A Day at the Races
features some of the finest and funniest performances the Marx Brothers
turn in; this alone should tell you that this is one of the most entertaining strips of black and white film ever crammed into a VHS. From the opening, where Chico
offers to take people from the train station to his employer's hospital (needless to say, they'd rather go to their hotel), to the finale (Groucho: Emily
, I really am a horse doctor. But marry me, and I'll never look at another horse.) the Brothers Marx keep your sides in major pain.
The plot, such as it is, only exists as a joke framework: Judy Standish needs money to keep her sanitarium running, and her boyfriend, Gil Stewart, buys a horse to help out. The horse wins the big race at the end, saving the hospital. If that's all you have, then you have a decent sports centered romantic comedy. But then you add the Marx Brothers. Groucho, the horse doctor who has treated a rich widow (the ever lovable Margaret Dumont). Chico, an ambulance driver who also sells ice cream and tips at the local race track. And Harpo, a jockey fired because he refuses to throw a race (Chico: He's honest, but you've got to watch him). (Note: technically, these aren't the names of the characters. However, with all due respect, there is no difference between any Harpo, Chico, and Groucho character in any movie). Zeppo isn't in this one. Nobody cares.
As was mentioned above, the Standish Sanitarium needs money. Otherwise, its loan will be foreclosed, and Mr. Morgan, who also owns the racetrack and the Night Club where Gil sings, will turn it into a casino. In order to get money, Gil buys a horse, Hi-Hat, hoping to enter it into a race. However, there is another hope: Margaret Dumont, who is being treated there and (as often happens) is rich.
Dumont, who is perfectly well despite what Groucho has convinced her, is outraged when the hospital staff informs her of her health, and prepares to leave. To get her to stay, Chico sends Groucho a telegram, asking him to come at once. As often happens, Groucho doesn't know Chico and Harpo at the start, although they know each other. Groucho comes, insults Mr. Whitmore, the Standish Sanitarium's business manager (who is league with Morgan).
From there, Groucho's chief aim is keeping Whitmore from finding out he is a veterinarian. Meanwhile, Gil deals with the horse, finding two major problems with him: he is slow, and he can't stand Mr. Morgan's face or voice; he goes into a frenzy.
When word finally does leak out, Grouch flees into hiding, along with Gil and Hi-Hat(because Gil hasn't paid his bills, and would lose the horse otherwise) and Chico and Harpo-just because. In certainly barn there is singing, dancing, and many blacks (certainly a scandal at the time, having colored in the movies!), until John Law comes to arrest the lot of them. Well, besides the blacks. In the escape that follows, Hi-Hat demonstrates a flair for jumping over fences. So, they enter him in the Grand Steeplechase, which is all about jumping fences, with Harpo riding him. Using a picture of Morgan, and later his voice, Harpo is able to speed his horse greatly. But on one of the jumps, he and another rider take a spill; the other rider crosses the line first, with Harpo second. The Sanitarium will be closed, a new casino will be opened, and Morgan congratulates the winner...
But, no. The other jockey's horse goes crazy! Harpo wipes the mud off of the horses numbers, and sees that they somehow switched horses! (Had the film been in color, we probably would have noticed. Hooray for black and white, I guess.) The Standish Sanitarium is saved, Morgan's plot is foiled, and the black people, who it turns out had bet on Hi-Hat, are all rich.
Now, this is just a basic plot summary. Don't see it for the plot. See it for the humor. See it because you need to know about "Tootsie-Frootsie" to function in Western Society. See it because Harpo and Chico play the harp and piano, respectively, and you've never seen a harp or piano make music until you see them do it. See it because there's some real nice songs. See it because there's wackiness. Just see it.
Now, for the technicals:
The cast included:
Groucho Marx .... Doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush
Chico Marx .... Tony
Harpo Marx .... Stuffy
Allan Jones .... Gil Stewart
Maureen O'Sullivan .... Judy Standish
Margaret Dumont .... Emily Upjohn
Sam Wood directed, it was filmed in 1937 at MGM, and it clocks in at an hour, 51 minutes. Or 111 minutes, if you don't want to hear about hours.