Classic Cracker: Animal Crackers (1930)
Based on a musical play, Animal Crackers is a fun Marx Brothers movie that some people love a lot more than I do. It’s all about a fabulous party being hosted by Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont). She is showing off a valuable painting, and also showing off a guest of honour, a certain Captain Spaulding (Groucho Marx). Captain Spaulding starts to wisecrack as soon as he appears, of course, probably offending one or two of the guests, but the hostess barely has time to notice while she deals with a much bigger problem; the theft of the painting.
When watching older movies you have to take into account the limitations of the time, and the style of acting that was the norm back then. And with comedies you have to remember that sometimes popular jokes made decades ago aren’t as funny now, either due to them having been repeated and regurgitated many times since, or due to the fact that the subject of the jokes aren’t really as well-known today as they were back then.
Animal Crackers is one of those movies that requires you to note the above viewing requirements. There are times when it’s very funny, very funny indeed, and those make the whole thing worthwhile. But there are also scenes when things come perilously close to falling flat. Having said that, if you like The Marx Brothers then you’re guaranteed to at least have a good time with this.
Although Victor Heerman is the director, and although Morrie Ryskind is credited with adapting the musical play to the screen, this is a film in which the technical aspects take a back seat to the one-liners and verbal interplay. Groucho has some choice insults to throw at Dumont, as usual, and Harpo and Chico also get their times to shine, while the other players try to do well enough with their limited screentime (even if they fail, despite the loveliness of Lillian Roth and the superbly stoic turn from Robert Greig).
It may seem sacrilegious to some, and I am not saying that this isn’t a film I will revisit ahead of many other films that I rate higher, but this has never felt like top-tier Marx Brothers mayhem to me. It’s clever, constantly witty, and very entertaining, at least up until a finale that just seems to run out of steam minutes before “The End” finally appears. It’s just not up there with their very best.
DIRECTOR: VICTOR HEERMAN
WRITER: MORRIE RYSKIND, BASED ON THE MUSICAL PLAY BY GEORGE S. KAUFMAN, MORRIE RYSKIND, BERT KALMAR, AND HARRY RUBY
STARS: GROUCHO MARX, HARPO MARX, CHICO MARX, ZEPPO MARX, LILLIAN ROTH, MARGARET DUMONT, ROBERT GREIG
RUNTIME: 97 MINS APPROX