The Marx Brothers
A Day at the Races (1937)

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A Day at the Races

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Sadly, this was the last picture the Marxes would make with Irving Thalberg. Thalberg died suddenly, at the age of 37, before the movie was complete. Although screen credit for the production of this film was given to director Sam Wood, Thalberg actually produced both this film and "A Night At The Opera." Groucho once asked Thalberg why he didn't give himself a screen credit. Thalberg's reply was that, "Credit is for others. If you are in a position to give yourself credit, then you don't need it." Also, "If the movie is good, they'll know who produced it. If it's bad, no one will care."

Thalberg employed an interesting method of test marketing in the making of both the movies he produced for the Marx Brothers. He sent the boys on the road with several scenes from the picture. Gauging the audience reaction, the writers and the Marxes were able to decide which bits were good and which needed to be changed or removed. This also helped the director, in that he knew how long the actors would have to pause to allow time for audience laughter.

At the beginning of the film, we see Tony (Chico) trying to drum up business for the Standish Sanitarium, with little luck. The Sanitarium, owned by Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan), is in financial trouble. A local hotel owner by the name of Morgan (Douglas Dumbrille) is trying by various means to gain control of the sanitarium to turn it into a casino.

One of the sanitarium's residents, Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont), is willing to help out financially if Judy will hire Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho) as her chief of staff. Does this sound familiar, "Duck Soup" fans? Neither of them realize that Hackenbush is, in reality, a horse doctor.

Morgan and his sidekick, Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley), try desperately to uncover Hackenbush's shakey credentials. Meanwhile, Judy's fiance Gil (Allan Jones), is trying to help Judy out as well. To this end he purchases a horse with the intention of turning him into a winner at the track, with the help of Tony and jockey Stuffy (Harpo).

This picture contains yet another inspired bit of banter between Groucho and Chico, in the "Tutsi-Fruitsi" scene. And watch out for an insane phone call to Florida, Chico selling race tips, Groucho's nutty medical exams and Harpo completely destroying a piano turning it into a harp.

The Marx Brothers continued to make movies after Thalberg's death, but their hearts (especially Groucho's) just weren't in it anymore. From now on they would be at the mercy of MGM, which was never terribly fond of them in the first place.

Note: The photograph at the top of this page is not from the movie; it is a publicity shot taken of the Marxes and Irving Thalberg around the time of the film's production.

TONY: Hey, come here. Sun-Up is the worst horse on the track.
HACKENBUSH: I notice he wins all the time.
TONY: Aw, that's-a just because he comes in first.

Groucho (Dr. Hackenbush) and Sig Ruman (Dr. Steinberg)

It took a dozen writers over a year and a half and eighteen different scripts before Irving Thalberg would give A Day at the Races the go-ahead. Scriptwriter George Seaton recalls the process they went through, "Mr. Thalberg was most kind and he would say, 'I think this script is a good one fellas. Now I'll tell you what to do: Start over again.' He would instruct us to 'save this scene' or 'save this character' and we worked and we worked."

A Day at the Races faced a few legal problems. The original name for Groucho's character was Dr. Quackenbush. Everyone agreed it was a ridiculous name for a doctor, but then they discovered thirty-seven actual Dr. Quackenbushes in the United States. Since most of them were eager to sue if their name was used, Groucho's character was changed to Hackenbush. Groucho in the end loved this name so much that he often signed his letters with it.

A woman once sent Groucho a note asking, "Wouldn't it be funny if you three nuts ran a hospital?" Since the plot of A Day at the Races has Groucho running a hospital, the woman sued MGM for plagiarism. The scriptwriters had to testify and go through all eighteen scripts explaining the evolution of the story.

As with A Night at the Opera, the Marx Brothers went on a cross-country road show in support of A Day at the Races. This gave the brothers the opportunity to see how audiences would react to comedy sequences they were planning for the film. Each week the writers focused on a different scene by changing the wording to see what got the best reaction from the audience. George Seaton said, "by the time we got back to the studio after six or eight weeks on the road we could take an average and know exactly how many seconds a laugh would last. In this way, Sam Wood in directing or editing could cut to a reaction shot until a laugh died down so that the audience wouldn't miss the next line."

