|Directed by||Edward Buzzell|
Go West (a.k.a. The Marx Brothers Go West) is the tenth Marx Brothers comedy film, in which brothers Groucho, Chico, and Harpo head to the American West and attempt to unite a couple by ensuring that a stolen property deed is retrieved. It was directed by Edward Buzzell and written by Irving Brecher, who receives the original screenplay credit.
Thomas M. Pryor of The New York Times called the film “an unevenly paced show” with “only one really funny sequence,” referring to the climax. Variety wrote, “The three Marx Bros. ride a merry trail of laughs and broad burlesque in a speedy adventure through the sagebrush country,” adding that the film had “many fresh situations for the Marxian antics.” Harrison’s Reports wrote that it was “much better than their last two pictures” and that the final twenty minutes “should thrill as well as amuse spectators.” Film Daily called it “wildly funny in places, amusing for the most part and dead in one or two spots that a little editing could improve.” John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote, “Possibly not the most strenuous Marxian product that we have seen, the picture nevertheless is very satisfactory and quite lunatic enough.
Under-Appreciated Marx Brothers Film
Despite not having a reputation as one of the better Marx Brothers films, I still found this to be a typical MB movie with crazy scenes and a few songs. No, it may not have been as funny as their better-known films of the 1930s, but I didn’t think it much below them, either.
It’s not as totally outrageous as the boys’ earlier stuff but it also has fewer stupid stuff, too. Make no mistake: it has its share of genuinely funny material, both in dialog and in sight gags. The finale is a wild chase scene on a train that is very, very entertaining. That holds true for a wild stagecoach ride earlier in the picture. Once again, Chico comes up with the funniest lines.
I think this is a solid comedy and an underrated Marx Brothers film . If you like “the boys” in their more well-known films, don’t pass this one by.
The name of Groucho Marx‘s character, “S. Quentin Quayle”, caused a stir when the film was first released due to the subtle but clear joke: the use of the term “San Quentin quail”, which means “jail bait”.
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
5 June 2005
I have to go back to being somewhat of a contrarian on this one. The consensus is that Go West is passable, at least, but not one of the better Marx Brothers films. Tied up with that is the fact that Go West is a late-career Marx Brothers film. It’s in their MGM period, which many fans consider not as good as their earlier Paramount period. They were all around 50 years old while shooting this one. The follow-up was The Big Store (1941), after which they announced that they were officially retiring as a comedy team. They ended up doing a couple more films together in the 1940s–A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949), but the conventional wisdom has it that those were provoked more by a need to pay for Chico’s gambling debts than they were by a desire to make a film together (which is not to say that they’re not good films).
For me, however, Go West is another excellent entry in a long string of Marx Brothers films that are primarily 10 out of 10s. Maybe it’s that I’m also a big fan of westerns, but this western spoof is sublimely enjoyable. Western parodies were big in 1940, the year of Go West’s first release (its wide release came in 1941), with W.C. Fields’ My Little Chickadee premiering in February and Jack Benny’s Buck Benny Rides Again opening in May. Perhaps because of that climate, Go West did better critically and popularly when it opened than would be indicated by its current “middling” reputation. But as with anything, there is a lot of crowd following in opinions on films. The consensus tends to evolve over time, despite the fact that the films themselves do not change.
Go West has Groucho Marx in his usual huckster mode as S. Quentin Quale. He’s short $10 for his train fare to head to the western United States. He spots Joseph (Chico Marx) and Rusty Panello (Harpo Marx), takes them for a couple suckers and tries to bilk them of $10. But they’re better con artists than he is, and end up ripping him off instead.
Somehow they all end up out west anyway. Joseph and Rusty come into possession of the deed to Dead Man’s Gulch, which Terry Turner (John Carroll) was hoping to sell (his grandfather is the one who gave it to Joseph and Rusty) to the railroad magnates back east so they can complete the first transcontinental line. Go West ends up being about a number of people attempting to con each other out of money and the deed, in a race to see who can get it to New York first.
Of course, the plot is primarily an excuse for a series of gags. Like usual, the comedy in the film is a balance between slapstick and intellectual humor. Appealing to my tastes, the Marx Brothers are often surrealistic in their humor, as well, both verbally and visually. They continually play “games” with the conventions of film in general and the western in particular, making this clear right off the bat–any pretense at holding the plot supreme is joyously sabotaged in the first 10 minutes when Go West becomes an extended gag instead (as the brothers try to bilk each other out of the money needed for train fare). The gag could just as well be set on any stage, in any context, and work the same. The name of the game is irreverence–towards film, towards the genre, and towards various other conventions, including those they have established for themselves in previous films–and the Marxes do it as well or better than anyone else.
