Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman / U.S., 1930):

DalŪís "summit of the evolution of comic cinema" is a thoroughgoing derangement of Loveís Labourís Lost, played saltando by the still-rough Marx Brothers. Margaret Dumontís swank society party provides the proscenium, Grouchoís Captain Spaulding, "a very moral man," enters it in a native-propelled African cab, armed with pith helmet, stogie, and bottomless duffel bag of insults. ("Youíre one of the most beautiful women Iíve ever seen, and thatís not saying much for you.") Signor Ravelli (Chico) is the dubious ivory-tickler ("Say, if you get near a tune, play it"), the Professor (Harpo) arrives semi-nude under his cape ("Take the Professorís hat and coat." "And send for the fumigators") and takes shotgun to the atrium until marble statues return fire. Grouchoís antipodal ditty "Hello, I Must Be Going" kicks off the flow of deathless routines, which includes Harpoís wrestling match with Dumont, Chicoís stream-of-consciousness deduction of the guilt of left-handed moths, and a debate on matrimony: "But thatís bigamy." "Yeah, and itís big oí me, too." Stage creakiness—performers posed at 45į angles facing the audience, thunderclap in the lights-out switcheroo—is charmingly preserved, though, even before Eugene OíNeill gets a stentorian scalping ("Pardon me while I have a strange interlude"), itís clear that Marxian comedy already dwells in the spirals of postmodernism. Groucho dictating a letter to Zeppo is the kind of language-breakdown skit savored in Le Gai Savoir, the slumbering bourgeoisie litters the concluding image (cf. The Exterminating Angel). Directed by Victor Heerman. With Lillian Roth, Louis Sorin, Hal Thomspon, Margaret Irving, and Robert Greig. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home