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Horse Feathers

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Horse Feathers

Horse Feathers
Poster by Al Hirschfeld
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Written by S. J. Perelman
Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby
Will B. Johnstone
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Zeppo Marx
Thelma Todd
Reginald Barlow
Music by John Leipold
Cinematography Ray June
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • August 10, 1932 (1932-08-10)
Running time 68 min.
Country United States
Language English

Horse Feathers (1932) is a Marx Brothers film comedy.[1][2] It stars the four Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo) and Thelma Todd. It was written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S. J. Perelman, and Will B. Johnstone. Kalmar and Ruby also wrote some of the original music for the film. Several of the film's gags were taken from the Marx Brothers' stage comedy from the 1900s, Fun in Hi Skule.[3]


The film revolves around college football and a game between the fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges.[1] Many of the jokes about the amateur status of collegiate football players and how eligibility rules are stretched by collegiate athletic departments remain remarkably current.[4] 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 the movie, often referenced as one of the greatest football-related scenes in movie history,[5] 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 the film made the cover of TIME in 1932.[6]


Musical numbers

  • "I'm Against It"
  • "I Always Get My Man"
  • "Everyone Says I Love You"
  • "Collegiate" (Chico playing)
  • "Bridal Chorus"
  • "Wedding March"

The film prominently features the song "Everyone Says I Love You", by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. (This song was later the title song of the eponymous 1996 Woody Allen movie. All four brothers perform the song, almost every time as a serenade to Connie Bailey. Zeppo leads with a "straight" verse:

Everyone says I love you
The cop on the corner and the burglar too
The preacher in the pulpit and the man in the pew
Says I love you.

Harpo whistles it once to his horse, and later plays it on the harp to serenade Miss Bailey. Chico sings a comic verse, with his standard fake Italian accent, while playing piano:

Everyone says I love you
The great big mosquito when-a he sting you
The fly when he gets stuck on the flypaper too
Says I love you.

Groucho sings a sarcastic verse, sitting in a canoe strumming a guitar as Miss Bailey rows. This is in line with his suspicions about the college widow's intentions throughout the film.

Everyone says I love you
But just what they say it for I never knew
It's just inviting trouble for the poor sucker who
Says I love you.

Notable scenes

In the opening number Wagstaff and a group of college professors sing and dance in full academic robes and mortarboard hats:

I don't care what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway;
Whatever it is, I'm against it!

A later scene features Baravelli guarding the speakeasy and Wagstaff trying to get in. The password for entry is "Swordfish". This sequence degenerates into a series of puns:

Wagstaff: I got it! Haddock.
Baravelli: 'At's a-funny, I got a haddock too.
Wagstaff: What do you take for a haddock?
Baravelli: Sometimes I take an aspirin, sometimes I take a calomel.
Wagstaff: I'd walk a mile for a calomel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calomel? I like-a that too, but you no guess it.

At the door, Pinky is also asked the password. He responds by pulling a fish from his coat and sticking a small sword down its throat.

Later Wagstaff and Baravelli debate the cost of ice. Wagstaff argues that his bill should be much smaller than it is:

Baravelli: I make you proposition. You owe us $200, we take $2000 and we call it square.
Wagstaff: That's not a bad idea. I tell you ... I'll consult my lawyer. And if he advises me to do it, I'll get a new lawyer.

Baravelli: Last week, for eighteen dollars, I gotta co-ed with two pair o' pants.
Wagstaff: Since when has a co-ed got two pair of pants?
Baravelli: Since I joined the college.

A notable scene taken from the earlier revue Fun in Hi Skule consists of the brothers disrupting an anatomy class.[3] The professor asks for a student to explain the symptoms of cirrhosis. Baravelli obliges:

Sure, So roses are red
So violets are blue
So sugar is sweet
So so are you.

The professor protests that his facts are in order: Baravelli and Pinky bear him out. Wagstaff takes over the class and continues the lecture.

Wagstaff: Let us follow a corpuscle on its journey... Now then, baboons, what is a corpuscle?
Baravelli: That's easy! First is a captain... then a lieutenant... then is a corpuscle!
Wagstaff: That's fine. Why don't you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?

A little later, Wagstaff advises Pinky that he can't burn the candle at both ends. Pinky then reaches into his trenchcoat, and pulls out a candle burning at both ends.

Foreshadowing the "stateroom" scene from A Night at the Opera, all four Marx brothers and the main antagonist take turns going in and out of Connie Bailey's room, and eventually their movements pile up on each other, resulting in a crowded, bustling scene, notable both by Groucho's breaking of the fourth wall during Chico's piano solo, and his constant opening of his umbrella and removing his shoes upon entering the room.

Eventually, Pinky and Baravelli are sent to kidnap two of the rival college's star players to prevent them from playing in the big game. The intended victims (who are much larger men than Pinky and Baravelli) manage to kidnap the pair instead, removing their outer clothing and locking them in a room. Pinky and Baravelli make their escape by sawing their way out through the floor. The saws came from a tool bag Pinky carried with them that held their kidnappers' tools, which included, among other things, rope, chisels, hammers and at one point, a small pig. This is an example of the surreal edge of Marx Brothers humor.

One direct example of that influence occurs in the speakeasy scene. Two men are playing cards, and one says to the other, "cut the cards". Pinky happens to walk by at that moment, pulls a hatchet out of his trenchcoat and chops the deck in half. This none-too-subtle gag, recycled from the brothers' first Broadway show, I'll Say She Is (1924), was repeated by Curly Howard against Moe Howard in The Three Stooges' short Ants in the Pantry (1936), and by Bugs Bunny in Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948).


American Film Institute recognition

Production Notes

The caricatures of the four brothers that are briefly flashed during the credits are taken from a promotional poster from their previous film, Monkey Business.

Period references

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.[7] 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.[8] 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).

Missing sequences

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, 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 pressbook from the year of the film's release, along with a still photograph.)[7] The 15 August 1932 Time Magazine review of the film[9] says of Harpo in the speakeasy scene, "He bowls grapefruit at bottles on the bar." This joke is also missing from the current print.

See also



  1. ^ Thomas Henry Huxley was a defender of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.


  1. ^ Variety film review; August 16, 1932, page 15.
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; August 20, 1932, page 135.
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ at Feathers
  5. ^ The top 11 scenes in football movie history at
  6. ^ "Cover".  
  7. ^ a b "Horse Feathers". Marxology. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  8. ^ Groucho Marx biography |Marx brothers | you bet your life! -
  9. ^ "Cinema: Horse Feathers".  

External links

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