Animal Crackers - 1930

Animal Crackers - Released Aug 28, 1930 - Directed b Victor Heerman

Animal Crackers was filmed in Queens, New York City, as the Marx Brothers were primarily stage performers at this point in their career, though Hollywood (and better production values) bid them move to Hollywood soon.

Rather stagey-looking now (since in fact Animal Crackers was originally created as a stage comedy as were most of the early Marx Brothers movies) the direction by Victor Heerrman is one of the last films that veteran silent movie director ever made.

The story is bare-bones with a simple romantic sub-story and a ridiculous stolen-painting mystery which multiplies as the Marxes get involved and many copies of the painting are also soon missing. The real writing energy goes into the anarchy of the comedy sketches which pits Captain Jeffrey Spaulding (Groucho) against upper-caste society which is trying (mostly in vain) to fete his bogus African Explorer persona.

Chico and Harpo show up, and along with youngest brother Zeppo, the berserk dialogue and physical comedy crashes against the generally unfazed Margaret Dumont, the society matron hosting the event at her enormous country home.

Though most of the movie moves forward like any other cinematic tale trying to run through its plot, like many early Marx brothers movies all of that goes out the window when the Marxes launch into short bits which then causes the other (normal) actors to suddenly become an onscreen audience watching and trying to follow the mayhem just like any ticket-holder sitting in a seat at a movie house watching the film. This is disorientating as a linear story, but as a shifting showcase for the Marx Brothers' comedy it all makes sense, and they hurl themselves through various routines that only marginally advance the simple tale toward its conclusion.

Groucho Marx later described his hairstyle for these early films as "a hirsute mattress.'

Original Page September 25, 2015 | Updated January 2017

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Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Movemaking

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