Why’d I Buy It?: Came In The MGM Marx Brothers Boxset I Bought.
Why Haven’t I Watched It?: The Dirt poor reputation of the post Day At The Races Marx Brothers Comedies. But then I found Room Service to be relatively painless. And hey one of my favorite underrated Golden Age Comedies is The Circus and how could the Marx Brother’s spreading mayhem at a circus not be fun?!! Hey maybe I was in for a treat after all!
How Was It?: Relatively dire. If Room Service was pleasant surprise, a minor but energetic and effective farce, then At The Circus is unfortunately exactly the later day studio micromanaged Marx Brothers film you’ve heard it is. The gags fall flat a disorienting amount of the time. The four leads look palpably tired. Worst of all entire swatches of the movie are taken up by the romantic troubles of the bland couple at the center and their truly, truly terrible songs. They fret how to save their circus from the evil loan sharks who robbed them (if only his wealthy aunt could help!) and then sing and sing flat tuneless songs. Every now and again one of the brothers shows up. It takes a full five minutes for one of the Brothers to even make an appearance. Almost fifteen until Groucho appears. That’s not disappointing. That’s near criminal.
It’s not to say that the movie is completely worthless. For Marx completests it’s worthwhile for Groucho’s performance of Lydia The Tattooed Lady, perhaps the last truly iconic routine The Marx’s cooked up. In an odd bit of synchrony with Room Service the one truly stellar sight gag moment is an animal based . This time with Harpo trying to hold an umbrella over a circus seal during a downpour.
But to get to these moments of gold you once again have to sit through some truly interminable filler, which when it’s not boring is just off putting and strange. Like the huge African American musical number dedicated to how weird Harpo Marx is. Really. I didn’t just make it up. It actually happens. Admittedly, while about as far from PC as you can get it’s hard not to be charmed by a musical number devoted to what a mutant Harpo Marx is.
The back half of the film picks up a bit. The invaluable Margo Dumont shows up and the sight of feature Groucho harassing an elderly dowager is one of those things that simply does not get old.
But even the isolated bright moments just feel like the pale reflections of past glories. At The Circus sags under the weight of all too apparent studio mandates, and it shows the Brother’s hearts aren’t in it. At The Circus is a depressingly dispirited movie from the kings of spirited anarchic comedy.