I have been watching the Marx Brothers films in chronological order, with occasional breaks when I have watched films for work, with friends, or just when I wanted to pace myself. I have seen Go West before, and so know it is far from the Brothers’ best, but decided to give it another try. In the early films, from The Cocoanuts to Duck Soup, the Brothers unleashed their anarchy on anyone and everyone unlucky enough to get in their way. In A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, producer Irving Thalberg reinvented the Marx Brothers, having them act as the guardian angels of star-crossed lovers while sabotaging the arrogant and powerful who got in their way. The Brothers seemed to be just going through the motions in the disappointing Room Service. At the Circus was something of a return to form, or at least better production values.
By the time they got to Go West, the Brothers had aged and mellowed considerably. Groucho is obviously working under the aid of a toupee and several stuntmen. The script is also not the best. The first two films, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, were based on hits the boys had on Broadway. Beginning with the third film, screen writers for the Brothers would start their job by asking, “what if we took these characters and put them on an ocean liner, in a college, or on an opera stage?” They were probably starting to run out of ideas, because the Wild West is not the best location for the Brothers, whose humor had always been connected to the immigrant experience and essentially urban.
But Go West is not a terrible film. Even the worst Marx Brothers films are better than many of the comedies that were being churned out in Hollywood of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Groucho has at least two great lines in the film: “Time wounds all heels” and “I would have beat him within an inch of his life, but I didn’t have a tape measure.” Harpo has a nice solo, playing not a harp, but the strings of a weaving loom. The ending, which has the Brothers commandeering a steam train to race against the buggy-driving villain, while cannibalizing the lumber of the train to feed its engine is inspired Marxism.