Lillian Roth

Animal Crackers (1930)

Animal Crackers PosterMrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) is hosting one of the biggest society events of the year at her home in Long Island.  Not only will renowned African explorer Captain Spaulding (Groucho Marx) be the guest of honor, another guest will be displaying a very valuable painting he’s recently purchased.  After Spaulding and his secretary Horatio (Zeppo Marx) arrive, musicians Signor Ravelli (Chico Marx) and The Professor (Harpo Marx) join the party.

As the party goes on, people start scheming to replace the valuable painting with a copy.  First are a couple of socialites who want to replace the painting with a poor copy to make Mrs. Rittenhouse look bad.  Then there’s Mrs. Rittenhouse’s daughter Arabella (Lillian Roth), who has been dating aspiring artist John Parker (Hal Thompson).  John and Arabella want to get married, but he doesn’t have enough money to support them.  Arabella comes up with the idea of replacing the original painting with a very good copy he’s made so everyone at the party will see it and be impressed by his work.  She convinces Ravelli and The Professor to help her switch the paintings.  With all the plans to change the painting, mayhem ensues.

Animal Crackers is, without a doubt, an essential Marx Brothers movie.  If I were to try to introduce someone to the Marx Brothers, Animal Crackers is the movie I would pick because it is such a perfect representation of the Marxes doing what they did best.  Anarchy?  Oh yeah, there’s plenty of anarchy.  Margaret Dumont as the wealthy dowager?  Yep, she’s there.  Non-stop quips from Groucho?  Not only does Groucho get plenty of great lines, he gets some of the most famous lines of his career like, “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.”  Harpo and Chico are great in it too, of course; even Zeppo has some pretty choice moments in it.  As far as the songs go, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” and “Hello, I Must be Going” are some of Groucho’s signature bits.

Unfortunately, Animal Crackers now only exists in a censored form.  When the movie was re-released later in the 1930s, some of Groucho’s more risqué lines were cut to comply with the Hayes Code.  If you watch carefully during “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” there is a jump cut after the line, “He was the only white man to cover every acre,” where a line was omitted. No prints of the original version are known to exist.  However, lots of Groucho’s risqué lines were left intact and can still be seen today.

If you’re a fan of the Marx Brothers, you’re not going to want to miss this brief technicolor clip of a rehearsal for the scene where Harpo makes his entrance.  Not only is it a treat to see color footage of Marxes at work, it’s noteworthy for showing Harpo out of costume.

Madam Satan (1930)

Angela Brooks (Kay Johnson) is happily married to Bob (Reginald Denny), but unfortunately, she soon finds out that Bob isn’t as happy with their marriage.  After a wild night of partying with his friend Jimmy (Roland Young), Angela sees that their antics had made the newspaper.  Only the article mentions a Mrs. Brooks being with them and Angela was at home in bed early that night.  She also finds a card in Bob’s coat pocket from someone named Trixie (Lillian Roth) asking him to come over to her place.  When she tries to confront Bob and Jimmy about the newspaper article, they concoct a story about Trixie being Jimmy’s wife, not Bob’s girlfriend.  But Angela knows better and one night, insists on joining Jimmy to meet Trixie.

Trixie had been looking forward to an evening with Bob and isn’t at all pleased when she gets stuck with Jimmy and Angela in her apartment instead.  Angela does everything in her power to make their evening painfully awkward.  And when Bob finally does show up, lots of frantic attempts are made to cover up the fact that Angela was there and Bob leaves thinking that Jimmy was there with a woman.  Angela doesn’t want to lose Bob and when her trusted maid advises her to spice things up to win him back, she decides to try it.  Earlier, Jimmy had invited her to a costume party on a zeppelin and Angela decides to develop an alter ego for the occasion, Madam Satan.  While Angela is buttoned-up and proper, Madam Satan is the life of the party and wears extremely revealing outfits.

The party is already pretty wild before Madam Satan makes her grand entrance (fashionably late, naturally), but when she arrives, she instantly makes a big splash.  Every man wants her attention and she effectively upstages Trixie, who was shaping up to be the belle of the ball, at every turn.  Of course she picks Bob to be the lucky man who gets to spend the most time with her.  He is madly in love with the mysterious Madam Satan, but is totally unaware of who she really is.  When he does find out, though, he suddenly isn’t so impressed anymore.  But there are bigger problems at hand when the zeppelin they’re on is struck by lightning and everyone suddenly must parachute to safety.  Everyone survives, but once the party’s over, Bob still has a hard time accepting what Angela had done.  However, she did manage to impress Jimmy, who drops by and says that he’d be glad to marry Angela if they get a divorce.  Suddenly Bob realizes that he’s not about to let Angela go quite that easily.

I have never seen a movie quite like Madam Satan.  I’d heard that it was pretty wild, bizarre, and very pre-code so I figured it’d be right up my alley and I was not disappointed.  I’m actually kind of at a loss of words to describe it.  It’s kind of like Why Change Your Wife? but on a zeppelin.  The pacing had room for improvement, but I guarantee that you have never seen a party like the one in Madam Satan.  The party itself is so wild and the costumes are just insane.  It makes the most raucous fraternity party look like a quiet afternoon tea in comparison.