Marx Brother’s “Animal Crackers” airs on Turner Classic Movies

Movie poster for "Animal Crackers"When the film industry started transitioning to talking motion pictures in  the late 1920’s, Hollywood studios turned to vaudeville and Broadway for  entertainers with proven vocal talent. Among the early sound era stars were the  Marx Brothers, whose second film, “Animal Crackers,” airs on Friday, December  31st at 5 pm on Turner Classic Movies. Released in 1930, “Animal Crackers” features the Four Marx Brothers ( Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo) along with  Margaret Dumont and Lillian Roth. Now 80 years old, “Animal Crackers” is a  musical comedy that contains some of the Marx Brothers best known scenes, as  well as the tune “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” which Groucho Marx later adapted  as his theme song.

A weekend party at the estate of Mrs. Rittenhouse (Dumont) is held in  honor of Captain Geoffrey Spaulding (Groucho), an explorer recently returned  from Africa. This gathering of socialites is already in danger of turning into  chaos due to the behavior of hired musical director (Chico) and his partner  (Harpo) when it’s discovered that a valuable painting has been switched, and  replaced by a fake. It isn’t long before the fake painting goes missing as well,  while Captain Spaulding’s attempts to solve the mystery only adds to the  confusion.

“Animal Crackers,” like the Marx Brother’s first film, “The Cocoanuts,” was based on a Broadway musical the brothers had introduced to the stage a few  years earlier. Released by Paramount, both “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers” were filmed at the Kaufman Astoria Studios, in Astoria, Queens, after which the  Marx Brothers relocated to Hollywood, where they filmed the remainder of their  pictures. Most of the music heard in “Animal Crackers” was written by the team  of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, including Groucho’s “Hello, I Must Be Going” and “Hooray For Captain Spaulding,” the latter best remembered as the theme music  for Groucho’s long running television show, “You Bet Your Life.” Groucho’s line, “one morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t  know” is ranked #53 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes  of All Time.

Notes: During “Animal Crackers” two year Broadway run, Zeppo Marx, in  addition to his own role, served as Groucho’s understudy for the role of Captain  Spaulding. Zeppo, an excellent mimic, was said to be capable of filling in for  any of his brothers’ parts, and he did take Groucho’s place on more than one  occasion. There is a scene in the movie version of “Animal Crackers” that takes  place in a darkened room where Captain Spaulding is heard speaking to Margaret  Dumont’s character. It is believed that Captain Spaulding’s lines are actually  spoken by Zeppo, as Groucho was unavailable for that day’s  filming.