I Can See Why They Stopped
Harpo didn't mention it in his autobiography. Groucho didn't mention it in his first one and generally considered [i]A Night in Casablanca[/i] to be the brothers' last film. I don't know what Chico thought. But this movie, originally intended to be a solo project for Harpo, was cobbled together as a project for all three, because the money people said it had to be all three if they wanted it made. (The money people, bizarrely, included Mary Pickford.) Harpo and Chico have several scenes together, but it almost feels as though the brothers were just tired of one another, because Harpo only has a scene or two with Groucho, and Groucho and Chico never appear onscreen together at all. In fact, Groucho doesn't get much time onscreen even alone, and Marilyn Monroe, who only has something like two lines, has almost as much. But of course, she's on the cover, because she's Marilyn Monroe.
Detective Sam Grunion (Groucho, with one of his least-funny character names) is Our Narrator, telling us the story of the Romanoff diamonds. Throckmorton (Melville Cooper), who runs a high-end food emporium, has had them smuggled into the US in a can of Portuguese sardines with a Maltese Cross marked on the bottom of the tin. They are to be received by the mysterious and ominous Madame Egelichi (Ilona Massey). Only a funny-looking pickpocket with curly hair (Harpo, who doesn't even get a character name and is just called Harpo) got into the storage area of the store and has stolen quite a lot of food, including the special tin. He sneaks it back to the theatre where Mike Johnson (Paul Valentine) is trying to put on a show of unknowns, not usually an easy prospect. And he acquires Faustino the Great (Chico), an uneven prospect at best, though he immediately goes to work on Mr. Lyons (Leon Belasco), who owns the sets and costumes and wants to take them all back. Mike is in a relationship with ingenue Maggie Phillips (Vera-Ellen), and Madame Egelichi is sending thugs, including Raymond Burr, after Harpo.
It's really rather sad. There are some laughs in the story, but most of what makes a great Marx Brothers movie is gone by now. It would have been interesting to see the movie as originally planned, as the Harpo vehicle, and it would have been fun if the movie had acknowledged that what makes a Marx Brothers movie great is the interaction among the brothers and that we don't necessarily care about the plot. But there are none of those wonderful, nonsensical arguments between Chico and Groucho, because we never see them together. They don't even exchange a phone call, which Chico and Harpo do. I was uncertain until I checked the Memorable Quotes page on IMDB which of the women was the love interest, because we all know that the romantic subplot is the least important part of a Marx Brothers movie. Though I'm not at all sure the writers of this one did; they never seemed to before.
Oh, I suppose I'd still watch it if there were nothing better about, and the person who is calling it one of the worst movies ever made clearly hasn't seen many movies. (And how two minutes of Marilyn Monroe elevates it all that much, I cannot say.) But it's really rather disappointing. Better had they left on [i]A Night in Casablanca[/i]. As I'm sure they all would have agreed. But the thing is, it's awfully hard to completely suck the comedy out of a Marx Brothers movie. Groucho, the baby, was pushing sixty at the time, and it shows. Marilyn was twenty-three, and [i]it[/i] showed. But there was still humour involved, a laugh or two. The idea that Chico could talk to Harpo over the phone simply by reading his mind is an entertaining one, and the line about how Mr. Lyons shouldn't show off by being a better violinist than Chico was a pianist was actually laugh-out-loud funny. However, those moments were scarce compared to the laughs in their earlier films, and this isn't one I feel the need to own--or even watch again.
It is also an early example of product placement. The production had run out of money, and the way they paid for the rest of the movie was to have the thugs chase Harpo around the rooftops of Manhattan, with all sorts of billboards going past. Joe Breen tried to put a stop to it, but he was told that this was one thing his office didn't have authority over. On the one hand, preventing that scene would have nipped a few things in the bud, including the release of this movie. On the other, it was nice to know that there were some things which Joe Breen didn't have any authority over. And it is a charming enough scene, for all that, and one of the funniest moments in the movie. Unfortunately, that they were able to do with it led to the fact that people are constantly drinking Coke when there's no need to--and practically the entire movie of [i]Mac & Me[/i], from what I understand. Which is another which didn't need to be made.