Comedy, Musical, Romance | 68 mins | Released: 1932
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd, David Landau, Bobby Barber
Our Rating: 8
Black & White
Horse Feathers revolves around college football and a game between the fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges. Many of the jokes in Horse Feathers concern the amateur status of collegiate football players and how eligibility rules are stretched by collegiate athletic departments remain remarkably current. Groucho plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley College, and Zeppo is his son Frank, who convinces his father to recruit professional football players to help Huxley’s team. There are also many references to Prohibition. Baravelli (Chico) is an “iceman”, who delivers ice and bootleg liquor from a local speakeasy. Pinky (Harpo) is also an “iceman”, and a part-time dogcatcher. Through a series of misunderstandings, Baravelli and Pinky are recruited to play on Huxley’s football team; this requires them to enroll as students at Huxley, which creates chaos throughout the school.
The climax of Horse Feathers, referred to by ESPN, as one of the greatest football-related scenes in movie history includes the four protagonists winning the football game by taking the ball into the end zone in a horse-drawn garbage wagon that Pinky rides like a chariot. A picture of the brothers in the “chariot” near the end of Horse Feathers made the cover of TIME in 1932.
Several comedy routines in the movie were taken from the Marx Brothers’ 1920’s vaudeville stage show, “Fun In Hi Skule”.
Harpo Marx was one of only two of The Marx Brothers to play a recurring role in their films (not counting when they used their own names). He played the role of “Pinky” in both Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933).
A term that occurs often in Horse Feathers, but may not be familiar to modern viewers, is college widow. The somewhat derogatory term referred to a woman who stays in college after graduation to find a husband. It is used to describe Connie Bailey. Such women were considered “easy”. Miss Bailey is shown to be involved with each of the characters played by the Brothers, as well as the principal antagonist Jennings.
At one point during the climactic football game, Wagstaff exclaims, “Jumping anaconda!” This probably alludes to the notorious stock market performance of Anaconda Copper immediately preceding the Great Depression. All of the Marx Brothers had experienced severe losses in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Groucho had delivered other jokes related to the stock market in the Brothers’ preceding films (for example, “The stockholder of yesteryear is the stowaway of today” in Monkey Business).
In this now lost, deleted scene from Horse Feathers, the Marx Brothers are seen playing poker as Huxley College goes up in flames around them.
The only existing prints of this film are missing several minutes, owing to censorship and damage.
The damage is most noticeable in jump cuts during the scene in which Groucho, Chico and Harpo visit Connie Bailey’s apartment.Connie: Baravelli,
Connie: Baravelli, “you overcome me.”
Baravelli: “All right, but remember—it was your idea.”
Several sequences were cut from the film, including an extended ending to the apartment scene, additional scenes with Pinky as a dogcatcher, and a sequence in which the brothers play poker as the college burns down. (A description of the latter scene still exists in a press book from the year of the film’s release, along with a still photograph.)
The 15 August 1932 Time Magazine review of the film says of Harpo in the speakeasy scene, “He bowls grapefruit at bottles on the bar.”
This joke is also missing from the current print.
Professor Wagstaff: “You know you’ve got the brain of a four-year-old child, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.”
Professor Wagstaff: “Jumping anaconda!”
Professor Wagstaff: “I think you’ve got something there, but I’ll wait outside until you clean it up.”
All books are available on amazon.com. Click on title to order.
Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of The Marx Brothers
by Simon Louvish
American Legends: The Marx Brothers
by Charles River Editors
The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia
by Glen Mitchell
The Annotated Marx Brothers: A Filmgoer’s Guide to In Jokes, Obscure
References and Sly Details
by Matthew Coaian