Movie of the Day

A Night in Casablanca

When the Marx Brothers made The Big Store in 1941, they believed they were making their last film together. They thought the same when they made A Night in Casablanca in 1946, after which the officially announced their retirement, only to get together one last time in 1949 for Love Happy, a film that started life as a vehicle for Harpo, which Chico and Groucho added to the mix only later in the planning stages. Groucho and Harpo make absolutely no reference to Love Happy in their memoirs, and most Marx Brothers fans hold it in low regard, so it is perhaps best to think of A Night in Casablanca as the last true Marx Brothers film.

One myth about the production holds that Groucho and Harpo only reluctantly agreed to make another film in order to pay off debts incurred by Chico, a life-long gambling addict. While it is true that Chico was eventually placed on a strict allowance by his brothers, Groucho for one wanted to keep working and actively pursued the film. His character, inept hotel manager Ronald Kornblow who is called to take over the Hotel Casablanca after three of his predecessors died under mysterious circumstances, is one of Groucho’s better creations. It is fitting that he had come full circle, playing a hotelman in their first feature film, The Cocoanuts, returning to the same occupation in one of their last. Groucho has all of the few good lines in the film:

Governor Galoux: Monsieur, we have assembled the staff so you can tell them what you expect of them.
Kornblow: Never mind the staff, assemble the guests. I will tell them what I expect of them.
Governor Galoux: The guests? What do you expect of them?
Kornblow: Courtesy towards the employees. They must learn that a kind word will get them further with a bellboy or a chambermaid than a couple of drinks. But of course a kind word and a couple of drinks will get them still further.  And it if gets them any further than that, it will get them kicked out of the hotel….We’ve got to speed things up. Chef, if a guest orders a three-minute egg, give it only two minutes, if they order a two-minute egg, give it only one minute, and if they order a one-minute egg, give them a chicken and let them work it out for themselves…

But, alas, the repartee is but a shadow of the brilliant dialogue of Animal Crackers or Duck Soup.

One highlight of the film is Harpo’s harp solo, a magical moment in which he stumbles on a cache of plundered Nazi loot, and plays Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, with his only audience being a Rembrandt painting.

In his autobiography, Groucho recalled changing his mind when filming the final scenes of the film, which the shoot late on a Friday evening in order to avoid having the film go over schedule the following week. The scene required Groucho, at the age of 55, to hang upside down on a ladder balanced between a truck and an airplane, with a back projection screen behind him showed a blurred runway and he decided to quit making pictures then and there. The three brothers would have a reunion of sorts in Love Happy, which pairs Chico and Harpo, and has Groucho narrating the film, seemingly in a separate universe. Groucho would go on to make several solo films and carve out a career in the new medium of television. But the last image we have of Groucho, Chico and Harpo together is the final scene of A Night in Casablanca, which appropriately enough has them chasing a nightclub singer off into the sunset.

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