Synopsis by Hal Erickson
If ever there was an archetypal Marx Brothers comedy, it was the team's 1932 offering Horse Feathers. Groucho Marx is cast as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the newest president of Huxley College. As he delivers his introductory speech before the assembled student body ("As I look out among your smiling, eager faces, I can readily understand why this college is flat on its back"), he maps out his plans for the future by singing those deathless hits Whatever It Is, I'm Against It and I Always Get My Man. He then has a powwow with his son Frank (Zeppo Marx), who has been a Huxley student for 12 years. Frank tells his old man that Huxley has had a new president every year since 1888, the year the college won its last football game. The only way to save the establishment is to hire a couple of good football players, Mullen and McHardie (Jim Pierce and Nat Pendleton), who hang out at the local speakeasy. With his usual efficiency, Professor Wagstaff signs up the wrong men for the Huxley team: Baravelli (Chico Marx), the ice man/bootlegger, and Pinky (Harpo Marx) the dog catcher. Meanwhile, gambler Jennings (David Landau), who has all his money bet on Darwin College in the upcoming Thanksgiving Day football game, instructs his girlfriend Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd), the college widow, to get her hands on Huxley's secret football signals. This leads to a frenetic four-way courtship in Connie's apartment, as Wagstaff, Baravelli, Pinky and Frank duck in and out of doors and windows to romance the heroine. Later on, Baravelli and Pinky try to kidnap Mullen and McHardie to keep them out of the Big Game, only to end up kidnapped themselves. Miraculously, all four of our heroes show up at the Huxley-Darwin game in time, achieving victory through some of the most creative cheating in gridiron history. Written by such renowned wits as S. J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Horse Feathers is a comedy smorgasbord, offering generous doses of all four Marx Brothers performing some of their best-ever material. Who could not love a film in which, just before Chico Marx launches into his obligatory piano solo, Groucho saunters up to the camera and growls "I've got to stay here, but that's no reason why you folks can't go into the lobby until this thing blows over"? In addition, this is the film that introduced the semi-satirical romantic ballad Everyone Says I Love You, which was used over six decades later as the title of a Woody Allen picture. Unfortunately, current prints of Horse Feathers are incomplete, with nearly five minutes of comedy material missing; the search goes on for a pristine, uncut negative.
bootlegging, college, coming-of-age, football, school, sports, widow/widower
High Artistic Quality