The Marx Brothers
At the Circus (1939)

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At the Circus

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After a short stint with RKO, the Marxes returned to MGM for this film. In his autobiography, Groucho And Me (copyright 1959 by Groucho Marx), Groucho mentions one aspect of this picture. There was a rather significant part in the film for an ape. Since they had no luck getting a live ape to play the part and had no desire to capture one and train him, they decided to hire an actor in an ape skin.

It seems that not only did the actor have an agent, but the ape skin had an agent of it's own. The problem arose that the actor couldn't get enough air in the skin and caused trouble by fainting in the middle of shooting. He tried to alleviate this problem by secretly punching holes in the costume. After a long period of shooting where the actor was performing without any ill effects, the skin's agent figured something screwy was going on, so he checked out the suit and found the ventilation holes. He stalked out of MGM with the skin over his shoulder, never to be seen again.

After three days outside of a gorilla skin, the actor became uncomfortable and tracked down a man in San Diego who had an orangutan skin. Since orangutans are much smaller than gorillas, the actor couldn't fit into the skin and was replaced with a smaller man who had made a name for himself playing orangutans in the San Diego area. Thus, there are actually two apes in "At The Circus." Groucho goes on to talk about the reviews of the picture: "At the first preview nobody mentioned us. Our gifted performances went for naught. The audience had eyes only for the gorilla. But overcritical viewers complained that in some scenes the gorilla seemed to be larger than he was in others, and that this had definitely weakened the credibility of the love story...Later however, when the picture was released, the theatres were obliged to refund the price of admission to many gorilla aficionados who complained that they had paid not to see the Marx Brothers but to see a full-sized gorilla, and instead they had been slipped a shrunken ape."

On to the actual picture. Circus owner Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker) has been disowned by his wealthy aunt, Mrs. Dukesbury (Margaret Dumont). He is having financial trouble so one of his employees, Antonio (Chico) sets out to hire Attorney J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho) to help out. Loophole arrives only to find that the $10,000 Jeff was going to use to pay off part of his debt to John Carter (James Burke) has been stolen.

With the help of Antonio and Punchy (Harpo), Loophole tries to uncover the thieves and return the dough to Wilson. As a backup plan, he sets out to squeeze the 10 grand out of Mrs. Dukesbury on the sly.

This film contains one of Groucho's best-known songs, Lydia The Tattooed Lady.

LOOPHOLE: I'll bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.

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Groucho Marx   J. Cheever Loophole
Harpo Marx   Punchy
Chico Marx   Antonio Pirelli
Margaret Dumont   Mrs. Suzanna Dukesbury
Kenny Baker   Jeff Wilson
Florence Rice   Julie Randall
Eve Arden   Peerless Pauline
Nat Pendleton   Goliath
Fritz Feld   Jardinet
James Burke   John Carter
Jerry Maren (as Jerry Marenghi)   Little Professor Atom
Barnett Parker   Whitcomb
Frank Orth   Chef in Diner
Emory Marnell   Ringmaster
Irving Bacon   Telegraph office clerk
Matt McHugh   Cab Driver
Willie Best   Redcap
Charles Gemora   Gibraltar
Buck Mack   Checker Player
Frank Darien   Telegrapher

Director  Edward Buzzell
Written by  Irving Brecher
  Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Cinematography  Leonard M. Smith
Music  Harold Arlen
Lyricist  E.Y. Harburg
Musical director  Franz Waxman
Art directors  Cedric Gibbons
  Stan Rogers
Set decorator  Edwin B. Willis
Editor  William H. Terhune
Vocal and orchestral Arrangements  Murray Cutter
  George Bassman
  Ken Darby
Dance director  Bobby Conolly
Costume design  Dolly Tree (women)
  Valles (men)
Recording director  Douglas Shearer
Assistant director  Sandy Roth
Producer  Mervyn LeRoy
Production company / Distribution  Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (Loew's Inc.)
Runtime  87 min.
Release date  20 Oct 1939
New York opening  16 Nov 1939
Spanish title  Una tarde en el circo
French title  Un jour au cirque
German title  Die Marx Brothers im Zirkus
Swedish title  En dag på cirkusen
Italian title  Tre pazzi a zonzo
Finnish title  Päivä sirkuksessa

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: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
 Step Up And Take A Bow 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
Two Blind Loves
Two Blind Loves 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
Kenny Baker  
 Train musique 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
 Beer Barrel Polka 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
 Frida Oum Papa 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
Lydia, The Tattooed Lady
Lydia, The Tattooed Lady 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
 Blue moon 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg
 End Title 
Music by: Harold Arlen
Lyrics by: E.Y. Harburg

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.

The Marx Brothers - Los Hermanos Marx - האחים מרקס - マルクス兄弟 - Les Freres Marx - 마르크스형제 - Братья Маркс - Bröderna Marx - برادران مارکس - I Fratelli Marx - Братята Маркс - Bracia Marx - Germans Marx - الأخوة ماركس - 馬克思兄弟 - Αδελφοί Μαρξ - Irmãos Marx     RSS feed

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