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.