Cast & Crew
Brothers Joe and "Rusty" Panello are westward bound, where the "streets are paved with gold," when they flim flam S. Quentin Quale out of enough money to pay for their train fare. Meanwhile, westerner Terry Turner convinces the New York and Western Railroad to buy Dead Man's Curve, the parcel of land owned by Dan Wilson, so that the feud between the Wilson and Turner families will end and Terry will be able to marry Dan's granddaughter Eve. Out West, Joe and Rusty meet Wilson, who gives them the deed to Dead Man's Curve as security for a ten dollar loan. Later, Joe uses the deed to write an I. O. U. for a ten cent beer in the saloon owned by "Red" Baxter, a crooked promoter who is trying to sell the railroad his own land. Afterward, Joe and Rusty learn the value of the deed when Baxter's partner, John Beecher, arrives in town posing as a railroad representative interested in buying the land. S. Quentin Quale, after a long hitchhike, finally arrives West himself, and forces up the bid by counter-bidding on Beecher's offer. The trio of tenderfeet then steal the deed from the saloon, but Beecher and Baxter steal it back. Determined to win the land back for Terry and Eve, the trio hold up Baxter and jump the train headed for New York. Realizing that their only chance to sell the railroad their own land is to beat the trio to New York, Baxter and Beecher engage in a furious fight with the boys aboard the Eastbound train, and then hijack a carriage and race the train East. Things look bad when the train runs out of fuel, but the boys dismantle the railroad cars to feed the engine and drive Baxter and Beecher off the tracks and out of the bidding.
Walter Woolf King
Charles Wakefield Cadman
Edwin B. Willis
Go West (1940)
The script went through many reincarnations in its development: it was originally designed as a rodeo piece by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the writers of Duck Soup. This version, however, was scrapped and an entirely new story line was created by Irving Brecher and Dore Schary that more closely resembled the final script. The working title Go West was the only aspect of the project retained, and this was done to avoid negative publicity. Ultimately, Brecher revamped the script again for the last time; only his name appears on the writing credit. During production headaches such as these, Groucho became increasingly restless and dismissive of the whole affair, writing, "Looks like the boys at the studio are lining up another turkey for us."
Working with the Marx Brothers was often a formidable task, and the man in charge of organizing all the chaos for Go West was Jack Cummings, the nephew of Louis B. Mayer. This producer proved himself up to the task by agreeing to allow the brothers to take the show on tour. Performing live road shows of their material allowed the troupe to test what bits worked and what needed to be retooled. This process, used to great success in preparation for A Night at the Opera, was pioneered by their mentor Thalberg, and ensured that they were getting the best audience response possible - the tour from A Night at the Opera concluded that there were 175 "surefire laughs" in the show. Cummings agreed to the Go West tour, but due to the exorbitant expenses involved (and the loss of support with Thalberg's death in 1936), the brothers had to help subsidize the cost. The project had a total of 103 performances, from Chicago to Detroit, and a notable ending that was cut from the filmed version. At the conclusion of the stage show Harpo had a lengthy speech, but in order to preserve the popularity of the mute character the studio axed it for the movie.
The director, Ed Buzzell, bore a track record of some distinction: he had managed to work with the Marx Brothers before and emerged relatively unscathed. In fact, he was crazy enough to do it twice; his first venture was At the Circus (1939), and Buzzell had a method to his madness. He made it a point to never laugh or otherwise react to the brother's antics; his theory being that doing so would forever derail the production's progress. And it worked; given the poor track history between the Marxes and directors, industry insiders remarked that just getting the three of them together in the camera's range was an impressive feat.
A derailment of another kind is one of the highlights of Go West; the train chase scene, in which the locomotive is stripped in order to provide more fuel for the engine. Classic film comedy buffs will recognize this comic bit as inspired by a similar scene in Buster Keaton's The General (1927). In fact, Keaton served as an advisor on Go West, so the likeness is not merely coincidental. On a final trivial note: viewers may be puzzled by the moniker of Groucho in the film: S. Quentin Quale. This was a lascivious sexual reference to underage girls. A name pairing the notorious prison (San Quentin) with the common quail, traditionally depicted as an amorous animal, might have gone over the head of the average viewer, but the meaning of the name was not lost on the film community: jail bait!
Producer: Jack Cummings
Director: Edward Buzzell
Screenplay: Irving Brecher
Cinematography: Leonard Smith
Film Editing: Blanche Sewell
Original Music: George Bassman, Roger Edens
Cast: Groucho Marx (S. Quentin Quale), Harpo Marx (Rusty Panello), Chico Marx (Joseph Panello), John Carroll (Terry Turner), Diana Lewis (Eve Wilson), Walter Woolf King (John Beecher).
BW-81m. Closed Captioning.
by Eleanor Quin
Go West (1940)
The Marx Brothers Collection (Review) - The Marx Brothers Collection on DVD
What does unite these seven pictures is that they were produced by MGM. Duck Soup (1933), while regarded by many as the best Marx Brothers movie of them all (or at least tied for that distinction with A Night at the Opera), was a notable flop upon release with the public and critics alike, and Paramount decided to throw in the towel.
