28.8.11

Oh Professor, You're Full of Whimsy: Horse Feathers (1932)

The Marx Brothers were comedic masters, between the wry sexual innuendos of Groucho and the elaborate slapstick work of Harpo, they covered every possible avenue of humor and continue to serve as the pinnacle of how to make people laugh.  While Duck Soup is certainly their masterpiece, Horse Feathers is an equally hilarious romp through college life as seen through the Marx Brothers.  This of course means that the film has little to nothing to do with college and everything to do with winning the hearts of women and belittling the foolish people who attempt to exist in their presence.  Cohesive narrative is sacrificed for lengthy comedic routines, yet the film manages to flow nicely and offers a few moments of cinematic grace that can bring a new level of respect to the staunchest critics of comedic work.  Horse Feathers is how you make a comedy, ensure laughter first and a story will formulate in the process.



Horse Feathers begins with the inauguration of Professor Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) to the position of president at Huxley University.  The school is infamous for continually replacing presidents in the face of constantly loosing football games to a rival college. Wagstaff's son, and Huxley student, Frank (Zeppo Marx) suggests that he hire some local thugs from the local speakeasy to play for Huxley in the upcoming game, thus assuring their victory.  In desperation Professor Wagstaff agrees to pursue this plan and arrives in the speakeasy after a hilarious exchange of passwords.  Unfortunately for Wagstaff,  the two players his son had in mind are already hired out and he must instead settle on the speakeasy proprieties Baravelli (Chico Marx) and the mute dog catcher Pinky (Harpo Marx).  The duo are bumbling idiots who cannot exist in society with any sense of normalcy and certainly lack the athletic skills necessary to help Huxley win a football game.  The film then takes a tangent as the four men attempt to woo the college widow Connie (Thelma Todd).  After proving unsuccessful, the group plays their football game, which proves ill-fated until the shenanigans of Pinky allow them to score multiple touchdowns thus winning the game by a large margin.  This concludes the films narrative in a brief, but damn funny fashion.


I am a bit lacking in ideas for criticism on this film and would simply hope that this review inspires you to revisit the classic comedies.  Along with Keaton, Chaplin and The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers are funny regardless of your age.  I was able to view Horse Feathers with a varied crowed  both of age and gender allowing to catch the full spectrum of jokes presented, some relative to thirties culture, others highbrow political critiques and some just plain raunchy.  If possible, watch this film with an older relative as they will make the experience more pleasurable given that you are being provided a window into what was considered funny over eighty years ago.  It is a comedy transcendent of time and one to be shared widely and regularly.  I am glad to have had the viewing opportunity.


Snag this film up, along with Duck Soup, a copy on any medium will work as it is not a particularly visual film, although the harp scene is rather beautiful.

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