Room Service (1938) starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx), Lucille Ball, Ann Miller
I’ve long heard negative things about Room Service starring the Marx Brothers – Groucho, Chico and Harpo. However, after viewing the movie for myself, I don’t think that they’re deserved. Granted, it’s not of the same quality as Duck Soup, but it’s still very funny in its’ own right. That’s not to say that there aren’t negative things to say—the pace seems slow (compared to typical Marx Brothers fare), and the movie is off to a slow start. On the other hand, the ending of the movie is the normal zaniness that we’ve come to expect, and it plays well.
The basic plot has Groucho playing Broadway producer Gordon Miller, trying to find backing for his play after running up an enormous tab at the hotel where he and his cast are staying—$1,200, which was a huge amount back in 1938. The play is ready to open in a day, and if they can avoid getting thrown out of the hotel first, they will be able to pay off their bills. To complicate matters, the author of the play comes in just as Groucho, Chico and Harpo are about to skip out on the hotel bill. One thing leads to another, and they decide to pretend that the author has contracted measles in order to prevent their being thrown out of the hotel room. This leads to one of the madcap moments in the film, where Harpo spits iodine through a strainer to cover the author with spots for his ‘measles.’ They can’t be thrown out, but they aren’t getting any food, either—one attempt has Harpo winning a turkey in a drawing, only to have Harpo bring a live turkey to the hotel room, and have the turkey ‘fly’ out the window (with wires manipulating the puppet turkey to fly—a very funny moment, with the wires being so obvious that they’re hilarious).
Later, as the hotel manager is preparing to have them arrested, the author fakes his own suicide, blaming the hotel manager for driving him to it—as does Harpo. The hotel manager is appropriately guilty, giving the play enough time to go on and become a smash success. The hotel manager reacts appropriately when he meets the ‘dead’ author and the ‘dead’ Harpo on stage – a nice, zany ending.
Editorial Review of Room Service (courtesy of Amazon.com )
This Broadway farce was tailored as a movie for the Marx Brothers, but the fit wasn’t necessarily a good one. Still, a little Marx comedy mayhem is better than none. Groucho plays a theatrical producer holed up in a hotel room; he doesn’t have a cent but he does have a sure-fire Broadway hit, if only he can put the funds together to get it on stage. To do so, he’s willing to try anything–including convincing the naive playwright that he’s got a contagious disease in order to quarantine him and keep the hotel manager at bay. The cast includes Ann Miller and a young Lucille Ball but the humor is not as sharp or quick-witted as the Marx Brothers’ usual fare. —Marshall Fine
Funny movie quotes from The Marx Brothers’ Room Service:
Groucho: Shhh. Money.
Frank Albertson: You’ve been in jail?
Chico: Sure, it’s’a not so bad. You behave and they make you a trustee.
Chico: Hello? Room Service. Bring up enough ice to cool a warm body.
Frank Albertson: Well, if you fellows don’t mind, I’m going to wash up.
Chico: Yeah, go ahead. The rest of us are already washed up.
Donald MacBride: Jumping butterballs!
Frank Albertson: Gee, I-I-I don’t know whether I can keep it up for two and a half hours.
Groucho: It’s all right. We’ll help you.
Chico: I still think it’s a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.
Frank Albertson: I’ll give you the best performance you ever saw in a hotel bedroom!
Chico: [taking off layers of clothing] Now I know how Gypsy Rose Lee feels.
Trivia about the Marx Brothers’ movie Room Service:
- This is the first (and last) time the Marx Brothers worked with material not specially created for them.
- During salary negotiations with R-K-O, erstwhile member Zeppo Marx represented his brothers, threatening to rejoin the group if their demands weren’t met!
- The only film the Brothers made with R-K-O.