A Day at the Races is the Marx Brothers at their commercial and popular peak, working with a top Hollywood director (Sam Wood of The Pride of the Yankees), supported with a healthy screen budget paying for such extras as a blue-tinted ballet sequence, love songs from crooner Allan Jones, and decorative sets. But the brothers are also at the top of their game in terms of their own comic material and timing. The story finds Groucho, Chico, and Harpo helping out at a sanatorium, where their longtime foil in the movies, Margaret Dumont, is the leading patient. The film has some of the trio’s funniest and most memorable bits and a dazzling horserace at the climax. Not quite as good as its predecessor, A Night at the Opera, this is still a highlight in the Marxian filmography. –Tom Keogh
I rate it 4 stars out of 5.
Trivia for The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races (1937)
- During the making of this film, MGM executive Irving Thalberg died. He was instrumental in bringing the brothers back to greatness with A Night at the Opera (1935) and was the brothers’ main supporter at MGM.
- Allan Jones appears for the second time in a Marx Brothers film. The first was A Night at the Opera (1935).
- Irving Thalberg protested the scene in which Harpo Marx frantically mimes to Chico Marx that Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) is in danger. It changed Harpo, said Thalberg, from a character who DIDN’T talk into a character who couldn’t talk. Either way, the gag was used again in A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949).
- The black “spiritual” number was popular enough to warrant a reprise in At the Circus (1939)
- The “Grand Steeplechase” sequence at the end had to be shot twice. Both times a crew member persuaded Chico Marx to gamble on it and not only to bet on the outcome of a rigged non-race, but to bet on a horse other than the one scripted to win. Chico, all his life an avid gambler, could offer as excuse only, “The odds were 20 to one.”
- Glenn Mitchell’s commentary on the Warner Home Video DVD states that the band backing Ivie Anderson’s rendition of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” was drawn from the Duke Ellington Orchestra, for whom Anderson was a vocalist at the time.
- Al Boasberg, the man most responsible for shaping the early comic persona of Jack Benny, was initially given top billing among the film’s writers. In what was to become one of the first major disputes over film writing credit, Bosberg (primarily a gag-man) sought sole credit for the comedic scenes, leaving credit for the screenplay itself to Robert Pirosh) and George Seaton. MGM bitterly fought this and punished Boasberg then listing him under the others. A furious Boasberg had his name removed from the film completely.
- Groucho’s character was initially to have been named Dr. Quackenbush, which he and everyone else thought was too silly a name to offend anyone. But MGM’s legal department discovered at least a dozen legitimate U.S. doctors named Quackenbush, so, for legal reasons and to Groucho’s dismay, the name was changed to Hackenbush.
- There was originally a song that echoed “Hurray for Captain Spaulding” entitled “Dr. Hackenbush”. However, it was decided that something needed to be cut and Groucho volunteered this song. Years later, Groucho regretted this decision and often sung the song at gatherings.