Cast & Crew
William A. Seiter
Gordon Miller, a penniless theatrical producer, is told by brother-in-law Joseph Gribble, the manager of the White Way Hotel, that he and his cast of twenty-two actors, who have run up a bill of $1,200, have to leave the hotel immediately or face the wrath of supervising director Gregory Wagner. As Gordon and his faithful but broke friend Binelli prepare to slip out of the hotel wearing Gordon's entire wardrobe, Christine Marlowe, a secretary and aspiring actress, telephones to say that she has found a backer for Gordon's show, Hail and Farewell . Immediately after receiving this good news, Gordon, Binelli and Faker Englund, another faithful friend, are joined by Leo Davis, the near penniless author of Hail and Farewell . Soon after, Wagner, who is furious at Gribble for apparently allowing Gordon to escape without paying, inspects Gordon's room and discovers that the producer and Binelli are still there. In spite of Gordon's promises that money is on the way, Wagner orders the duo to pay their bill or be arrested. While Wagner is alerting the hotel bouncers, Simon Jenkins, the investing agent of an unnamed wealthy man, comes to the room and tells Gordon that his employer will invest $15,000 in Hail and Farewell if a certain young woman is cast in a role. Gordon eagerly agrees to the terms, and Jenkins promises to return with a contract the next morning. Determined to stay in their room for another night, Gordon, Binelli and Faker convince Davis, who has since fallen in love with hotel employee Hilda Manny, to fake an attack of measles. Although Davis' iodine measles fool Wagner into postponing the group's eviction, the four men are soon overcome by hunger. While Faker goes out to hunt turkeys, Russian emigre Sasha Smirnoff, a waiter in the hotel grill, agrees to steal the quartet some food if they cast him in the show. Before the food arrives, however, Timothy Hogarth, an employee of the We Never Sleep Collection Agency, shows up at the door looking for Davis, whose typewriter the agency wants to repossess. Gordon and Binelli convince Hogarth that Davis, who is hiding in the bed, lost his mind and took the typewriter with him to an insane asylum. After Hogarth leaves, Faker returns with a live turkey, which quickly flies out of the window, and Sasha shows up with the pilfered hotel food. His stomach now full, Davis leaves the room to meet Hilda, forcing Faker to impersonate him when Wagner and Gribble arrive with the hotel physician, Dr. Glass. After an unsuccessful try at examining Faker, Dr. Glass threatens to expose the group but is tied up and locked in the bathroom before Jenkins shows up with the contract. As Jenkins is about to sign over his employer's check to Gordon, Wagner bursts into the room and screams threats at the producer. Upset by the ensuing commotion, Jenkins, who has revealed that the backer is California millionaire Zachary Fiske, refuses to sign the check and, in his haste to leave, accidentally opens the bathroom door. Having overheard Jenkins while in the bathroom, Dr. Glass tells Wagner that Fiske is backing Gordon's show, and Wagner quickly assures a still stunned Jenkins that Gordon is indeed reliable. After Jenkins signs the check and leaves, Wagner insists that Gordon deposit the money in the hotel bank. The group's joy at solvency is soon squashed, however, when Davis returns and announces that Jenkins is going to stop payment on the check. Knowing that the check will take a week to clear at the bank, Gordon suggests that they cash it at the hotel and mount the play within the week. Moments before the show is to open, Wagner learns about the bounced check and prepares to have Gordon and his friends arrested and the play stopped. As a stall, both Faker and Davis stage suicides, distracting Wagner long enough for the play to prove itself a hit. While Wagner, Gordon, Faker and Binelli celebrate their impending financial success, Davis and Hilda celebrate their impending marriage.
William A. Seiter
Willard St. Claire
Pandro S. Berman
John L. Cass
J. Roy Hunt
Van Nest Polglase
The more purist fans of the zany quartet (by this time a trio, after the departure of Zeppo) find this outing a little disappointing. After all, Harpo doesn't play harp, Chico doesn't play piano, and there is only one song and no Margaret Dumont. But the brothers are still in rare form. The story finds Groucho, Chico and Harpo holed up in a hotel, waiting for financing for a new Broadway show they're trying to produce. The room, already packed with members of the cast, fills up with each new arrival as the boys struggle to buy time and avoid eviction.
Because the original play was such a hit, Ryskind was under orders from RKO not to change too much. In fact, the most significant alteration was the removal of the word "God" from the stage script. The play Groucho (in the role of producer Gordon Miller) is sponsoring is called Hail and Farewell instead of Godspeed, and, in keeping with the motion picture code of the time, even the mildest expletives were toned down. But the Marx Brothers-inspired lunacy breaks through even the most restrictive conventions, as when Groucho moves with his trademark loping walk across the hotel lobby or Chico responds with characteristic bluntness to a man asking for time to wash up: "The rest of us are washed up already." Harpo, typically mute in what was a minor speaking part in the play, contributes his brand of whirlwind pantomime in dining scenes as a man with an impossibly ravenous appetite. In other words, although it was the first box office disappointment for the boys, it's still the Marx Brothers, and that's always worth several viewings to catch everything that's going on.
