Friday, August 14, 2015

Horse Feathers

I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of the Marx Brothers' style of humor. But as a football fan, I should point out that TCM's salute to Groucho Marx includes Horse Feathers, at 9:30 PM.

Groucho plays Professor Wagstaff, a professor at Huxley College who gets elected president because presumably nobody else wants the job. I mean, if you see the professor's acceptance speech, you'd wonder why anybody would want to keep this guy around as a professor, much less make him president of the college. But then, Huxley has fallen on hard times, to the extent that it may have to close if it can't get its financial house in order.

Wagstaff's son Frank (Zeppo Marx, who would leave the team after their following film, Duck Soup) has an idea. Football is popular, and perhaps Huxley could field a winning football team. To that end, Frank happens to know a couple of ringers that Huxley could recruit and put on their team. After all, this is the early 1930s, when lots of college football teams had ringers, at least in the movies, and colleges are all the time trying to recruit them. All Dad has to do is go down to the local speakeasy and sign the two players.

So Dad goes, but of course not knowing the first thing about football and thanks to a mix-up, he picks up the wrong two guys. Instead of the two high-quality football players, he recruits Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Baravelli (Chico Marx). No matter; they'll make Huxley a good football team. And so Huxley prepares for the big game against Darwin. Darwin's president (David Landau) has a lot riding on the game, so much so that he wants to use his assistant (Thelma Todd) to get Huxley's signals from Wagstaff (as if Wagstaff would know the signals).

Eventually, we get to the game itself, which forms the climactic action of the movie. Let's just say that this is the most unrealist football you'll ever see on screen, which is saying something considering how many movies Hollywood was putting out in the 1930s with thoroughly unrealistic looks at football. The closest I can think of would be Hold That Co-Ed, but I think Horse Feathers has it beat.

I mentioned my lackluster feelings towards the Marx Brothers' movies at the start of this post. I think part of it has to do with the movies' being just a bit too wacky. The football game certainly qualifies for that, and goes on too long, especially after the rest of the movie has also been wacky. (That's a problem that Hold That Co-Ed doesn't have.) The other thing is that Grouch fairly rapidly grates on me. You'd think that after five or ten minutes of having to deal with him, everybody else would slug him. And it's seemingly the same character in every single film.

But, of course, there are people who are big fans of the Marx Brothers, and will be thrilled to have another opportunity to watch Horse Feathers or the other movies airing today.

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