The Marx Bros.' Go West was on the drawing boards as early as 1936, when MGM executive Irving Thalberg commissioned Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby to come up with a script in which the Marx boys get involved with a rodeo. The project was shelved in favor of A Day at the Races, then revived in late 1939, two years after Laurel and Hardy's Way Out West proved the commercial viability of comedy-Westerns. By this time, Kalmar and Ruby were no longer involved, and the script became virtually the sole responsibility of Irving Brecher, who'd previously penned the disappointing Marx vehicle At the Circus. If Go West is an improvement over Circus, it is probably because the Marxes were permitted to try out their material on tour before a variety of live audiences. Set in 1870, the story begins as S. Quentin Quayle (Groucho Marx) tries to raise enough money for a train ticket to the West. He spots a couple of likely pigeons, prospectors Rusty (Harpo Marx) and Joe (Chico Marx), and attempts to sucker them out of the required 500 dollars. In what turns out to be the film's funniest scene, Rusty and Joe turn the tables on Quayle, divesting him of everything he owns -- including his trousers. The plot then rears its ugly head as villains Beecher (Walter Woolf King) and Baxter (Robert H. Barrat) scheme to wrest a lucrative railroad contract from hero Terry Turner (John Carroll). Rusty and Joe make things easy for the bad guys by stupidly signing over a valuable gold mine deed which they were supposed to deliver to heroine Eve Wilson (Diana Lewis). With the help of Quayle, Rusty and Joe try to recover the deed, only to be sidetracked by a bevy of dance-hall girls. After several middling complications, the film boils down to a race between heroes and villains to register their bids and win the railroad contract. This requires Quayle, Rusty, and Joe to keep a locomotive in commission by chopping up the passenger cars for fuel, one of several Keatonesque sight gags packed into the film's hilarious finale. The opening and closing scenes of Go West are so good that one is willing to forgive and forget the dull romantic subplot and the misfire gags in the midsection.
by Hal Erickson synopsis