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Theatre / Animal Crackers

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Animal Crackers is a musical comedy that originally starred the four Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo. Originally a 1928 Broadway show, written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, with songs by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the movie version, filmed in Astoria, Queens, New York, was released on August 23, 1930. The stage show has occasionally been revived by theatrical companies.

The basic plot concerns explorer Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding (Groucho), attending a party in his honor at the estate of society matron Mrs. Rittenhouse, and investigating the theft of a valuable painting during the party. The bulk of the movie consists of a succession of comedy sketches, one liner jokes and visual gags.

In the 1990s, a 15-second clip filmed in Multicolor during the rehearsal of a scene in Animal Crackers was found and aired as a part of the AMC documentary Glorious Technicolor (1998). The clip is significant because it is the only known color footage of the Marx Brothers together.

Not to be confused with the long-running newspaper comic strip and animated show, or the 2017 animated movie released on Netflix with the same name.

Provides examples of:

  • Actually, I Am Him: This leads to Spaulding Comically Missing the Point:
    Spaulding: Say, I used to know a fellow that looked exactly like you by the name of Emanuel Ravelli. Are you his brother?
    Ravelli: I am Emanuel Ravelli.
    Spaulding: You're Emanuel Ravelli?
    Ravelli: I am Emanuel Ravelli.
    Spaulding: Well, no wonder you look like him. But I still insist there's a resemblance.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The Summation scene in the film is completely different from the original stage version. The bit where Harpo chloroforms everyone else and finally himself was taken from an earlier scene.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The Professor smokes a cigarette, blowing white smoke bubbles. Spaulding asks him, "You haven't got strawberry, have you?", and he blows up a small red balloon. The movie version, being filmed in black and white, changed "strawberry" to "chocolate".
  • Adapted Out: The film version entirely eliminated the part of Wally Winston, a society gossip columnist (who, like many other such characters from contemporary plays and movies, was a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Walter Winchell). His love interest, Arabella, was made a Composite Character.
  • Always Murder: Parodied when Spaulding is examining the painting John has forged:
    Spaulding: It's signed Beaugard. There's the criminal, Beaugard.
    John: No, Beaugard is dead.
    Spaulding: Beaugard is dead. Then it's murder.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: Captain Spaulding's speech has two examples (see Double Entendre for one of them):
    "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I dunno."
  • Aside Comment: Eugene O'Neill style, parodied. "Pardon me while I have a Strange Interlude."
  • Bad Liar: When Spaulding is inquiring about the stolen painting, Ravelli (who helped steal it) suddenly comes up with a dubious theory of what happened:
    "Hey Cap, it come to me like a flash. You know what happened to this painting? This painting wasn't stolen. This painting disappear. And do you know what make it disappear? Moths. Moths eat it. Left-handed moths. That's my solution."
  • "Begone" Bribe: Ravelli tells Captain Spaulding that he makes ten dollars an hour for playing, and twelve dollars an hour for not playing.
  • Bootstrapped Theme: Both "Hello I Must Be Going" and "Hooray For Captain Spaulding" became theme songs for other Groucho Marx projects, most notably the game show You Bet Your Life.
  • Bowdlerization:
    • During most prints of the song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", there is an obvious jump in the picture and soundtrack after Mrs. Rittenhouse's verse "He's the only white man who covered every acre". This is due to The Hays Code cutting out Groucho's suggestive lyric "I think I'll try and make her" when the film was reissued in 1936, along with several other risqué jokes. These cuts remained in all prints until 2016, when the original uncensored version was finally discovered and restored for a Blu-ray set.
    • Also for that re-release, the Flit logo on the flit gun Harpo fills with chloroform is blotted out so Paramount wouldn't get into trouble with the Flit company.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: "All the jokes can't be good! You've got to expect that once in a while!"
  • Breathless Non Sequitur: "Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know."
