On Your Marx

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Visitors to the Detroit Movie Palaces this movie season will have the chance to see the Marx Brothers in the two big phases of their film career.

At the Detroit Film Theatre on May 1, 2010, fans of this zany comedy team can enjoy their 1932 Paramount release, Horse Feathers. And on March 5, 2010, several hundred Redford Theatre moviegoers laughed it up at the Marx Brothers’ second feature for MGM, A Day at the Races (1937).

It was a regular movie night at the Redford, with no special holiday tie-ins, but there were enough flourishes to make this late winter evening another unique event at this well-preserved 82-year-old movie house.

In the outer lobby, the Coffee Beanery (www.coffeebeanery.com) continued its special promotion in which it donated half of the proceeds of coffee sales to the effort by the Redford to put in a new carpet.

In the theater, organist John Lauter belted out a medley of tunes from the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He then did double duty as the master of ceremonies for the night. He skillfully swiveled around on the organ bench, and continued the enthusiasm and energy of his musical performance in his remarks to the audience.

John introduced the Betty Boop cartoon that preceded A Day at the Races. In Betty Boop for President (1932), the boop-boop-be-doop girl made her case to be president in a sexy manner that, John noted, reflected the risque style of many movies before the increased enforcement of the movies’ Production Code in 1934. Two weeks earlier, similar content appeared at the Redford in the 1933 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie Flying Down to Rio.

The audience provided much of the fun texture of the evening. In the balcony, four young girls raced excitedly to the very top of the theater. Scattered through the crowd were people spontaneously moving to the rhythms of the organ music.

During A Day at the Races, a lady in the middle of the main floor kept bursting out with a high-pitched, hysterical laugh that was almost as entertaining as the movie itself. But she was not alone in her good feeling—as the film went along, more and more people fell in with the crazy rhythms of the Marx Brothers, and laughter rolled comfortably throughout the theater, perhaps a cathartic experience for the late winter and the hard economic times.

Towards the end of A Day at the Races, you could feel the Great Depression-era atmosphere of the movie, which is particularly significant in this rough stretch of history that is said to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The movie ended with Maureen O’Sullivan, Allan Jones, and hundreds of others joyously singing, “Tomorrow is Another Day.” When the movie ended, the Redford audience exploded with applause, helping making this another memorable night at the movies.

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Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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