Room Service is also worth catching for an early performance by a future comedy legend - Lucille Ball. Then a contract player for RKO, Ball had made a minor name for herself as a second-string player in films like Stage Door (1937), which was also adapted by Ryskind from a hit play. Although you can't tell from their screen time together, Ball didn't like the Marx Brothers very much, according to her biographer Kathleen Brady. Maybe she just didn't appreciate their anarchistic backstage antics. One day the brothers learned there were to be visitors to what they had requested should be a closed set, so they planned a vengeful antic. The scene scheduled for shooting called for Lucy to run into a room, close the door, and keep going, with the Marx Brothers in hot pursuit. But the trio stripped, burst through the door and pursued her in the nude, shocking the visitors, who just happened to be priests and nuns.
The only Marx Brother Ball liked was Harpo, who she considered a gentleman and far less manic than the others in private. Years later, when she was a major television star of the 1950s and the brothers' film career had ended, Harpo was a guest on I Love Lucy. Dressed identically in the Harpo character costume, the two performed a mirror routine that has become almost as famous as the one Harpo and Groucho immortalized 20 years earlier in the cult classic, Duck Soup (1933).
Director: William A. Seiter
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Morrie Ryskind
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase, Al Herman
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Groucho Marx (Gordon Miller), Chico Marx (Harry Binelli), Harper Marx (Faker Englund), Lucille Ball (Christine), Ann Miller (Hilda Manney), Frank Albertson (Leo Davis).
BW-79m. Closed Captioning.
by Rob Nixon
Shhh. Money.- Gordon Miller
You've been in jail?- Leo Davis
Sure, it's'a not so bad. You behave and they make you a trustee.- Harry Binelli
If I don't come back you'll know it's good news.- Hilda Manny
And if you do come back bring four bottles of poison.- Gordon Miller
Too soon, too soon, he died too soon.- Gordon Miller
An hour too soon.- Harry Binelli
Hello? Room Service. Bring up enough ice to cool a warm body.- Harry Binelli
The opening title card reads: "RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. presents the Marx Brothers in Room Service." According to a June 1937 Hollywood Reporter news item, RKO purchased John Murray and Allen Boretz' stage play for $255,000. Room Service was the first and only Marx Brothers film that was not written originally as a vehicle for them. Screenwriter Morrie Ryskind rewrote the stage play somewhat to highlight the brothers' style of comedy. Donald MacBride, Philip Loeb, Philip Wood, Alexander Asro and Cliff Dunstan appeared in the original Broadway production. Loeb played "Harry Binion" in that production, the role that was rewritten by Ryskind for Chico Marx. The other actors recreated their stage roles for the film. A June 1938 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Charles Halton was "repeating" his Broadway role for the film. Halton May have performed in the stage play, but he did not appear with the original Broadway cast. Jack Byrne played the part of "Timothy Hogarth" in the original Broadway production and was slated to perform in the film, but RKO production files indicate that he was replaced by Philip Loeb. Production files also note that Leonid Kinskey was to appear as "Sasha Smirnoff," but left the production to do retakes on an M-G-M film. A May 1938 Hollywood Reporter news item announced Loeb as the film's dialogue director. It is not known if he performed that task in addition to assisting director William Seiter. A July 1938 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Fritz Feld left the cast of Room Service to appear in Paramount's Campus Confessions. Although the brothers and a dubbed Frank Albertson sing parts of songs, including "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," no full-blown musical numbers were included in the film.
Modern sources note that the original name of the play-within-the-play-God's Speed-had to be changed to Hail and Farewell to appease film censors. In a modern interview, Groucho made the following remarks about Room Service: "So they [RKO] came to us and paid us a lot of money. I think it May have been $150,000.00 each. We accepted on the condition that the picture be shot in four weeks." Another modern source claims that the Marx Brothers were paid a total of $250,000, a deal engineered by their brother, agent Zeppo Marx. Modern sources state that rehearsals for the film were conducted in June 1938 and that the script was not finished until July 25, 1938, a month into production. The film lost $340,000 at the box office, according to modern sources. RKO remade the play in 1944 as Step Lively, a musical starring Frank Sinatra and directed by Tim Whelan.
Released in United States 1938
Released in United States on Video December 27, 1989
Broadcast over TNT (colorized version) January 9, 1991.
Released in United States 1938
Released in United States on Video December 27, 1989 (colorized version)