Animal Crackers

A popular defence of Marxism is that it was “funnier at the time”, and while this may be true, from a modern perspective we can’t help but see it as a template for totalitarianism. Similarly it would be great to be able to go back to 1930 and watch the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers in a packed auditorium, but a modern viewing yields very few laughs.

The plot centres on a piece of art that’s being unveiled at a socialite’s party to celebrate the return of a great explorer (Groucho Marx) from his around the world travels. It’s fairly light on story, with its assortment of fairly disconnected scenes feeling more like a series of rather weak sketches, or even a variety show during some of its musical interludes.

It has a smattering of funny moments, but they’re overwhelmed by the huge number of groan-inducing gags that feel like watching a bloke whose mates all reckon he’s really funny at the pub try stand up for the first time. The explorer, describing his travels, says “the Elks come down for the water hole. They were disappointed. They wanted an alcohol.” Oh dear oh dear. Some lines just don’t make any sense. When the explorer is attempting to get two women to marry him he says “One woman and one man was good enough for your grandmother, but who wants to marry your grandmother?” Silliness isn’t enough for hilarity.

Being old doesn’t have to be detrimental to a comedy, as my review of The Great Dictator will show you. The dialogue here is very fast and tightly written, but also falls short of the quality required to be consistently funny. Similarly the slapstick is fairly tiresome.

Originally a play, this is made in a very theatrical way, with long takes, all actors facing the camera at most points, and Groucho repeatedly talking to the viewer. I think it would be far more enjoyable live. Here the actors try and play to an absent audience which doesn’t work at all. It might be better with a laughter track, something I don’t think I’ve ever said before.

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