  • Cartoon Bug-Sprayer: Harpo wields one of these which is filled with chloroform. He uses it to knock out everyone at the mansion.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: For a change, Zeppo as Jamison, Groucho's secretary, in the scene where he takes dictation, incidentally evidence that Zeppo could do funny as well as any of the others. Spaulding dictates a long letter in partly-gibberish legalese, then asks Jamison (Zeppo) to read it back:
  • Composite Character: The film version merged two love interests, Mary and Arabella, into a single character named Arabella.
  • Dance Sensation: "Long Island Low-Down" from the stage play, which was omitted from the film.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Ravelli identifies Roscoe W. Chandler as Abie the fish peddler with a large birthmark on his arm. Ravelli and the Professor later steal a wide array of his possessions - the Professor gets the birthmark.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Invoked in one of Spaulding's asides: "This would be a better world for children if the parents had to eat the spinach."
  • Double Entendre: Tons of them; for example, "We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed."
    • They're going back in a couple of weeks.
  • Faint in Shock: In the film, Captain Spaulding faints as Mrs. Rittenhouse is hailing him for fearlessly journeying through Darkest Africa.
  • Fake Shemp: There's one scene where Captain Spaulding is apparently played by Zeppo.
  • Fauxreigner: Ravelli recognizes a respected art dealer as "Abie the fish man":
    Ravelli (Chico): How did you get to be Roscoe W. Chandler?
    Chandler: How did you get to be Italian?
    Ravelli: Never mind—whose confession is this?
    • This probably also counts as a Breaking the Fourth Wall, since it's a clear reference to Chico himself, who was not Italian.
  • Filth: This bit of dialogue, preceding Captain Spaulding's big speech, was probably removed from the movie even before it was edited after release to comply with the Production Code:
    (Spaulding and Mrs. Rittenhouse enter.)
    Spaulding: So there was only one bedroom in the farm house and the farmer had three daughters and only one traveling salesman...
    Mrs. Rittenhouse: Captain Spaulding, what kind of a story do you call that?
    • This line was used in the pre-code version and edited out: "I think I'll try and make her", during "Hooray for Captain Spaulding".
  • Grammar Correction Gag:
    Jamison: [taking diction from Groucho] Gentlemen. Question mark.
    Spaulding: "Gentlemen, question MARK?!" Put it on the penultimate, not on the dipthonic! You should brush up on your Greek, Jamison. Well, get a Greek and brush up on him.
  • Great White Hunter: Captain Spaulding is a parody of this trope.
  • Hollywood Natives: Captain Spaulding arrives via a sedan chair carried by African natives.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Captain Spaulding describes his African safari
  • Hurt Foot Hop: A gag involves this during the scene where Chico and Harpo plan to steal the painting, and Harpo has the fold-up latter set upside-down.
    Chico: You gotta put in on da feet first.
    (Harpo slams the ladder down on Chico's foot)
    Chico: AAUGH! Not my feet!
    (Harpo slams the ladder down on his own foot and hops in pain)
    Chico: Not your feet, the ladder's feet.
  • "I Am" Song: "Hooray for Captain Spaulding!"
  • I Am Spartacus: The film does this, in a very confusing way. Someone at the party stole the painting, and everybody has a different idea who did it. People who know they didn't start taking credit to save their loved ones, or, in Groucho's case, just to be confusing, while the real culprits remain inconspicuously silent. Harpo ends up taking the rap, and then uses chloroform on everyone, including, for some reason, himself.
  • Incessant Chorus: The chorus of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" repeatedly interrupts Groucho's attempts to speak. In the end he decides to interrupt himself before they get a chance.
  • Inherently Funny Words:
    Captain Spaulding: Then we tried to remove the tusks. The tusks. That's not so easy to say. Tusks. You try it some time.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: Parodied when the forgery substituted for the stolen "Beaugard" is determined to be the work of a left-handed painter.
  • Knockout Gas: It ends with Harpo spraying everyone with chloroform, including himself.
  • Laughing at Your Own Jokes: Chico does this with his "just the cover charge" line.
  • The Law Firm of Pun, Pun, and Wordplay: Captain Spaulding dictates a letter to the law firm of "Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger and McCormick".
  • Marry Them All: Spaulding proposes marriage to both Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead at once:
    Spaulding: What do you say girls? Are we all going to get married?
    Mrs. Whitehead: All of us?
    Spaulding: All of us.
    Mrs. Whitehead: But that's bigamy.
    Spaulding: Yes, and it's big o' me too. It's big of all of us. Let's be big for a change. I'm sick of these conventional marriages.
  • Misplaced Wildlife:
