Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Having paid $255,500 for the rights to John Murray and Allen Boretz' Broadway hit Room Service, RKO Radio then scouted about for a "perfect" cast. Thanks to the persistence of show-biz agent Zeppo Marx, RKO was able to secure the services of Zeppo's brothers Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx for $100,000. The result is an uneven but entertaining blend of traditional stage farce and Marxian madness. Groucho plays two-bit producer Gordon Miller, who has gone deeply into debt while trying to stage a turgid production called "Hail and Farewell". Miller and his entire cast are ensconced in the Great White Way Hotel, managed by his brother-in-law Gribble Cliff Dunstan, who is fed up with the troupe's inability to pay its bills. As Miller, his director Harry Binelli (Chico) and his business manager Faker Englund (Harpo) try to figure out new methods of raising money, in walks Leo Davis Frank Albertson, the wide-eyed playwright, who is unaware that his masterpiece is in danger of closing before it even opens. He soon figures out what's what after Harry and Faker hock his typewriter for eating money. When hotel inspector Wagner Donald MacBride threatens to throw Miller and his entourage out bag and baggage, the producer and his cronies fake a measles epidemic so that Wagner will be forced to allow them to stay. Salvation seems at hand when Jenkins Philip Wood, a potential backer, arrives with a blank check in hand. But after sampling a bit of the lunacy that has surrounded the play since its inception, Jenkins dashes off, refusing to finance such a chancy property. Miller manages to mollify Wagner by pretending that Jenkins has invested money in the show, but when this scheme falls through, our hero resorts to really drastic measures by pretending that Davis and Faker have both committed suicide because of Wagner's persecution. Weaving in and out of the proceedings are nominal heroines Lucille Ball and Ann Miller, as well as Philip Loeb (who played Faker in the original Broadway production), brilliantly cast as a mild-mannered bill collector. Room Service is hardly typical Marx Bros. fare, despite the efforts by screenwriter Morris Ryskind to inject characteristic verbal gags and visual bits into the action; the film works better as a situation comedy than as a Marx vehicle (Groucho's only comment on the subject was that his brother Zeppo should have arranged a larger salary). In 1943, RKO Radio remade Room Service as a musical titled Step Lively, which was actually something of an improvement on the original.
debt, producer [showbiz], hotel, playwright, stage, behind-the-scenes, finances, financier, eviction, fundraiser