The follow-up to A Night at the Opera (arguably the Marx Brothers's best film), A Day at the Races falls a little short of the mark in comparison with Opera, but is still lunatic fun of a high order. The boys are in fine form here, performing difficult routines with such skill that they come across as effortless (and are all the more enjoyable therefore). Several classic routines -- including "tutsi-fruitis," in which Chico keeps conning Groucho into buying racing tip books, a riotous medical exam, and a wallpapering sequence -- make the film memorable, as does the extended race finale, which manages to be both terribly funny and moderately tense. Aside from the routines, the strength of the script lies in its cohesiveness and coherence, qualities often lacking in other Marx efforts. As indicated, the brothers are their usual hilarious selves. What's surprising is how animated Margaret Dumont gets to be in this film. Although the score's big ballad is no great shakes, its two production numbers -- one of which features an outrageous art deco set incorporating lily pad tables and fountains and an impressive Vivian Fay dance routine - are memorable. The other is simpler, but packs an even greater wallop: Ivie Anderson and the Crinoline Choir performing "All God's Children Got Rhythm," a number which occasionally veers close to racial insensitivity, but which is saved by Anderson's radiant vocalizing and the gospel wails of the choir, as well as some snappy jitterbugging. Races would be the last of the Marx Brothers' classic films; while follow-ups like Room Service have some wonderful moments, they lack the sparkle found in the boys' best work.
by Craig Butler review