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The Ritz Brothers
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The Ritz Brothers - 9/16


As a comedy team, the Ritz Brothers were extremely popular and influential during their prime in the 1930s and early '40s, appearing in live performances and movies. They have been compared to the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. The Ritz Brothers were acknowledged influences on such comic performers as Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar.

TCM presents a trio of films (two of them TCM premieres) that were made during the Ritz Brothers' tenure in the late 1930s as the stars of their own features at 20th Century-Fox.

There were four brothers in the Ritz family, but only three of them were in the comedy act. (The fourth brother, George, served as the troupe's manager.) The performing Ritzs were Al (1901-1965), Jimmy (1904-1985) and Harry (1907-1986). Rubber-faced Harry led the group, with Al and Jimmy as his high-energy followers. Their comedy act included bursts of song and dance, along with celebrity impressions.

The boys were born in Newark, NJ, to an Austrian-born Jewish haberdasher and his Russian wife. The family name was Joachim but Al changed it to "Ritz" when he became a dancer in vaudeville, and his brothers followed suit when the trio formed their comedy act.

The Ritz Brothers were stage headliners by the early 1930s and were signed for a movie short, Hotel Anchovy, in 1934. This led to their contract with Fox, who featured them in studio musicals including a successful spoof of The Three Musketeers (1939), starring Don Ameche. In 1940 the brothers moved to Universal, where their final film as a trio was Never a Dull Moment (1943).

The brothers continued to perform onstage in the 1950s, when they also branched out to television. After Al's death of a heart attack in 1965, Jimmy and Harry made a couple of film appearances as a duo including Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood in 1976. In that same year, Harry appeared solo in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie.

Below are the films in the TCM tribute:
Life Begins in College (1937, TCM premiere), the first film to give the Ritz Brothers star billing, casts the boys as tailors on a college campus where an American Indian becomes a star quarterback but is treated poorly by classmates. Joan Davis and Tony Martin appear, and songs include "Why Talk About Love?" and "Sweet Varsity Sue."

Kentucky Moonshine (1938, TCM premiere) again puts the Ritz Brothers in the company of Tony Martin, who plays a radio singer looking for new talent in Kentucky. The brothers get wind of this and travel to the state, where they pose as hillbilly performers complete with beards, shotguns and jugs of moonshine. The numbers include one called "Moonshine Over Kentucky."

Straight, Place and Show is based on a play by Damon Runyon and Irving Caesar. The brothers take their zaniness to a race track where they are gifted with a racehorse and uncover unfair practices by jockeys from Russia. A young Ethel Merman sings "Why Not String Along with Me?" and "With You on My Mind," and the brothers' numbers include "Hi De Ho" and "We're Rootin' Hootin' Tootin' Cowboys."

by Roger Fristoe
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