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A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races(1937)

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According to Hollywood Reporter pre-release news items, production on this film was temporarily halted on September 14, 1936 following the death of producer Irving Thalberg. Filming did not fully resume until 21 Dec, after which the production incurred many delays due to illness, bad weather and accidents. January 1937 Hollywood Reporter news items note that Harpo suffered an injured shoulder after he was thrown from a Shetland pony, and that a late January flu epidemic broke out on the set, reportedly forcing the makeup man to wear a mask to prevent the spreading of germs. Following Thalberg's death, his brother-in-law, Lawrence Weingarten, took over as producer, and Max Siegel was made associate producer. A Day at the Races was Weingarten's first assignment for M-G-M.
       A biography of the Marx Bros. indicates that an early treatment of the story by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer bore the title Peace and Quiet. An early Hollywood Reporter production chart credited George S. Kaufman, George Seaton, Robert Pirosh and Al Boasberg with the screenplay. According to a telegram sent from AMPAS secretary Donald Gledhill to M-G-M, dated February 17, 1937, Boasberg protested the studio's decision to place his credit with those of Pirosh and Seaton's for original story and screenplay. Boasberg insisted that "since the picture is a musical picture of an unusual category," the credits should be separated to read: "original story and screen play by Pirosh and Seaton" and "comedy scenes constructed by Al Boasberg." Boasberg threatened to go on national radio and expose the credit disagreement if M-G-M did not comply with his demand. According to modern sources, in response to the threat, the studio decided to omit Boasberg's name from the film credits altogether, and list him only in the Academy Bulletin. Final word, however, came from Boasberg's attorney, who requested that his client's name not appear anywhere in connection with the film. On May 14, 1937, Daily Variety published an open letter from Boasberg to Sam Wood, which read: "Thank you, Sam Wood, for your clever direction of my comedy scenes and dialogue in the forthcoming M-G-M picture A Day at the Races." The letter was signed "Al Boasberg (under contract to Jack Benny)." Boasberg died of a sudden heart attack on June 18, 1937, one week after the film was released. Modern sources also relate that Kaufman requested that his name not be included in the screenplay credits because he was only involved in doctoring the script and took no writing assignments.
       Prior to the start of production, and following two years of development and eighteen drafts of the script, the film's gags were tested on audiences during a six-week period when it was taken on the road for 140 stage performances. The stage production toured as Scenes from a Day at the Races, and of the six hundred comedy situations prepared for the Marx Bros., only seventy-five of the highest rated jokes (as tallied from audience reaction cards) were approved for the film. Modern sources also note that the Marx Bros. studied their dialogue and delivery techniques by having vaudeville actors Harry Lash, Bobbie Dooley and John "Skins" Miller demonstrate how they would act out their scenes. The Marx Bros. biography also notes that Harry Stockwell and Lorraine Bridges were originally set for the parts played by Allan Jones and Maureen O'Sullivan. A Day at the Races marked the film debut of actress Dorothy Dandridge. A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item notes that Danny Montrose, a former jockey, was hired as a technical advisor and was set for a part in the film, but his contribution to the final film has not been determined. Actor John Miljan was reportedly tested for a role, but he did not appear in the released film.
       The song "All God's Children Got Rhythm" is also known as "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm." According to the Variety review, the water carnival sequence was filmed in light brown sepia, and the ballet scene was shot with a blue tint. Filming of the horse race scenes took place at the Santa Anita racetrack in California. A biography of Groucho Marx lists Al Shenberg as assistant director. Approximately five thousand black performers auditioned for parts in the black musical sequences, according to modern sources.
       The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that in November 1936 the PCA urged M-G-M to remove a number of details from the script, including a scene in which Groucho imitates a "pansy"; a scene with an "offensive shot" of underwear on a clothesline; a choking scene; a shot of a nurse disrobed; and the showing of hypodermic needles. The MPAA/PCA file also notes that the film was banned by censors in the Republic of Latvia, which called the film "worthless," and that Austria deleted scenes of a "fat man dancing with Ivie as well as other negro couples dancing in fast jazz rhythm." According to a Marx Bros. biography, the black musical sequences were deleted from some American television broadcasts of the film because they were deemed racist.
       Two plagiarism lawsuits followed the release of the film. The first suit, as reported in Hollywood Reporter on August 25, 1937, was filed by Henry Barsha and David Weissman, who claimed that the film was taken from their story "High Fever," which had been submitted to and rejected by M-G-M. The second suit was filed by playwright Philip Clancy, who alleged that the picture plagiarized his play Nuts to You. Although Hollywood Reporter reported that Clancy's suit was dismissed by a New York court on March 28, 1938, a July Motion Picture Daily news item noted that a judge later agreed to hear Clancy's appeal. Information on the outcome of both suits has not been found. Another legal entanglement arose before the film began production over the use of the name "Quackenbush" for the character played by Groucho. Modern sources claim that thirty-seven real-life doctors named Quackenbush threatened to sue the studio if it used that name for a character portraying a horse doctor. Despite Groucho's protests, the studio changed his name to "Hackenbush."
       Dave Gould was nominated for an Academy Award for his dance direction of the musical number "All God's Children Got Rhythm."