At the Circus (1939) – Edward Buzzell

The comedic section of the chapter on Monstrous Apes in the fantastic DK Canada book, Monsters in the Movies, brings me a Marx Brothers classic which I had never seen, and consequently as delighted to settle in for.

Groucho, Harpo, and Chico lend their hysterical aid to the owner of a circus, Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker) recover stolen funds, before it costs him the circus and his job. Groucho plays the Attorney Loophole, Chico is Antonio, and Harpo is Punchy – and let the banter, the zingers and the comedic genius shine.

And of course the film would not be in this section unless it included a man in an ape suit, Charles Gemora as Gibraltar the Gorilla.

There are lots of musical numbers, circus acts, and some wonderful moments, Groucho, as for most people, is my favourite and it’s great to see him do his thing.

Almost the entire film is set on the circus’ train, as the trio try to find the money that has been stolen from Jeff. They know who did it, their suspicions are all correct, now they just have to prove it, or at least get the money back.

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Outrageous set pieces, wonderful dialogue, and physical gags make this one very enjoyable, and Gemora’s monstrous Gibraltar, though only appearing occasionally, actually plays a part in the plot as opposed to just being there.

That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a horrible gorilla suit, but at least it’s put to good use.

I’ve been a fan of the Marx Brothers since I first discovered them on a tape of Duck Soup, the trio, and sometimes Zeppo, work so well together, they each have their own style, presence, and brand of humour, and combined, they feel like an unstoppable comic force, able to slide from physical humour to witty banter with ease. Consequently I enjoy any opportunity to settle in and watch another of their films for the first, or tenth time.

I hadn’t seen this one before, and was very happy with it, there is just so much going on and so much to see in it, and while the romantic subplot for Wilson is fine, I was always eager for the story to get back to Groucho, and revel in his onscreen moments.

I grew up watching Abbott and Costello, and The Three Stooges, I came to the Marx Brothers in my twenties, and while I don’t think my childhood cinema education was lacking, part of me wishes I had gone to the matinee screenings of these films when I was young, and they were available.

I can’t wait to see what DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies has for me next! And why don’t you pick up a copy and find something monstrously entertaining to watch tonight?

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