Go West, one of the Marx Brothers' decidedly off-kilter later outings from the MGM years, tenaciously manages some memorable moments and makes a virtue of its slim running time by generally hastening to one of the team's most elaborate climaxes. Another sort-of musical with sort-of romantic leads, Go West's grab bag includes a few routines polished in 103 performances of an Irving Thalberg-style try-out tour.
The picture opens on a strong note with a money-scam routine pitting Groucho against Chico and Harpo. The three-man variation on the "tootsie-fruitsie" con of A Day at the Races gives new meaning to money with "strings attached." Groucho's S. Quentin Quail, Chico's Joe, and Harpo's "Rusty" fend their way to the promised land of western riches, where a series of confusions keep them entwined in a land scam (partly executed by Walter Woolf King of A Night at the Opera) and the family feud which temporarily prevents young lovers John Carroll and Diana Lewis from wedded bliss. A saloon gives Chico good occasion for one of his most ingenious piano solos ("The Woodpecker Song"), matched by Harpo's transformation of a loom from the tribal plains into a harp.
Groucho has his moments, too, like his toss-off "Telephone? This is 1870. Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet" (in reference to the star's 1939 biopic The Story of Alexander Graham Bell) and his great wooing patter during Lulubelle (June MacCloy)'s number "You Can't Argue With Love." The other songs are weak, particularly "Riding the Range," which finds the brothers accompanying Carroll with guitar, harmonica, and harmony for the "clip-clopping" refrain. (The great Gus Kahn shares credit on three of the film's songs.)
A bumpy stagecoach ride and mayhem involving the contents of Harpo's carpetbag make for a nice setpiece, but nothing compares to the awfully impressive stunts in the runaway train climax, which owes a significant debt to Buster Keaton's silent classic The General (Keaton, in fact, was a script doctor at MGM at the time of Go West and advised on the picture). Many have suggested that Go West's best joke was simply Groucho's name. "San Quentin quail" was a slang-term for jail bait, a not-so subtle reference that raised a few eyebrows in 1940.
Warner's presentation of Go West—available exclusively in The Marx Brothers Collection on a double-feature disc with The Big Store—is visually and aurally smooth. The disc also includes a two-and-a-half-minute trailer and a roughly fifteen-minute radio track, "Leo on the Air: Go West." This MGM promo improves on the "Leo on the Air" segment found on the A Day at the Races disc, by roping Groucho and Chico into recording some original material with co-star John Carroll; the audio's rocky in spots, but it's a valuable gift from the archives.
Also included: the "Pete Smith Specialty" "Quicker 'N a Wink" (1940), which won Best One-Reel Short Subject at the 1941 Oscars. A demonstration of stroboscopic photography, which slows fast-paced reality to be clearly visible to the human eye. 1940's "Cavalcade of San Francisco" adds an entry to James A. Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks series. Fitzpatrick, "The Voice of the Globe," produced and narrated this Technicolor travelogue with obvious historical value. After taking in a few landmarks (notably the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, and the Palace of Fine Arts), the short focuses on the "Cavalcade of the Golden West" performed at the Golden Gate Exposition of 1939-1940. Unfortunately, though the colors remain vibrant, the Technicolor elements slide out of place every so often.
Finally, the Go West disc offers the Oscar-winning Best Cartoon Short Subject for 1941, "The Milky Way." Released in 1940, this Rudolph Ising Technicolor cartoon is a well-animated fancy following three thirsty kittens on a dreamy trip to outer-space and back. A nifty disc with The Big Store (and more extras) on the flip side. The price is nice on the five-disc The Marx Brothers Collection, so pony up your pennies, pardner.
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