Less than two weeks after filming began Irving Thalberg died of pneumonia. According to Joe Adamson in "Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo", "It was a big blow not only to the Day at the Races company, not only to the whole Irving Thalberg production unit, not only to the entire MGM studio, but to everybody who had ever had anything to do with making a movie. Hollywood was full of people who either respected him professionally or felt very close to him personally, or both." Thalberg had already approved the story for A Day at the Races before his death, but many believe the film didn't live up to A Night at the Opera because Thalberg wasn't there to make daily decisions during filming. Years later, Groucho admitted, "After Thalberg's death, my interest in the movies waned...The fun had gone out of filmmaking." Even without Thalberg's presence, A Day at the Races earned four million dollars at the box office, a record for the Marx Brothers.

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Groucho Marx   Doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush
Harpo Marx   Stuffy
Chico Marx   Tony
Margaret Dumont   Mrs. Emily Upjohn
Maureen O'Sullivan   Judy Standish
Allan Jones   Gil Stewart
Sig Ruman   Dr. Leopold X. Steinberg
Douglas Dumbrille   Morgan
Leonard Ceeley   Whitmore
Esther Muir   Flo Marlowe
Robert Middlemass   Sheriff
Vivien Fay   Solo Dancer
Frankie Darro   Morgan's Jockey
Charles Trowbridge   Dr. Wilmerding
Carole Landis   Extra
Max Lucke   Doctor
Edward Le Saint   Doctor
Pat Flaherty   Detective
Si Jenks   Messenger
Hooper Atchley   Race Judge
John Hyams   Judge
Wilbur Mack   Judge
Lee Murray   Judge
Mary McLaren   Nurse
Jack Norton   Drunk
Jean Burt   Telephone Operator
Ivie Anderson   Herself (Singer)
Crinoline Choir   Singers
Dorothy Danbridge   bit role

Director  Sam Wood
Written by  George Oppenheimer
  Robert Pirosh (also story)
  George Seaton (also story)
  Al Boasberg (additional material, uncredited)
Music  Bronislau Kaper
  Walter Jurmann
Lyricist  Gus Kahn
Musical director  Franz Waxman
Musical Arranger  Roger Edens
Choral and orchestral Arranger  Leo Arnaud
Orchestrators  George Bassman
  Paul Marquardt
Cinematography  Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor  Frank E. Hull
Art director  Cedric Gibbons
  Stan Rogers
  Edwin B. Willis (set decorator)
Recording director  Douglas Shearer
Choreographer  Dave Gould
Costume design  Dolly Tree
Assistant directors  Robert A. Golden
  Al Shenberg
Producer  Max Siegel (associate)
  Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
  Lawrence Weingarten
  Sam Wood
Production company / Distribution  Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (Loew's Inc.)
Runtime  109 min.
Release date  11 Jun 1937
New York opening  17 Jun 1937
Spanish title  Un día en las carreras
French title  Un jour aux courses
German title  Das große Rennen
Swedish title  En dag på kapplöpningarna
  En dag på kapplöpningsbanan
Italian title  Un giorno alle corse
Finnish title  Päivä kilpa-ajoissa
Norwegian title  Sensasjon på veddeløpsbanen / Panikk på veddeløpsbanen

Posters and Lobby Cards for this movie. Click to enlarge.
Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster Poster

Musical numbers

Performed byComments
 Main Title 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
Blue Venetian Water
Blue Venetian Water 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
Allan Jones  
 Who's that Man 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
 Prelude In Do Mi, Op 23 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
Tomorrow Is Another Day
Tomorrow Is Another Day 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
Allan Jones  
A Message From The Man In The Moon
A Message From The Man In The Moon 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
Allan Jones  
All God's Chillun Got Rhythm
All God's Chillun Got Rhythm 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn
Ivy Anderson  
 End Title 
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann
Lyrics by: Gus Kahn

This site uses material originally created by Frank Bland for his website Why A Duck?. Frank did kindly give me permission to use this material.

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