Animal Crackers is a 1930 comedy film, in which mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding. The film was both a critical and commercial success upon initial release, and remains one of the Marx Brothers' most beloved and often-quoted movies.
The film stars the four brothers, Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, and Zeppo Marx, as well as Lillian Roth and Margaret Dumont. It was directed by Victor Heerman and adapted from a successful 1928 Broadway play by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, also starring the Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont. (See Animal Crackers).
The part of Hives the butler was played by Robert Greig, a character actor who appeared in over 100 films (many in the role of a butler). He also appeared with the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers. A 15-second clip of the Marx Brothers, filmed in Multicolor on the set of Animal Crackers during the Captain Spaulding scene, was recently discovered (see "External Link" section below).
They got away with that joke, but the censors cut a line from the song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" in which Spaulding sang, in an aside about Mrs. Rittenhouse, "I think I'll try and make her", as in "seduce her".
The song was a hidden reference to a real Captain Spaulding, an army officer arrested a few years earlier for selling cocaine to Hollywood residents. See Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger. Groucho later used a somewhat jazzed-up version of the Spaulding song as the theme music for his TV quiz show, You Bet Your Life, and it ultimately became his all-purpose introductory theme in general.
Other quotes from Groucho:
The film also showcases the well-known Chico-Harpo scene in which Chico keeps asking Harpo for "a flash" (meaning a flashlight), and Harpo—not understanding—produces from his bottomless trenchcoat and baggy pants a "fish", a "flask", a "flute", a "flush", etc. Eventually he begins searching for the flashlight in the dark with a flashlight. Immediately after successfully pulling out the flashlight, thunder is heard and the lights go out.
The often under-utilized Zeppo figures in a well-known gag in which Groucho dictates a letter to his lawyers, in rambling pseudo-legalese. Zeppo gets to one-up Groucho: When asked to read the letter back, Zeppo informs him, "You said a lot of things I didn't think were very important, so I just omitted them!" whereupon a minor skirmish ensues.
Forty-four years after its original release, in June 1974, Animal Crackers was once again released in theaters. The film had been tied up in a copyright dispute since 1957, when Universal Pictures -- which owned all pre-1948 Paramount films -- renewed the copyright for the picture but neglected to renew the music rights or the rights to the original Broadway play. The 1974 re-release was big news at the time since the Marx Brothers were enjoying a resurgence in popularity among younger audiences. At the New York City re-release premiere, which Groucho attended, a riot broke out and he required police escort.