Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Go West Review

Go West (1940)
Dir. Edward Buzzell
Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, John Carroll, Diana Lewis

Con man S. Quentin Quale (Groucho Marx), and two brothers Joseph (Chico Marx) and Rusty Panello (Harpo Marx) that aim to find a fortune in gold head west and get inadvertently get drawn into a land dispute between some feuding families.

It seems like every one of the old comedy acts eventually got to the point where they made a western. In 1937 Laurel and Hardy made Ride em’ Cowboy, in 1942 Abbott and Costello made Way Out West, and in 1947, the Three Stooges made Out West, and Bob Hope’s The Paleface and it’s sequel. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the Marx Brothers did one too. Their film, Go West, came in the later part of their career as a team, and by this point they were a well-oiled machine. They knew what worked, they knew their strengths. Groucho, Chico, and Harpo do what they do best, and the movie is basically just an opportunity to watch them do their routines. John Carroll fills the non-comedic romantic straight man role that Zeppo would of played in the earlier films, and he isn’t bad, but he doesn’t really have much to do, but he does get a singin’ cowboy moment during the song “Ridin’ the Range”.  The other actors are basically there to provide the brothers someone to riff off of or nudge the plot along so they can tell more jokes, which is the standard procedure for any Marx Brothers movie.  And since they are funny, the film works.

Overall you get some good bits from the brothers, and each one gets a chance to shine. The opening scene where Quale and the Panello brothers meet and try to con each other is amusing, and Groucho spends the movie being Groucho, which is always fun to watch. The standout moments for me where actually two of the musical numbers. While the “You Can’t Argue with Love” scene is only really good due to Groucho’s interruptions, immediately following is a scene where Chico plays the piano. His piano skills are amazing, not only due to his talent on the instrument, but also do to the flamboyant moves he makes while playing. His hands are practically dancing, and he is still able to play the song while doing it. Harpo’s harp scene is also great. It is amazing to watch Harpo and compare him while he is playing the harp to any other scenes in the films. In a normal scene he is wide-eyed, and crazed, giving any of the films some of their wildest moments. But when he starts playing the harp, everything changes on him. He looks stern, serious, and focused on the task of creating music, and he was very good as a harpist. It is said to be an incredibly difficult instrument to learn, and the story goes that Harpo was given a harp as an adult and told to learn it, and he began to teach himself the instrument. According to his son, he played it daily, so you can see a progression of him as a player if you compare his performances from the earlier films to the later ones. But of course the simple fact that he was a comedian caused him to not be appreciated as a harpist*, which is unfortunate.

The high point of the film is the train scene at the end of the movie. The bad guys are on a train with the stolen deed trying to leave town to sell the land, while the heroic “lead” and the daughter of the rightful owner race the train trying to get to the buyer first. The Marx Brothers take control of the train, and then begins an action sequence where the brothers and the villains of the film chase each other through the train, on top of the train, and through a farm, while trying to get the engine burning by pulling the train cars apart for fuel. Even if nothing else in the film worked, then I would probably recommend it based on this scene alone. It is a great comedic action scene where every character gets a moment, and it never stops being thrilling. But luckily the rest of the movie is good so it is just another enjoyable part of a good film.

Overall I would say that it’s good movie.. I do not think that this should be anyone’s first Marx Brothers film**, it’s still very enjoyable and fun. This film usually gets put somewhere in the middle whenever people are ranking the films of the Marx Brothers, and that seems about right. It isn’t as good as their great films, but it isn’t as bad as their worst films. But in terms of western comedies, it is great and better than some of the other comedies that I have watched in the past month.  

*Okay, he couldn’t read music. I could see him not being accepted by other harpists due to that.

**It should be Animal Crackers, or Duck Soup. But after Duck Soup there’s nowhere else to go but down. Still, a bad Marx Brothers movie is better than a lot of other comedians’ good movies. One of the Paramount films should be someone’s first Marx Brothers movie.

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