January 24 - Horse Feathers
Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.
Ah, with the BCS season over how we long to hear once more the names of the
greats of the college Grid Iron. Legendary programs like Texas, USC, Notre
Dame, Michigan, Penn State and Huxley College.
WHAAAAAA, Huxley College? How did that one get in there?
The legacy of Huxley College is as important to film, comedy, and the sport of
football as any of the aforementioned bastions of learning.
Huxley College was the home of four brothers who did more to make us laugh at
the sport than much of the officiating in the recent BCS contests. If you haven’t
guessed, Huxley College was home to the Marx Bros in their classic “Horse Feathers”.
Filmed in 1932, when the college game was the big thing (the NFL was only seven years old at the
time and very few people noticed that it was even there). “Horse Feathers” pokes fun at every college
Huxley is presided over by Professor Wagstaff (Groucho) who goal is to get his son (Zeppo) out of
college. Seems the son has been there forever due to the fact that he spends his time flirting with the
College Widow (a sexy Thelma Todd). To keep his job Huxley has to defeat rival Darwin College in
the big football game (something they haven’t done in 40 years). To do this Wagstaff goes down to
the local Speakeasy to recruit two football players (the only difference between recruiting then and
now is that alcohol today is legal), but winds up recruiting Chico and Harpo instead.
What follows is 62 minutes of Marxian Mayhem. Among the numerous highlights are:
Groucho, when informed that the school can’t afford a football stadium and a campus, orders the
trustees to start tearing down the dorms immediately.
Chico, working at the Speak, upon getting an order for a bottle of Scotch and a bottle of rye pours the
same alcohol into two empty bottles and labels each one differently.
Harpo, passing 2 patrons playing cards, cuts the deck with a hatchet.
Chico and Harpo have a peashooter fight with Professor Groucho in a biology class.
The football game itself.
While not the best Marx Comedy (Duck Soup is my personal favorite), it is
up there. Each brother is at the top of his game. Zeppo has his best role
in a Marx Brothers film (he would retire after Duck Soup and become a
very successful agent).
While there is no Margaret Dumont, there is Thelma Todd who plays the
brothers foil. One of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver
screen, her personal life was entirely the opposite of her characters. She
would be found dead, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1935, and
there have been theories brought forth that she was actually murdered.
While The Marx Brothers Paramount Pictures work is now considered legendary, back in 1932, it was
considered too far ahead of it’s time. Both “Horse Feathers” and “Duck Soup” failed at the Box Office
and Paramount dropped them. After two years of idleness Irving Thalberg, the boy genius of MGM,
convinced the Brothers sans Zeppo to come to MGM (he also had to convince Studio Chief Louis B.
Mayer to allow them to come).
Thalberg hand crafted “A Night at the Opera” for them and it was a huge success. Thalberg died from
pneumonia in 1936 while the follow up “A Day at the Races” was in production. The final product
while funny was not in the class of “Opera”. Nor were any of the films that followed.
But as the world matured after World War II, the seriousness of the era needed the escapism of the
lunacy of the Marx Brothers kind of Comedy.
And that’s why films like “Horse Feathers” are more laughable now, more than 70 years after they
Remember, the Password is “Swordfish”.