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At the Circus

A poor MGM Marx Brothers affair. After the relative highs of Opera and Races, there was trouble afoot with The MGM Way of Doing Things. Thalberg wasn’t around anymore, the O-Boys were pushing fifty from various directions, and worst of all that all-important script-tightening tour wasn’t budgeted for. Other setbacks, like the presence of the preternaturally annoying Kenny Baker (the most tedious of the romantic leads in these films, and that’s saying something) and the presence of a bleeding bloody effing bloody circus, were minor by comparison. Among the gagmen was a dumper-bound Buster Keaton, who provided Harpo with Buster Keatonish visual gags – ie whimsical, elaborate and not at all funny – which were promptly rejected. Endless hassles getting hold of a gorilla suit, and a gorilla imitator to wear the gorilla suit, ended up with a highly unconvincing lesser ape impersonator in the mangiest skin this side of the Ritz Brothers’ The Gorilla. (Rather wonderfully, many gorilla fans, upon witnessing the taxidermic travesty, demanded – and got – their money back.)

Things that work here are largely the things that always did, albeit less so – Groucho arguing with Chico (who smuggles him onto a train and throws him off at the same time), Groucho and Margaret Dumont, Groucho and the ‘Newport 400’, and Chico and Harpo breaking and entering a strongman’s dressing room. Everything else is rubbish – the ‘modern’ (all neon-lit) circus tent, the endless musical interludes (with Lydia the Tattooed Lady being an honourable exception), Kenny Bloody Baker, and the climactic scene with people flying about on strings while that ‘gorilla’ runs amok, which almost certainly wasn’t meant to look that odd. Tune in half an hour late and switch off five minutes before the end and you’ll be doing OK.

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