A Day at the Races, starring the Marx Brothers

A Day at the Races (1937) starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo), Margaret Dumont, Allen Jenkins

Synopsis for A Day at the Races

Doctor Hugo Hackenbush, Tony, and Stuffy try to save Judy’s sanitarium by winning a big race with Gil’s horse.  A very funny film, with several hilarious moments.  Some say it’s the last great Marx Brothers film.

Cast of Characters in A Day at the Races

  • Judy (Maureen O’Sullivan, The Thin ManHannah and her Sisters).  The young lady running a sanitarium, that’s losing money.
  • Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille, The Ten CommandmentsAbbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, The Road to Utopia).  The shady man who wants to buy the sanitarium and use it for his horse race track.
  • Stuffy (Harpo Marx).  Fired by Morgan for refusing to throw a race, he throws in with Tony and the rest.
  • Tony (Chico Marx), Judy’s loyal employee who’s determined to help her by hook and crook.  He talks to Mrs. Upjohn and convinces her to not leave the sanitarium since the “famous” Dr. Hackenbush will be taking over the sanitarium.
  • Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx).  A veterinarian, not the Dr. Hackenbush — but who’s willing to pretend and go along for the money – and chase after the rich Mrs. Upjohn.
  • Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont).  The wealthy widow whose patronage keeps the sanitarium afloat.  She falls in love — somehow — with Dr. Hackenbush.
  • Gil (Allan JonesA Night at the Opera, One Night in the Tropics).  Judy’s love interest, who invests his life savings in buying a racehorse, on the hope of winning a race and rescuing Judy financially.  Morgan, of course, doesn’t want that …
  • Flo (Esther MuirSunset Murder Case).  The pretty young lady, hired by Morgan, to get caught in a “compromising position” with Dr. Hackenbush so that Mrs. Upjohn will leave.  Allowing Morgan to buy the sanitarium for a song.
  • Dr. Steinberg (Sig RumanStalag 17To Be or Not to Be, Way … Way Out).  The stuffy doctor who doesn’t believe that Dr. Hackenbush is on the level … and is determined to prove that he’s not!

A Day at the Races (1937) starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo), Margaret Dumont, Allen JenkinsEditorial Review of A Day at the Races (courtesy of Amazon.com)

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.
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