The film revolves around college football and a game between the fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges. Many of the jokes about the amateur status of collegiate football players and how eligibility rules are stretched by collegiate athletic departments remain remarkably current. Groucho plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley College, and Zeppo is his son Frank, who convinces his father to recruit professional football players to help Huxley's team. There are also many references to Prohibition. Baravelli (Chico) is an "iceman", who delivers ice and bootleg liquor from a local speakeasy. Pinky (Harpo) is also an "iceman", and a part-time dogcatcher. Through a series of misunderstandings, Baravelli and Pinky are recruited to play on Huxley's football team; this requires them to enroll as students at Huxley, which creates chaos throughout the school.
The climax of the film, which ESPN listed as first in its "top 11 scenes in football movie history," includes the four protagonists winning the football game by taking the ball into the end zone in a horse-drawn garbage wagon that Pinky rides like a chariot. A picture of the brothers in the "chariot" near the end of the film made the cover of Time magazine in 1932.Groucho Marx as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff
Harpo Marx as Pinky
Chico Marx as Baravelli
Zeppo Marx as Frank Wagstaff
Thelma Todd as Connie Bailey
David Landau as Jennings
Robert Greig as biology professor giving lecture
Reginald Barlow as retiring professor
E. H. Calvert as professor in Wagstaff's office
Nat Pendleton as Darwin football player MacHardie
James Pierce as Darwin football player Mullen
Theresa Harris as Laura, Connie's maid
Phil Tead as football commentator (uncredited)
Ben Taggart as the cop who tries to give Harpo a ticket (uncredited)
"I'm Against It"
"I Always Get My Man"
"Everyone Says I Love You"
"Collegiate" (Chico playing)
The film prominently features the song "Everyone Says I Love You", by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. (This song was later the title song of a 1996 Woody Allen movie). All four brothers perform the song, almost every time as a serenade to Connie Bailey. Zeppo leads with a "straight" verse:
Harpo whistles it once to his horse, and later plays it on the harp to serenade Miss Bailey. Chico sings a comic verse, with his standard fake Italian accent, while playing piano:
Groucho sings a sarcastic verse, sitting in a canoe strumming a guitar as Miss Bailey rows. This is in line with his suspicions about the college widow's intentions throughout the film.
In the opening number Wagstaff and a group of college professors sing and dance in full academic robes and mortarboard hats:
A later scene features Baravelli guarding the speakeasy and Wagstaff trying to get in. The password for entry is "Swordfish". This sequence degenerates into a series of puns:
At the door, Pinky is also asked the password. He responds by pulling a fish from his coat and sticking a small sword down its throat.
Later Wagstaff and Baravelli debate the cost of ice. Wagstaff argues that his bill should be much smaller than it is:
A notable scene taken from the earlier revue Fun in Hi Skule consists of the brothers disrupting an anatomy class. The professor asks for a student to explain the symptoms of cirrhosis. Baravelli obliges:
The professor protests that his facts are in order: Baravelli and Pinky bear him out. Wagstaff takes over the class and continues the lecture.
A little later, Wagstaff advises Pinky that he can't burn the candle at both ends. Pinky then reaches into his trenchcoat, and produces a candle burning at both ends.
Foreshadowing the "stateroom" scene from A Night at the Opera, all four Marx brothers and the main antagonist take turns going in and out of Connie Bailey's room, and eventually their movements pile up on each other, resulting in a crowded, bustling scene, notable both by Groucho's breaking of the fourth wall during Chico's piano solo, and his constant opening of his umbrella and removing his overshoes upon entering the room. The overshoes were commonly known as 'rubbers', a reference to contraceptives, a visual gag about Groucho's intentions towards Connie.
Eventually, Pinky and Baravelli are sent to kidnap two of the rival college's star players to prevent them from playing in the big game. The intended victims (who are much larger men than Pinky and Baravelli) manage to kidnap the pair instead, removing their outer clothing and locking them in a room. Pinky and Baravelli make their escape by sawing their way out through the floor. The saws came from a tool bag Pinky carried with them that held their kidnappers' tools, which included, among other things, rope, chisels, hammers and at one point, a small pig. This is an example of the surreal edge of Marx Brothers humor.
One direct example of that influence occurs in the speakeasy scene. Two men are playing cards, and one says to the other, "cut the cards". Pinky happens to walk by at that moment, pulls a hatchet out of his trenchcoat and chops the deck in half. This none-too-subtle gag, recycled from the brothers' first Broadway show, I'll Say She Is (1924), was repeated by Curly Howard against Moe Howard in The Three Stooges' short Ants in the Pantry (1936), and by Bugs Bunny in Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948).
Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote that the film "aroused riotous laughter from those who packed the theatre" on opening night. "Some of the fun is even more reprehensible than the doings of these clowns in previous films," Hall wrote, "but there is no denying that their antics and their patter are helped along by originality and ready wit." "Laffs galore, swell entertainment," wrote Variety, while Film Daily reported, "Full of laughs that will rock any house." John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film "a rather more slight and trivial affair than the other Marx offerings," but still acknowledged the Marxes as "very special; there is no one else like Groucho or Harpo on stage or screen, and probably never will be. So familiar now is the sense of humor they arouse that the mere idea of their presence starts a laugh."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #65
2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
Baravelli: "You sing-a high."
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Sports Film
The caricatures of the four brothers that are briefly flashed during the credits are taken from a promotional poster from their previous film, Monkey Business. Production of the film was hindered when Chico was severely injured in a car accident, suffering a shattered knee and multiple broken ribs. This delayed production by more than two months and limited Chico's participation in filming.
As a result, the movie was filmed so that Chico was sitting down in the majority of scenes he was in. It required a body double to be used in some of the football scenes, most notably during the shot where the Four Marx Brothers chase a horse-drawn garbage wagon, climb in and head off in the opposite direction; Chico's double is taller by the other brothers by several inches.
The only existing prints of this film are missing several minutes, owing to censorship and damage. The damage is most noticeable in jump cuts during the scene in which Groucho, Chico and Harpo visit Connie Bailey's apartment.Connie
: Baravelli, you
: All right, but remember—it was your idea
Several sequences were cut from the film, including an extended ending to the apartment scene, additional scenes with Pinky as a dogcatcher, and a sequence in which the brothers play poker as the college burns down. (A description of the latter scene still exists in a pressbook from the year of the film's release, along with a still photograph.) The August 15, 1932 Time magazine review of the film says of Harpo in the speakeasy scene, "He bowls grapefruit at bottles on the bar." This joke is also missing from the current print.