What Kind of Hotel Has Its Own Theatre?
This script was not written for the Marx Brothers, the only movie they ever made with a script which wasn't theirs. They didn't write their own scripts, though I've no doubt they contributed to them, but they almost exclusively performed in material written directly for them. The fact that they didn't this time is obvious. Leaving aside the fact that it was remade six years later starring Frank Sinatra (I haven't seen the remake), which is pretty well unthinkable when it comes to any other Marx Brothers movie, Groucho's character has a name an actual human might have. I strongly suspect that the script was altered so that it could work as a Marx Brothers picture, but it doesn't have quite the same mood as you'd expect. I mean, for one thing, there are no musical numbers. I'm glad the subplot characters don't get one, of course, because those do nothing but drag down the action. But there isn't even a harp solo, and what kind of Marx Brothers movie doesn't have a harp solo?
This time, Groucho is Gordon Miller, a theatrical director. Miller is putting on the play [i]Hail and Farewell[/i], only he doesn't actually have the money with which to do so. He is putting up twenty-two actors in the hotel run by his brother-in-law, Joe Gribble (Cliff Dunstan). Only of course Miller can't pay for the rooms for twenty-two people and has given Gribble a piece of the show. Only Gregory Wagner (Donald MacBride), who works for the hotel chain, has shown up two months early to examine the books, and the play hasn't paid off yet. At the same time, Leo Davis (Frank Albertson), who wrote the play, comes to town, where he falls in love with Hilda (Ann Miller) out of nowhere. And Christine (Lucille Ball), one of the actresses from the show, has found Simon Jenkins (Philip Wood), who is an agent of a man willing to back the play, only they have to hold out until they can get the check and get it cashed. Hilarity, of course, ensues.
Another way you can tell it wasn't written for the Marx Brothers is that Groucho's character has a brother-in-law. Now, of course, the Marx Brothers were actual brothers, though I don't think they really played them through most of the movies. In general, part of the fun is watching Groucho's character meeting at least one of the brothers for the first time. However, it seems in this movie that he has a sister, and that just feels wrong. This is because it feels wrong for any of the Marx Brothers, except possibly Zeppo, to have anything which might be called a normal life. An ordinary sister who has an ordinary husband? Unthinkable. Unbelievable. Some friend of unknown provenance, certainly. Though I can see that you'd need to have a pretty strong connection with someone in order to let twenty-two of his closest friends camp out in the hotel where you work and run the risk of losing you your job. If the production starred someone else, that would work. But it doesn't. It stars Groucho, and that's a problem.
Further, his actual brothers essentially don't matter. Chico plays Harry Binelli, who appears to have known Miller for years and run all sorts of old scams with him. This is a believable relationship, of course. But it's also an unnecessary one in terms of the story, and it wouldn't surprise me to know that no character like him exists in other versions of the story. Certainly expendable is Harpo as Faker Englund, who gets no lines (of course), conveys no useful information, chases no girls--doesn't even get to play the harp. He and Chico seem almost as severed from the production as Zeppo, who supposedly threatened to join the cast if their contract demands were not met. Chico gets some funny enough lines, but he doesn't do anything throughout the production which could not be done by Groucho. Which is better than Harpo, who doesn't really do much of anything which needs to be done at all.
It's still funny, of course, and it's an interesting moment in history. It's the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball, though she doesn't get much screen time or many lines. It's the only movie the Marx Brothers ever did for RKO, which Lucille Ball and her husband later bought and renamed Desilu. The very fact that it's the only movie they did which wasn't written for them is actually worthy of note so far as I am concerned. And of course this is certainly the only movie ever made where one version starred the Marx Brothers and another starred Frank Sinatra. However, I do not really consider this a Marx Brothers movie because of that very fact. This is a movie, perhaps the movie, with the Marx Brothers in it. (Leaving aside Groucho's bit part in [i]Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?[/i]) It's a decent way to while away 78 minutes, but there's a reason it's not one of the Marx Brothers movies anyone has ever heard of. Probably true of Frank Sinatra and [i]Step Lively[/i], too.