Comedy | 78 mins | Released: 1938
Director: William A. Seiter
Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Frank Albertson, Cliff Dunstan
Our Rating: 7
Black & White
Room Service is the only Marx Bros. film that was not written especially for the team. Less frenetic and more physically contained than their other movies, the plot revolves around the shenanigans of getting a stage play, Hail and Farewell, produced and funded by mysterious backer Zachary Fisk, while evading paying the hotel bill.
Room Service features Groucho as producer Gordon Miller, whose staff includes Harry Binelli (Chico) and Faker Englund (Harpo). They have assembled the cast and crew of the play in the hotel ballroom, as well as a substantial debt to the hotel. Miller is planning on skipping out on the hotel without paying the bill when he receives word that one of his actresses, Christine Marlowe (Lucille Ball), has arranged for a backer. Miller must keep his room and hide the cast and crew until the meeting with the backer can take place.
At the same time, a troubleshooter for the hotel chain, Gregory Wagner (Donald MacBride) discovers the debt. Assured by hotel manager Joe Gribble (Cliff Dunstan), who happens to be Miller’s brother-in-law, that Miller had skipped, Wagner is surprised to find Miller still in his room, now joined by the play’s author, Leo Davis (Frank Albertson), who has arrived in town and checked into Miller’s room.
When Wagner threatens to evict Miller before the backer can arrive, Miller and Binelli convince Davis to pretend to be sick. To obtain food, Miller promises waiter Sasha Smirnoff (Alexander Asro) a part in the play. When Davis leaves to spoon with girlfriend Hilda Manney (Ann Miller), Englund takes over as the sick patient examined by a doctor brought in by Mr. Wagner. Wagner leaves to confront the crowd in the ballroom while the doctor examines the patient. To delay the doctor giving his report to Wagner, Binelli and Miller tie him up, gag him, and lock him in the bathroom. The agent for Mr. Fisk arrives to sign over the cheque, the doctor breaks free in the bathroom, and the agent is hit on the head accidentally as Englund chases a flying turkey around with a baseball bat. The agent just wants to escape the madness, but reluctantly signs over the cheque, and leaves.
Davis returns and says he heard the agent saying he’ll cancel the cheque, and just signed it to get out of the room. Wagner is fooled into believing all is okay and upgrades the boys to a fancier room. Later, as the play is about to open, the cheque from Fisk bounces, Miller, Binelli, and Englund manipulate Wagner into believing he’s driven the play’s author to take poison. They pretend to give Davis large quantities of Ipecac which is actually drank by Englund, who eventually Davis pretends to die. Wagner is bluffed into believing it’s all his fault and helps take the “body” down to the alley. As Miller and Wagner prop Englund on a crate, a passing policeman asks what’s going on. Miller bluffs their way out of the situation, so he and Wagner make an escape, leaving Englund “asleep”. They go to watch the end of the play, which is a scene where the miners are bringing a body from out of the mine. The body on the stretcher is Englund’s. Wagner realizes he’s been duped as the play is greeted with thunderous applause and a revived Davis appears next to Wagner at the back of the theatre.
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
Lucille Ball, who has a supporting role, would later buy the studio that made this film, RKO Pictures. She and Desi Arnaz purchased it during the height of their success on I Love Lucy (1951) and renamed it Desilu Studios.
The only film The Marx Brothers made at RKO. During salary negotiations with the studio, erstwhile member Zeppo Marx represented The Marx Brothers, threatening to rejoin the group if their demands weren’t met.
Harry Binelli: “Hello? Room Service. Bring up enough ice to cool a warm body.”
Leo Davis: “I’ll give you the best performance you ever saw in a hotel bedroom!”