The Set of 400: #55 – My Favorite Horse-Drawn Garbage Chariot

Today! Because I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech. And that reminds me of a story that’s so dirty I’m ashamed to think of it myself –

Horse Feathers (1932)

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (x2)

Starring Groucho Marx (x5), Chico Marx (x5), Harpo Marx (x5), Zeppo Marx (x3), Thelma Todd (x2), David Landau, Robert Greig, Nat Pendleton (x2), James Pierce, Florine McKinney

Admit it – you’ve missed the brothers Marx on this list! Nearly a hundred films have sailed by with nary a reference to the quiet one’s virtuoso harp skills or a discussion about how increasingly bitter the youngest must’ve gotten at his lack of jokes. Well don’t worry – even though we’re rapidly approaching the end, there are still a bunch of madcap Marx vehicles to come.

If differentiating between their early films is tough for you (which it shouldn’t be, come on), Horse Feathers is the one at the college. Groucho’s Professor Quincy Wagstaff is the newly appointed president of Huxley College, currently attended by his son, portrayed by his eleven years younger brother Zeppo. Chico and Harpo play their typical seedy types, brought in to steal football signals for a rival school, but obviously are out for themselves first and foremost, and so ending up switching sides, amidst much frivolity and spit balling.

No, literal spit balling

This was the brothers second movie not directly based on one of their stage plays, but it allegedly borrowed liberally from their early vaudeville shows, Fun in Hi Skule and Mr. Green’s Reception. Classroom sketches were staples of touring vaudeville troops, and the Marx version is what initially put them on the map as a comedy team, after a few years of separate singing and piano playing gigs, so it was natural to try and get some school room comedy jammed into a film, even with Groucho, Chico, and Harpo in their early forties at the time.

Fun in Hi Skule, circa 1910 – Groucho standing, Harpo & Chico seated at center

Horse Feathers was also the movie that famously landed the team on the cover of Time in 1932. Their stage shows and early films made them stars, but their biggest days were still to come, and many point to this massive exposure and the huge success of this film as a big catalyst to their giant later career at MGM. What Animal Crackers did for them on Broadway, Horse Feathers did for them on screen.

I think a solid case can also be made for Horse Feathers as one of the best football movies ever made, considering how weak the genre is overall. It is certainly in the conversation among comedies, competing with the likes of…Necessary Roughness? The Longest Yard? The Waterboy? And the dramas are nothing special either, really. Football is a tough sport for movies, so what the hell – 1932 football bears as much resemblance to the modern sport as it does to lawn darts, and the way the Marx game plays out even less so, but I’m still giving it the nod. Suck it, Any Given Sunday!

This is the fifth list film for the Three Marx Brothers following #309 Go West, #261 The Cocoanuts, #173 A Day at the Races, and #149 Monkey Business, and the third for the Fourth brother, who did not appear in West or Races. This was also their second and final film with the great Thelma Todd, who died three years after this movie under famously suspicious circumstances. Suicide? Murder? Accident? It’s an interesting read, if you’re into those old Hollywood mysteries.

If nothing else, the Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe building still exists to this day on the PCH. We scrape together some dough and we can reopen! Visit my Kickstarter!

Coming tomorrow! He’s a sinner, candy coated/For all his friends he always seems to be alone –

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