Today! Because I was going to thrash them within an inch of their lives, but I didn’t have a tape measure –
Go West (1940)
Directed by Edward Buzzell
Starring Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, John Carroll, Robert Barrat, Diana Lewis, Walter Woolf King, June MacCloy
And then there are movies that, on the surface, are little more than trifles, and yet they have the ability to change your life forever. Movies so monumental in opening you up to new possibilities and avenues that the course of your interests is irrevocably altered from that point on. These come along very rarely – you can’t have your world shook to its foundation every week – but in early high school, on accident, I set the VCR to record something, and woke up the next day to find the first hour of Go West, and nothing has ever really been the same for me.
Sure, I was already way into comedies at this point. Mostly television, but also a lot of recent popular film that everyone would see in middle school. And then I discovered the Marx Brothers, and all of a sudden the scope of film comedy opened way, way up. There actually were funny movies before Airplane! and Mel Brooks! Go West was made in 1940, and it’s like the eighth best Marx Brothers movie! My mind was blown, and I became a die hard Marx fan basically that day.
And so, Go West gets a spot on the list, even though it barely holds up against the earlier Marx vehicles. It was their tenth full length movie as a comedy team, and their last good one, coming on the heels of the decidedly mediocre Room Service in ’38 and the slightly better At the Circus in ’39. It would be all downhill from here – The Big Store has a few moments, A Night in Casablanca was intended as a solo Harpo flick and the other brothers piled in awkwardly, and Love Happy is a mess. But Go West – even though I wouldn’t see the second half of the movie for years – is still relatively solid. Groucho’s S. Quentin Quale heading west to find riches gets caught up with Chico and Harpo, and all become embroiled in some nonsense mining deed drama. The final sequence dismantling and burning the train is particularly impressive, as this isn’t exactly the type of elaborate set piece they typically employed.
The songs are passable, but far from the comedic highs they rolled out with such success in the previous years. This is basically true of the whole film, but I’ve still got a soft spot for Go West. Maybe At the Circus is better all around – it did provide Groucho with a stand-out song for his act for decades to come, “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” – but their lone western is the one that introduced me to the gang for the first time, and has my undying gratitude because of it.
Very few Marx films won any sort of awards – they were popular, but not particularly regarded as high art in their day – so let’s at least toss Chico a Best Piano Orange award, for incorporating hand fruit so successfully into his rendition of “The Woodpecker Song.” Don’t worry, Marx-o-philes, there is a lot of Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and sometimes Zeppo to come!
I would like to hand out film MVP to the random drunk so memorably appearing at multiple tables in the saloon, played by career saloon drunk actor, often uncredited, Arthur Housman. No exaggeration, his IMDB characters are named some variation of drunk 58 times!