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Play it again, Marxes

entertainment Updated: Feb 26, 2011 00:00 IST

Hindustan Times
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A night in Casablanca
Enlighten, Rs 399
Rating: *** 1/2

This 1946 film by the Marx brothers was at first supposed to be a spoof of the 1942 World War 2 romance, Casablanca. But the plot was changed after a scare that the producers of the original, Warner Brothers, might sue. The episode spurred the Marxes to extract maximum centimetres of column coverage for their film. Warner Brothers never sued, but Groucho, the Marx with a stooped glide and dancing eyebrows, wrote to them warning of their use of ‘Brothers’. He told the studio in an open letter: “Professionally, we were brothers before you ever were.”

Yet for all their antics the Marxes failed to rekindle the sort of creative chaos they had unleashed in their 1930s’ hits such as Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera. The vaudeville-trained brothers’ cinematic glory had started fading after the death in 1936 of producer Irving Thalberg, in whose name the Oscar for ‘consistently creative production work’ is now given. This film was the Marxes’ late attempt to rekindle their old magic.

In the middle of the plot is a treasure trove some Nazis are trying to trace. Around it are the Marx stocks-in-trade: an affair in distress (between Charles Drake’s handsome Lt. Pierre Delmar and Lois Collier’s simpering Annette), Groucho as the troubleshooter (hotel manager Ronald Kornblow), and Chico and Harpo as the loyal bumblers Corbaccio and Rusty. But when did we ever watch a Marx brothers film for its plot?