Don't ask Appellate Judge James A. Stewart where to search for a missing painting.
"This fellow takes things seriously. It isn't safe to ask him a simple question."
Groucho Marx never took things seriously, but it wasn't necessarily a good idea to pose a question to him—unless you were looking for one-liners. Animal Crackers packs a lot of Marx's one-liners into 97 minutes, including the famous: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know." That line put the movie on AFI's "100 Years…100 Movie Quotes" list.
Facts of the Case
Capt. Geoffrey T. Spaulding (Groucho Marx, You Bet Your Life), an African explorer and sometimes amateur detective, goes to a house party hosted by Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont, Duck Soup). At the same party, a valuable painting is to be unveiled. Two guests plot to substitute their own fakes, but all three paintings are appearing and disappearing.
There's a plot here, since Animal Crackers is based on a George S. Kaufman play. I have the feeling, though, that very little of Kaufman's work made it to the big screen, even if an occasional bit of exposition interrupts the gags here and there. Groucho Marx works double duty here, since he's mostly trading quips, but has to really play detective and resolve the mystery. That balancing act makes a few of Groucho's lines ("I've always had an idea that my retirement would be the greatest contribution to science that the world has ever known") seem more aware than they'd be otherwise.
Even so, there's very little pretense of reality here. Groucho breaks character a few times to address the audience, talks about shooting a polar bear in Africa (perhaps on the Lost island), and the house has exits on both coasts.
Chico and Harpo get some good bits, including a bridge game in which you don't actually have to know the card game to know that their rules aren't the real ones and an attempt to switch a painting during a power outage. Chico also gets a great dialogue with Groucho in which he builds a house in his mind as they discuss where to begin searching for the missing painting(s).
The picture quality is flawed, with specks and lines abounding. In one scene, lines that go through the picture when Groucho and Chico were talking about rain actually looked like a hailstorm, until I realized that they were just lines through the picture. There still appears to have been some work on the transfer, since the trailer looks a lot worse.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Animal Crackers may be rated G, but there is some sexual dialogue, most notably Groucho's proposal of a bigamous three-way marriage ("It's big of all of us"), and some sexual dialoguelessness, as Harpo chases a beautiful woman through the Rittenhouse house.
It's a little pricey for a barebones release with only the trailer as an extra.
It may be on one of AFI's famous Top 100 lists, but there's surprisingly little to say about Animal Crackers. A little bit of standard theatrical farce slips in among the Marx Brothers' bits, but it's still full of silly sight and sound gags. Marx Brothers fans will love it, if they don't already.
Not guilty. If you must shoot an elephant in your pajamas, be careful.
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