A Day at the Races (1937)

Gil: Are you a man or a mouse?
Dr. Hackenbush: You put a piece of cheese down there and you’ll find out.

‘A Day at the Races’, directed by Sam Wood in 1937, is the seventh Marx Brothers comedy. Groucho Marx plays a horse veterinarian, Hugo Z. Hackenbush, who pretends to be a doctor in order to get a job at a health sanatorium. The santorium is failing and to help with funding an attempt to raise cash by buying a racehorse is made. This brings the other two brothers into the story, and Hackenbush finds his real profession dovetailing neatly with this pretend profession. As with ‘A Night at the Opera’, this movie is a masterpiece of comic set-pieces, farcical slap-stick and razor sharp wit. Highlights are a scene in which Chico cons Groucho buy offering ever more elaborate racing tips, similar to the ‘sanity clause’ scene in the earlier film. Also the three brothers’ attempt to conceal Hackenbush’s true identity leads to a wonderful scene featuring an endlessly deferred medical examination. It’s riotous and free-wheeling, but deceptively so. The staging of the comic moments is clearly intricately choreographed whilst the script is meticulous. Also of note are the musical interludes, particularly one (‘All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm’) thatends, regretably, with the brothers in blackface, but before this happens it manages to be a great introduction to an enduring jazz standard. Aside from this ill-advised moment, the movie is absorbing, fun and refreshing after Tarkovsky and Ray.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s an ideal movie to reset you mood, especially during a constitutional crisis when the country is falling apart.

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