Modern comedies sometimes focus on shock and awe, but the Marx Brothers produced some of the most fast-paced and smart comedy America has ever seen during the 1930s. Thirteen films were released between 1921 and 1957 by the four brothers—Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo—who began their career on the Broadway stage in 1921.
Comedy wasn’t the only thing you’d find in a Marx Brothers film. In films such as Duck Soup and Animal Crackers, the brothers not only tell compelling stories, but they also perform some of the best musical numbers in the business. The Marxes were more than just comics—they were real entertainers. As much as longtime Marx Brothers fans may disagree, we’re commemorating Groucho on his 122nd birthday by listing our top five favorite Marx Brothers movies of all time.
5. The Cocoanuts (1929)
When the Marx Brothers made their first theatrical release, it was the hysterical Cocoanuts, which remains one of their most beloved films. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be the owner of an all-inclusive resort in Florida, then you’ve come to the right place. But what we do get from The Cocoanuts is a national introduction to the remarkable brothers, their memorable banter, and equally enjoyable musical pieces.
4. A Night at the Opera (1935)
You can see a great example of Groucho and Dumont’s awkward comedy partnership in this scene from one of their films. It is the end of the opera season, which leads to a typical wacky adventure that includes misunderstood contracts, police chases and canceled operas..
3. Animal Crackers (1930)
The Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers was as much a comedy as it was a showmanship. Animal Crackers, like many previous Marx pictures, was honed on the Broadway stages in the 1920s, and this is no accident. This time, Groucho is Jeffrey Spaulding, an adventurer who gets in the way of the recovery of a stolen picture at his own soiree. “Why Am I So Romantic” and the iconic “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” are highlights, but the brilliance is in the numbers.
2. Horse Feathers (1932)
The hilarious Horse Feathers, starring Groucho Marx as the freshly appointed Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, was released in 1932, years before Animal House and Old School even considered parodying American college culture. A failed recruitment attempt by Wagstaff results in Harpo and Chico, two freshmen, wreaking havoc on the campus. The following video features one of the most beloved comedy football clips ever made.
1. Duck Soup (1933)
Critics argue that Duck Soup has a slower pace than earlier Marx films, but the film’s hilarious one-liners and strong on-screen chemistry make it one of the Marx brothers’ best-known works.’ On stage as Rufus T. Firefly, a freshly appointed leader of the failing Freedonia, Groucho’s spitfire mouth is as much a satire of government and politics of that time as it is an amusing piece of entertainment. Slapstick comedy and physical comedy shine via Harpo and Chico’s secondary roles as spies, with Harpo’s near-blank facial expressions providing some of the best moments.