If a Marx Brothers double bill proves anything, it's that the unstable members of any community, the lunatic fringe, are a larger part of the population than might be supposed. Any doubts about this will be speedily refuted by a trip to "Horse-feathers" and "Monkey Business"--where a large group of supposedly respectable people attempt nightly to work mayhem on the property of the Center Theater, while at the same time splitting their own sides. A word of warning, though: you too may discover yourself to be among the unhinged.
All these people have been provoked by two masterpieces of madness that are known by connoisseurs of Marx Brothers' comedy as "the Animal Bill." They have been shown together for the past year, and there is every reason to believe that this may become a tradition, like the "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci" double bill of grand opera.
Marxian humor consists of two types. The sublimely lunatic Harpo wields the slapstick. He, as a personification of the Id, drops ice out of windows, cuts holes in floors, scatters passports to the wind, chases pretty girls, and gleefully slugs people he doesn't particularly like. Groucho handles the leering quip with illimitable finesse: ". . . some days I never got to bed at all--in those days a college widow stood for something." Chico, an underrated artist, is a good straight man and a master of the pun: "there ain't no Sanity Clause." Zeppo tries hard, but he's only along for the ride.
Watching the Marx Brothers presents some problems. If you laugh at the slapstick, you miss the wisecracks; and if you go to the men's room, chances are that you will never regain the thread of the plot. The obvious and only solution is to see each movie at least three times. The last time you'll laugh at the slapstick routines before they occur, thus enabling you to catch most of Groucho's gags.
After three viewings, you may be able to remember that "Horsefeathers" is the one in which Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo careen through Huxley College in a garbage-wagon chariot, among other conveyances. In "Monkey Business' the Marx boys plague the captain, crew, and passengers of an ocean liner like four hyper-thyroid Nemeses. But plots count for nothing when the Marx Brothers are around. In fact, everything counts for nothing--except unending hysterical laughter--when the Marx Brothers are around.