’s exempt from the dialogue, Harpo comes off best thanks to a fair amount of his physical wit.

    Ball and Miller – though adorable – are little more than ornaments.

    This could have been better – and with a funnier script… well, it would have been funnier.

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