At the Circus (1939) starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo), Margaret Dumont, Eve Arden
At the Circus is perhaps the Marx Brothers‘ most underrated comedy. It’s quite funny, with a very zany ending, complete with Harpo’s athletic working on the high wires, reminiscent of the ending of A Night at the Opera. The plot involves the obligatory love interest, a wealthy young man who forsakes the fortune of his rich aunt (played by Groucho’s perpetual foil, Margaret Dumont) to run the circus that his girlfriend performs in.
But when the evil owner of the circus steals the money needed to pay off the mortgage, it falls upon the strongman’s assistant Punchy (Harpo Marx), circus hand Antonio Pirelli (Chico Marx) and Antonio’s shyster lawyer friend, J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho Marx). With an assist from a gorilla named Gibraltar, one of Groucho’s funniest co-stars.
At the Circus is available as part of The Marx Brothers Collection.
Editorial Review of At the Circus (courtesy of Amazon.com )
Hollywood’s golden year of 1939 found the Marx Brothers At the Circus, up to their usual mischief if not their usual standards. It’s a lesser effort but still a rollicking good time, casting Groucho, Chico, and Harpo as the would-be saviors of a financially troubled circus. Of course, Groucho gets the lion’s share of zingers as crackpot lawyer J. Cheever Loophole (especially when sparring with his quintessential straight-lady, Margaret Dumont), and Irving Brecher’s zippy dialogue (with a last-minute polish by Ben Hecht) is custom fit to the Marxes’ vaudeville roots.
This was the Marxes’ third movie for MGM, and the studio’s insistence on sappy romantic subplots and a wimpy romantic lead (Kenny Baker) occasionally stalls the manic momentum. Fortunately, there’s ample compensation, including Groucho’s signature performance of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” penned by Wizard of Oz songwriters Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Despite the racial stereotypes that populate Harpo’s jazzy interlude, At the Circus is a three-ring showcase of fun. —Jeff Shannon
I rate it 4 clowns on a 5-clown scale.
Cast of characters in At the Circus
- J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho Marx, You Bet Your Life, Duck Soup). The proverbial shyster lawyer, who tries to help by having Eve Arden walk on the ceiling.
- Antonio (Chico Marx, A Night at the Opera). The circus employee who tries to help Jeff Wilson keep the circus, with Punchy’s help.
- Punchy (Harpo Marx, Horse Feathers). The mute assistant to Goliath, the circus strongman, who tries to help Jeff as well.
- Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker, Stage Door Canteen). The owner of the circus, who’s in danger of losing ownership to his partner, John Carter, after $10,000 is stolen.
- Julie Randall (Florence Rice, Double Wedding). Jeff’s girlfriend, the obligatory love interest.
- Peerless Pauline (Eve Arden, Our Miss Brooks). Circus aerialist, who’s helping John Carter get control of the circus by hook or crook.
- Mrs. Suzanna Dukesbury (Margaret Dumont, Little Giant, Bathing Beauty). Rich society matron who has a circus unexpectedly performing at her estate. Groucho’s recurring foil and straight person.
- Goliath (Nat Pendleton, Buck Privates, The Thin Man). Circus strong man, abusive to his assistant Punchy, helping John Carter try to steal the circus from Jeff.
- John Carter (James Burke, The Maltese Falcon, Ruggles of Red Gap). Jeff’s unscrupulous partner, who orchestrates the theft of $10,000 so Jeff can’t pay off his debt. And Carter can take control of the circus.
Funny movie quotes from the Marx Brothers’ At the Circus:
Antonio Pirelli (Chico): You know what I say. Whenever you got business trouble the best thing to do is to get a lawyer. Then you got more trouble, but at least you got a lawyer.
Peerless Pauline (Eve Arden): [talking Groucho into walking on the ceiling with her special shoes]But it’s so easy. The bottom of your shoe creates a suction that holds you up in the ceiling.
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): No, no, I’d rather not. I have an agreement with the houseflies. The flies don’t practice law and I don’t walk on the ceiling.
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): I don’t know what I’m doing here, when I could be at home in bed with a hot toddy. That’s a drink!
Antonio Pirelli (Chico): If you please, Mistah Carter?
John Carter: What do you want?
Antonio Pirelli (Chico): Can I have a month off next August?
John Carter: What for?
Antonio Pirelli (Chico): Well, you see, my lawyer, he got-a me a divorce, and one month every year I win the custody of my wife’s parents.
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): Ah ah! Bad luck, three on a midget!
Mrs. Suzannah Dukesbury (Margaret Dumont): [referring to the seating arrangements at an upcoming dinner] the judge shall sit on my left hand, and you [turning to Groucho] shall sit on my right.
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): How will you eat? Through a tube?
Peerless Pauline (Eve Arden): Perhaps you’ll think I’m forward, but last night, when I first saw you,
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): And slammed the door in my face.
Peerless Pauline (Eve Arden): I realized that you were the man I’ve been dreaming of.
J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho): What do you eat before going to bed?
Trivia about the Marx Brothers’ At the Circus:
- Groucho sings “Lydia the Encyclopedia”, a bowdlerized version of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.”
- During “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” Groucho sings “Here is Captain Spalding exploring the Amazon”. This is a reference to his character in Animal Crackers (1930).
- Originally entitled “A Day at the Circus” it was to be the third in the Marx Brothers‘ “Day/Night” series after A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937)