The gags are pleasantly varied, but the film has some wonderfully serious moments that work well, too. Each brother gets a song, and each song is at least semi-sincere. Chico shows off his skills at the piano, eventually playing in the upper registers with a piece of fruit. During a scene where they have to spend the night with an Indian tribe, Harpo transforms a loom into a harp and ends up performing a beautiful jazz tune. Groucho plays guitar and gives us slightly bizarre singing that resides somewhere between authentic blues and vaudeville goofiness. Although these moments might at first seem like unwelcome breaks from the otherwise madcap proceedings, the songs are magnificent, and temporarily become transcendent moments that one wishes wouldn’t end.
Go West is most famous, perhaps, for its climactic train sequence, and rightfully so. The brothers channel the Keystone Cops and produce an extended series of increasingly outrageous, surreal and hilarious stunts/gags. Buster Keaton’s infamous film The General (1927) was an obvious influence, and in fact, Keaton was an uncredited writer for Go West, as Keaton was employed as a gag writer for MGM at this time. I don’t want to give any of the material away here, but it’s worth watching the film for the climax alone, and in fact, during the pre-VCR days when 8mm home projectors were all the rage, the ending of Go West was siphoned off and marketed by itself.
The Marx Brothers’ performances are fine, of course, as are all of the technical elements, but the rest of the cast is great, too. Just watch the subtle range of attitudes that the two “villains” progress through while chasing the train in their relatively simple cart, for example. And of course, like always, it doesn’t hurt that there are beautiful women around, even if there not in the film that much.
While I agree that Go West is perhaps not the best Marx Brothers film, that’s only because they have so many 10s that it’s too difficult to pick. Even if you end up thinking that it pales compared to their Paramount-era work, Go West is still worth seeing.
Vastly underrated latter Marx brilliance, I say!
Author: Matt Gallo from New York City
30 August 2013
The Marx Brothers’ “Go West” is a vastly underrated gem. Admist a few comparatively disappointing later years Marx movies, it was certainly the strongest.
I grew up on the Marx Brothers via my father (even though most of them were made before he was born as well), and ended up liking them so much I eventually bought every movie they made, and most of the documentaries, three single Groucho movies, two sets of ‘You Bet Your Life’ episodes, and even ‘The Story of Mankind,’ featuring the three primary brothers, though in small parts in separate segments…(Many books by and/or about them too.) In any case, I’m a huge fan. Even with all this, I admit that there are a handful of pretty weak Marx films. Love Happy was pretty awful on most levels, though little Harpo bits, and one or two Groucho lines give it its only very brief redemption. The Big Store was also pretty fairly terrible, with again, the only worthwhile notes being a few Groucho quips, and a few Harpo physical bits.
Room Service and At The Circus as well suffered, as all their movies after the big MGM ones (Opera & races) did, due to the studios lack of interest and confidence in putting money and attention into the productions. Room Service and At the Circus both felt like they should’ve and could’ve been more, though each had a handful or more of perfectly enjoyable moments. And re-watching A Night in Casablanca (which at least a little more time and money was put into for what she really be considered their true final film, rather than the slapped together for quick cash ‘Love Happy’, which was originally a Harpo solo project), I’ve come to realize that Casablanca is stronger than I remembered, but still felt stale for much of it compared to their classics.
So I suppose I better get the reason for this review– So, in the middle of all these lesser like, later years fare, came Go West (in 1940). And I have to say, it has gotten an unfair rap from fans, critics and Groucho himself (though he was that way about much of their movies, sadly). I think, even with it’s slapdash absurdity and overwrought gags, that it holds up better, and has better, more solid comedy than any of they other movies after A Day at the Races. In fact, and I know I’m essentially alone in saying this, but, I actually find it more entertaining than A Day at the Races (I think). There are some brilliant moments/lines for three brothers that felt more akin to there early madcap movies (the best ones), and I even enjoy the silly songs, and western pastiche elements, and the physical gags are stronger than the movies before and after as well. In any case, fans (and critics too) should give it another watch, and just let it try to entertain you, it really is a lot of fun, and hilarious.
Going’ West with the craziest brothers ever…
Author: Henry Fields (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Spain
29 January 2006
The movies from the Marx Bros. are just like my old Bowie’s vinyls, or my Oscar Wilde’s books: they’re always there, and always will be. They’re just like those old friends that will never let you down.
“Go West” has each and everyone of the essential ingredients of the movies from Groucho and co. : hilarious dialogs, crazy situations, Harpo’s hooliganism, the music… everything goes as quick as a flash. So, if some youngster thinks that this movie hasn’t anything to offer because it was made 65 years ago, thats belongs to the Pleistocenic… OK, I won’t waste my time explaining why the Marx Brothers are bigger than life. I’d rather watch “Duck Soup” or “A Night At The Opera” one more time, and let the party begin once again…
*My rate: 8/10