Chico (pronounced "Chicko," not "Cheeko") Marx, who was very social in Hollywood, played a weekly bridge game with Irving Thalberg, and he told the legendary head of MGM production that the Brothers had been dropped by Paramount. Thalberg agreed to take them on with the provision that they allow him to reshape the structures of their films, for he felt that their Paramount pictures had been too zany and silly, and not focused enough narratively. Having the Brothers create comic mischief around another story altogether involving other major actors, Thalberg decided, would allow the audience to become more emotionally invested. The three Brothers agreed, and the first two films that resulted, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, were smash hits and instant comedy classics. (Zeppo, the "4th" Marx Brother, left the screen after Duck Soup to become the manager for the other three.)
Another big reason for this success was that Thalberg allowed the Marx Brothers to test the material on the road in traveling stage shows. Their first two Paramount films had been based on stage hits, and the team therefore knew from all those live performances what the perfect timing was for each joke and bit of business. Testing the new film's major sequences in the same way seemed like a wise idea, and the Marx Brothers ended up tweaking gags for every performance until they had honed them to perfection. They even timed pauses and audience laughter with a stopwatch.
Ironically, the most famous scene in the movie (and one of the most famous comedy scenes of all time, for that matter) didn't work on stage and was almost cut out entirely. This was the stateroom scene in which Groucho's room fills with an impossible number of people and things, leading to a brilliant payoff. (One exchange: a manicurist shows up and asks Groucho, "Do you want your nails long or short?" "You better make them short. It's getting kind of crowded in here.") Of course, the conceit of the scene is cinematic and difficult to convey on a stage. Thalberg astutely realized this and kept the scene in.
Another interesting tidbit is that the movie was trimmed by three minutes for a 1940s rerelease. The offending material was all the references to Italy, including an opening musical sequence that sets the stage in Rome. During WWII, the studio did not want to portray Italy in a positive light. Unfortunately, the trims were not saved, and the edited version is the one that has been around ever since.
With the success of A Night at the Opera, Thalberg immediately announced two more films and began work on A Day at the Races. It had the same kind of plot as Opera, many of the same supporting players, and it did equally well. (Horse doctor Groucho gives a horse a pill and says, "Take one of these every half mile and call me if there's any change.") Groucho, in fact, thought these two films were the Marx Brothers' best. Both were directed by Sam Wood, with whom Groucho had frequent run-ins. After one argument, Wood sighed, "You can't make an actor out of clay," to which Groucho replied, "Or a director out of Wood."
Unfortunately, Thalberg died during production of pneumonia, at age 37, and suddenly the Marx Brothers' driving force was gone. Louis B. Mayer took over supervision of the series but never gave the Marx Brothers the same level of respect and care that Thalberg had given them. Their next films were essentially B pictures, although they had some notable guest stars like Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, and Tony Martin. They all have their moments, especially A Night in Casablanca, but for the most part they lack the luster and magic of the first two MGM films.
Several of them also feature Margaret Dumont, in the role she was born to play, as the object of Groucho's antics. She really was in every way a member of the team, having performed with the Brothers since their Broadway days before their first movie.
Much more information is supplied by Leonard Maltin on his excellent commentary track for A Night at the Opera. The Day at the Races DVD includes commentary from Glenn Mitchell but it is comparatively sporadic and rather dry. Other extras in the 5-disc set include 4 very amusing trailers, 9 live-action shorts, 8 cartoons, 2 radio promos, 2 audio outtakes (including Tony Martin's nice rendition of "Where There's Music" from The Big Store), and a clip of Groucho's 1961 appearance on a television talk show. There are also 2 new documentaries on the Marx Brothers which feature interviews with Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and TCM's own Robert Osbourne, among others. In short, there is enough information here to satisfy the vast majority of fans, and it is presented in attractively packaged cases and nicely-designed menus. The print quality is quite good throughout.
Since these pictures were literally and painstakingly designed for large audiences and the laughs that would come from them, they do lose something when viewed alone in a living room, where the laughter between gags won't last as long as with a big audience. They're still funny, but the effect is a tad diminished. So gather a group around a large television, make some popcorn, turn off the lights, and let these movies work the way they were meant to.
For more information about The Marx Brothers Collection, visit Warner Video. To order The Marx Brothers Collection, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Marx Brothers Collection (Review) - The Marx Brothers Collection on DVD
I'd have thrashed him to within an inch of his life, but I didn't have a tape measure.- S. Quentin Quale
You love your brother, don't you?- S. Quentin Quale
No, but I'm used to him.- Joseph Panello
I don't like your faces.- Red Baxter
I suppose you think we like 'em.- S. Quentin Quale
Lulubelle, it's you! I didn't recognize you standing up.- S. Quentin Quale
Any of you boys got change ah ten cents?- S. Quentin Quale
Well, keep the baggage.- S. Quentin Quale
The name of Groucho's character, "S. Quentin Quayle", caused a stir when the film was first released due to the subtle but clear joke: the use of the term "San Quentin quayle", which means "jail bait".
The film opens with Horace Greely's famous quotation: "Go West, Young Man, go west."
In Groucho's first solo appearance in a film (without his brothers) he puts on the old mustache and tails again and performs a number called "Go West, Young Man."
The working title of this film was Marx Brothers Go West. According to a pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, Everett Freeman and Dore Schary worked on the screenplay and Nat Perrin worked with Irving Brecher on the polish.