AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Big Store
Alternate Title: The Bargain Basement
Director: Charles Riesner (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Jun 1941
Production Date:   17 Mar--late Apr 1941
Duration (in mins):   84
Duration (in feet):   7,487
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Groucho Marx (Wolf J. Flywheel)  
    Chico Marx (Ravelli)  
    Harpo Marx (Wacky)  
    Tony Martin (Tommy Rogers)  
    Virginia Grey (Joan Sutton)  
    Margaret Dumont (Martha Phelps)  
    Douglass Dumbrille (Mr. Grover)  
    William Tannen (Fred [Chris] Sutton)  
    Marion Martin (Peggy Arden)  
    Virginia O'Brien (Kitty)  
    Henry Armetta (Guiseppi)  
    Anna Demetrio (Maria)  
    Paul Stanton (George Hastings)  
    Russell Hicks (Arthur Hastings)  
    Bradley Page (Duke)  
    Edward McWade (Mr. Andrews)  
    Lee Kohlmar (Mr. David)  
    George Pauncefort (Mr. Pasey)  
    Bob Perry (Store detective)  
    Al Hill (Killer)  
    George Lloyd (Killer)  
    Richard Haydel (Butch)  
    Lee Phelps (Piano mover)  
    Steve Clemento (Knife thrower)  
    Edgar Dearing (Doorman)  
    Eddy Chandler (Policeman)  
    Hal Le Sueur (Chauffeur)  
    Enid Bennett (Clerk)  
    Charles Lane (Man who repossesses car)  
    Eddie Lee (Chinese father)  
    Victor Potel (Swedish father)  
    Mitchell Lewis (Indian chief)  
    Herbert Clifton (Scotsman)  
    Ted Oliver (Detective)  
    Dewey Robinson (Detective)  
    William Newell (Cameraman)  
    Milton Kibbee (Bald cameraman)  
    Johnny Berkes (Watchman)  
    Clara Blandick (Elderly woman)  
    Harry Depp (Timid man)  
    Dutch Schlickenmayer (Tough man)  
    Kay Deslys (Swedish mother)  
    Jennie Lee (Chinese mother)  
    Corleen Clemons (Indian mother)  
    Freddie Chapman (Billy)  
    Six Hits and a Miss (Singers in "Sing While You Sell" number)  
    The Four Dreamers (Singers in "Sing While You Sell" number)  
    Judy Matson (Singers in "Sing While You Sell" number)  
    Faith Kruger (Singers in "Sing While You Sell" number)  
    St. Luke's Choristers    
    Jan Duggan    
    Harry C. Bradley    

