At the Circus (Edward Buzzell / U.S., 1939):

The MGM big-top has become too plush since Freaks, it's up to the Marx Brothers to deflate it: Florence Rice performs "Step Up and Take a Bow" to a horse until Harpo enters the arena in leopard tights, a caged lion snarls at him and the feline head dangling from his crotch responds in kind. The place is run by Kenny Baker, who in between love duets with Rice frets over the disappearance of mortgage funds; following legal advice from Chico ("Whenever you got business trouble, the best thing to do is to get a lawyer. Then you got more trouble, but at least you got a lawyer"), Groucho pops up as J. Cleever Loophole, "legal eagle." A train accommodates the menagerie of ostriches, gorillas, strongmen and dwarves for the benefit of Hitchcock's Saboteur, topped with a gag about undersized furniture and oversized sneezes. Groucho investigates diligently until he spots Eve Arden in a peignoir ("I'll grill her until she's well done") and the challenge shifts to extracting a wallet out of her cleavage while hanging upside down from the ceiling ("There must be some way of getting the money without getting in trouble with the Hays Office"). The major model for Edward Buzzell's direction is the magician's coat with deep pockets full of comic wonders -- from Nat Pendleton's appearance as a muscle-bound Harpo to Groucho's swift Dada punctuations ("Patois!" "Hors d'oeuvre!") and beguiling performance of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady." Margaret Dumont arrives late at the bash, but in time to have her neck licked by a giraffe and get herself shot out of a canon while Fritz Feld's orchestra drifts away in an image remembered by Kusturica. With James Burke, Jerry Maren, and Barnett Parker. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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