    • Captain Spaulding is telling of his African adventures, which include shooting a polar bear in the jungle. When Mrs. Rittenhouse objects that polar bears only live in the Arctic, he explains: "This bear was anemic and he couldn't stand the cold climate. Besides, he was a rich bear and could afford to go away in the winter." No such Hand Wave is offered for the 6 tigers also mentioned in the speech (just a lame pun). By the time Spaulding gets around to saying that "the principal animals inhabiting the African jungle are Moose, Elks, and Knights of Pythias," it's pretty clear that he never went anywhere near Darkest Africa and that his speech is justified by the Rule of Funny.
  • Mocking Sing-Song: Ravelli threatens to reveal Chandler's past identity, taunting him: "Abie the fish man! Abie the fish man!" (In the script of the original play, the taunt was "He's Ivan the Fish-Peddler.")
  • Mondegreen Gag: Groucho asks Chico to play a song about Montreal: "I'm a dreamer, Montreal." This is a mangled reference to the De Sylva, Brown & Henderson song "Aren't We All?"
    • The scene when Chico asks Harpo for a "flash" (aka a flashlight). Harpo mishears him and keeps producing unrelated objects with similar sounds (flask, flute, flit, etc.).
  • Movie Bonus Song: Kalmar and Ruby wrote "Why Am I So Romantic" for the film.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: Jeffrey T. Spaulding. Even more mysteriously, the T apparently stands for Edgar.
  • Odd Name Out: Captain Spaulding dictates a letter to his lawyer, Charles H. Hungerdunger of Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, and McCormick.
  • Officer O'Hara: Downplayed with Inspector Hennessy, who has an Irish surname but no particular accent. One stage production also had a black Irish officer.
  • Overly-Long Gag: Chico Marx's endless piano solo.
    Chico: I can't think of the finish.
    Groucho: That's strange, and I can't think of anything else.
    Chico: I think I went past it.
    Groucho: The next time you come around, jump off.
    • Harpo's harp solos in many of the Marx Brothers films. Though not meant as a joke, they seem funny just because you don't expect to see his utter Cloud Cuckoolander characters sitting down and playing an incredibly beautiful harp solo.
    • Also, near the beginning, when the crowd bursting into song whenever Groucho tries to make a speech. He eventually gets them to stop by interrupting himself with the song, remarking "Well, somebody's gotta do it."
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Harpo plays "The Professor," yet acts exactly like he always does, and we never even find out what he's a professor of.
  • Polyamory: Played for laughs when Captain Spaulding jokingly proposes to two women at once:
    Mrs. Rittenhouse: But that's bigamy.
    Spaulding: Yes and it's big of me too. It's big of all of us. Let's be big for a change!
  • Rage Quit: Margaret Dumont tires of Chico's bridge cheating.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: One of Groucho Marx's trademarks shines in this film.
  • Replaced with Replica: The plot involves a valuable painting and two copies of it, each of which get switched with the original and/or each other in a game of one-upsmanship.
  • Running Gag: Harpo literally chasing a sexy blonde around the mansion. At the end, after he's knocked her out along with everyone else with chloroform, he lies down next to her and knocks himself out.
  • Saw a Woman in Half:
    Spaulding: We will now saw a woman in half. Did you ever saw a woman in half?
    Ravelli: No, but I saw a woman in strange quarters.
    Spaulding: Well, that's another section. Now, Mrs. Rittenhouse, if you'll kindly step this way, we will proceed to sever you from head to toe.
  • Shake Someone, Objects Fall: The silverware cascading from Harpo's coat as the policeman shakes his hand.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Geoffrey (as he's called in the headlines) or Jeffrey (in the credits sequences)?
    • Also the fact that his middle initial, T, somehow stands for Edgar.
  • Surreal Humor: Harpo and Chico are absconding with the painting. They go to exit out a picture window but it's pouring rain. They go out the other side of the room instead, and there it's sunny and beautiful. Chico cries out "California!" as they leave.
    • There's also a brief moment where Harpo shoots at a pair of statues with a rifle, only for the statues to briefly spring to life and shoot back before becoming inanimate again.
  • Too Important to Walk: Captain Spaulding makes his entrance in a sedan chair carried by Hollywood Natives.
  • Visual Pun: "Three cheers for Captain Spaulding!" (Harpo runs in with three chairs)
    • Harpo is full of these. In another scene, he drops a check on the floor to see if it will bounce. It does!
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: After bragging about how brave he is, the butler points out a caterpillar on Captain Spaulding's jacket and he immediately faints.