Summary: Singer Tommy Rogers wants to sell his half-share in Phelps department store, which he inherited from his adopted father, Hiram Phelps, and give the money to a conservatory of music for poor children. Unknown to Tommy, store manager Grover has been stealing from Phelps for some time and does not want to be found out, so he sends one of his cohorts to kill Tommy. When Tommy, who has worked out a deal for the Hasting Brothers chain to buy the store, is knocked unconscious in an elevator, his aunt Martha, who owns the other fifty percent of the store and is engaged to Grover, becomes concerned for his safety. Over Grover's objections, Martha decides to hire a private detective, and, after consulting the telephone directory, selects down-on-his-luck Wolf J. Flywheel. The eccentric Flywheel accepts her offer of $25 to take the case and promises anonymity. She then introduces him to Grover, saying that Flywheel is a new floor walker she wants to hire. Grover is suspicious of Flywheel, especially as he and Martha recite poetry to each other, but she soon admits that Flywheel has been hired to protect Tommy. Tommy is touched by her concern and agrees to let him be his bodyguard. He also hires Flywheel's jack-of-all trades assistant, Wacky, who turns out to be the brother of Tommy's friend Ravelli. Within a short time, Flywheel, Wacky and Ravelli have created chaos in the store and annoyed customers, much to Grover's irritation. The day before the sale is set to go through, Grover arranges for Peggy Arden, a woman with whom he is involved, to lure Tommy to a road house. Although she poses as an important music critic, Tommy refuses to meet her, thus foiling another of Grover's schemes. That same day, music department employee Joan Sutton, with whom Tommy is in love, happily tells her brother Chris that she and Tommy are now engaged. Chris, who has been one of Grover's cohorts, has a change of heart and tells Flywheel about the two thugs who are in the store to kill Tommy. As they are talking, the Hastings brothers enter the store and Flywheel mistakes them for the hired killers, but his error is quickly pointed out by Grover. By chance, Wacky and Ravelli catch the real killers when an elevator operator shouts "up!" and the criminals think that he is a policeman ordering them to put their hands in the air. With identities now established, Grover concocts another scheme and suggests that the final papers for the sale be signed after the store closes, when they can hold a ceremony for the staff and invite the press. During a photo session, the lights go out and Joan is kidnapped, so Flywheel, Wacky and Ravelli decide to develop the picture and see who took her. Tommy soon finds Joan and when Ravelli develops the picture, Grover is revealed as the culprit. Grover then sneaks up on them and demands the negative and photo at gunpoint. After a brief struggle, a wild chase through the store ensues, which involves a variety of conveyances, including roller skates and bicycles. Flywheel, Wacky and Ravelli eventually corner Grover and he is forced to admit his murder plot as cameramen are poised to take his picture and he knows that one of the cameras has been rigged with a hidden gun. Finally, Martha agrees to be engaged to her hero Flywheel, and as they enter his ancient car, it is repossessed,and they are towed away. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Charles Riesner (Dir)
  Sandy Roth (Asst dir)
Producer: Louis K. Sidney (Prod)
Writer: Sid Kuller (Scr)
  Hal Fimberg (Scr)
  Ray Golden (Scr)
  Nat Perrin (Orig story)
Photography: Charles Lawton (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Stan Rogers (Assoc)
Film Editor: Conrad A. Nervig (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
Music: Georgie Stoll (Mus dir)
  Earl Brent (Mus adpt)
  Leo Arnaud (Vocals and orch)
  George Bassman (Vocals and orch)
  Herb Taylor (Vocals and orch)
  Robert Van Eps (Vocals and orch)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Dance: Arthur Appell (Dance dir)
  Bobby Connolly ("Sing While You Sell" dance dir)
  (Dance dir)
  (Dance dir)
  (Dance dir)
  (Dance dir)
  (Dance dir)
Stand In: Joe Riley (Stand-in for Groucho Marx)
  Al Gallagher (Stand-in for Harpo Marx)
  Jack King (Stand-in for Chico Marx)
  Thelma Goel (Stand-in for Marion Martin and Margaret Dumont)
Country: United States

Songs: "Tenement Symphony," music by Hal Borne, lyrics by Sid Kuller and Ray Golden; "Sing While You Sell," music by Hal Borne, lyrics by Sid Kuller and Hal Fimberg; "If It's You," music and lyrics by Ben Oakland, Artie Shaw and Milton Drake.
Composer: Hal Borne
  Milton Drake
  Hal Fimberg
  Ray Golden
  Sid Kuller
  Ben Oakland
  Artie Shaw

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 17/7/1941 dd/mm/yyyy LP10569 Yes

PCA NO: 7365
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Comedy
Sub-Genre: with songs
Subjects (Major): Attempted murder
  Department stores
  Private detectives
Subjects (Minor): Adoption
  Mistaken identity
  Repossession (Merchandise)

Note: Working titles of the film were Step This Way , Murder with Music , Bargain Basement and The Bargain Basement . The opening title card reads: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Groucho Chico Harpo Marx Bros. with Tony Martin in The Big Store ." Screen credits, reviews and the CBCS list the character played by William Tannen as "Fred Sutton," but he is called "Chris Sutton" within the film. Christian Rub, Joe Yule and Etta McDaniel are listed in the CBCS, but they did not appear in the released film, although Rub's character, the "Professor," is mentioned. Charles Holland is listed as a cast member on a HR production chart, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. HR news items and M-G-M departmental memos add the following information about the production: Shortly before production began, John M. Nicholaus of the M-G-M special effects department was developing some "3-D" effects to be included in one of the film's musical numbers. There were no 3-D effects in the released film. An additional musical number, entitled "I Want My Mama" was to be performed as a piano duet, but it was not in the film.
       The Big Store was the final film that the Marx Brothers made at M-G-M. A HR news item and some reviews indicated that it was to have been the brothers' last film together, but they appeared jointly in one additional film, the 1946 United Artists release, A Night in Casablanca (see below). The Big Store also marked the last feature film of actress Enid Bennett, who began her motion picture career in 1917 and appeared in numerous silent films, including the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks picture Robin Hood (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.4663). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   Jul 41   p. 327.
Box Office   21 Jun 1941.   
Daily Variety   13 Jun 1941.   
Film Daily   18 Jun 41   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Dec 40   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Mar 41   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Mar 41   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Mar 41   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Apr 41   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Apr 41   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jun 41   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jun 41   p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald   21 Jul 1941.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   14 Jun 41   p. 157.
New York Times   27 Jun 41   p. 14.
Variety   18 Jun 41   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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