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A Day at the Races (film)

A Day at the Races
theatrical release poster
Directed by Sam Wood
Produced by Sam Wood
Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Lawrence Weingarten (uncredited)
Written by Robert Pirosh
George Seaton
George Oppenheimer
Screenplay by Al Boasberg
Leon Gordon
George S. Kaufman
Carey Wilson
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Allan Jones
Maureen O'Sullivan
Margaret Dumont
Music by Walter Jermann
Bronislau Kaper
Franz Waxman
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Frank E. Hull
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • June 11, 1937 (1937-06-11)
Running time
109 minutes
Country United States
Language English

A Day at the Races (1937) is the seventh film starring the three Marx Brothers, with Margaret Dumont, Allan Jones, and Maureen O'Sullivan. Like their previous MGM feature A Night at the Opera, this film was a major hit.[1]


Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) is a veterinarian who is hired as chief of staff for the Standish Sanitarium, owned by Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan), at the insistence of her most important patient, the rich Mrs. Upjohn, (Margaret Dumont), who insists on being treated only by Dr. Hackenbush. The Sanitarium has fallen on hard times, and banker J.D. Morgan (Douglas Dumbrille) is attempting to gain control of it. Judy hopes that Mrs. Upjohn will make a large donation and stop that from happening.

Meanwhile, Judy's boyfriend, singer Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), has taken his life's savings and bought a horse with it, instead of paying for vocal lessons to further his career as a radio singer. His hope is that the horse, Hi-Hat, will win a big race, and the money will save the sanitarium. Unfortunately, he now has no money to pay for the horse's feed, and he and Tony (Chico Marx), who works for the sanitarium, and Stuffy (Harpo Marx), Hi-Hat's jockey, have to resort to trickery to fend off the Sheriff (Robert Middlemass). Tony raises some money by scamming Hackenbush in the "Tutsi Fruitsy Ice Cream" scene, in which Tony gives Hackenbush a tip on a horse, but all in code, so that Hackenbush has to buy book after book from Tony to decipher the code.

At the Sanitarium, its business manager, Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley) – who is Morgan's stooge – attempts to rattle Mrs. Upjohn's faith in Hackenbush by having her discover him in a compromising situation with a floozie, (Esther Muir). Hackenbush is saved by Stuffy and Tony, who pose as house detectives and then as paperhangers, who first paste the vamp to the wall behind layers of wallpaper and then hide her under the sofa. Next, Whitmore brings in the eminent Dr. Steinberg (Sig Ruman), who exposes Hackenbush as a quack.

Hackenbush, Tony, Stuffy and Gil hide out in Hi-Hat's stable, where Judy soon joins them. Morgan finds them and is about to have them arrested when the horse sees him and bolts, jumping several obstacles in the way. Gil witnesses this ability and enter Hi-Hat into the upcoming steeplechase race. After difficulties to get Hi-Hat away from Morgan, the race begins. Knowing that Hi-Hat is afraid of Morgan, everyone works to make Hi-Hat aware of his presence before reaching the fence.[2][3][4] On the last lap, Hi-Hat and Skee-Ball (Morgan's horse) wipe out, and when they reach the finish line, it appears that Skee-Ball won, but Stuffy realizes that it was Skee-ball's jockey was riding Hi-Hat after the wipeout, thus making Hi-Hat the winner.


Cast notes

  • In My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View, Arthur Marx relates that in his latter years Groucho increasingly referred to himself by the name Hackenbush.[6]


File:Sam Wood and Marx Brothers A Day at the Races.jpg
The Marx Brothers on the set with director Sam Wood

The screenplay went through numerous outlines, treatments and drafts before arriving at its final version. The majority of the screenplay was written by Al Boasberg, but due to a bitter spat with MGM, he was never given any credit for his work. As they had with A Night At The Opera, the Brothers honed the comic material during a Vaudeville tour.

Groucho's character was originally named "Quackenbush" but was changed to "Hackenbush" over fear of a lawsuit by a real Dr. Quackenbush.

During production, Irving Thalberg, who had brought the Marx Brothers to MGM, died suddenly of pneumonia at age 37. After Thalberg's death the studio never gave the proper care to the Marx Brothers, and the three movies made at MGM afterward are considered to be far inferior than the first two as a result.[7]


The songs in the film, by Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann, and Gus Kahn, are "On Blue Venetian Waters", "Tomorrow Is Another Day," and "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" (which features Ivie Anderson from Duke Ellington's orchestra). Two more songs were filmed but cut. One, "Dr. Hackenbush", was sung by Groucho about what a great doctor he is ("No matter what I treat them for they die from something else"). The other, "A Message From The Man In The Moon", sung by Allan Jones, is missing from the film but shows up in the titles, some incidental music, and is "reprised" by Groucho during the final scene. The DVD release includes a recently rediscovered audio recording of the song, performed by Allan Jones.

The film also features a lindy hop dance sequence set to the tune of "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm", and featuring Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, including Willamae Ricker, Snookie Beasley, Ella Gibson, George Greenidge, Dot Miller, Johnny Innis, Norma Miller and Leon James.[8] The dance sequence was nominated for the short-lived Academy Award for Best Dance Direction.

Musical numbers

Awards and honors

In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked A Day at the Races as the 59th funniest film of all time in its AFI's 100 Years…100 Laughs.[9][10]



  1. ^ Giddins, Gary (June 18, 2000). "There Ain't No Sanity Claus". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ Tinee, Mae (July 3, 1937). "Marx Brothers Go Fast Pace in 'Day at Races'". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 9. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 17, 1937). "Marx Brothers Run Riot In "A Day At The Races"". Los Angeles Times. p. A15. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Full synopsis" at
  5. ^ Bill Crow From Birdland to Broadway:Scenes from a Jazz Life, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992 [1993], p.24
  6. ^ Marx, Arthur (June 1991). My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View<span />. Robson Book Ltd. ISBN 978-0-86051-494-7. 
  7. ^ Thames, Stephanie. "The Big Store" on
  8. ^ Manning, Frankie and Millman, Cynthia. Frankie Manning : Ambassador of Lindy Hop Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007
  9. ^ Boyar, Jay (June 11, 2000). "Make 'em laugh! The American Film Institute will recognize the 100 best comedies of the century". Orlando Sentinel. p. F1. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  10. ^ "America's Funniest Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved March 3, 2010. 

Further reading

  • Buxbaum, Elisabeth: Veronika, der Lenz ist da. Walter Jurmann – Ein Musiker zwischen den Welten und Zeiten. Mit einem Werkverzeichnis von Alexander Sieghardt. Edition Steinbauer, Wien 2006, ISBN 3-902494-18-2

External links