AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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A Day at the Races
Director: Sam Wood (Dir)
Release Date:   11 Jun 1937
Production Date:   3 Sep--23 Sep 1936; and 21 Dec 1936--2 Apr 1937
Duration (in mins):   105 or 109
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Groucho [Marx] (Dr. [Hugo Z.] Hackenbush)  
    Chico [Marx] (Tony)  
    Harpo [Marx] (Stuffy)  
    Allan Jones (Gil [Stewart])  
    Maureen O'Sullivan (Judy [Standish])  
    Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Upjohn)  
    Leonard Ceeley (Whitmore)  
    Douglas Dumbrille (Morgan)  
    Esther Muir ([Cokey] Flo)  
    Sig Rumann (Dr. Steinberg)  
    Robert Middlemass (Sheriff)  
    Vivien Fay (Dancer)  
    Ivie Anderson    
    The Crinoline Choir    
    Charles Trowbridge (Doctor)  
    Frank Dawson (Doctor)  
    Edward LeSaint (Doctor)  
    Max Lucke (Doctor)  
    Pat Flaherty (Tip)  
    Harry Wilson (Tip)  
    Frankie Darro (Morgan's jockey)  
    Jean Burt (Telephone operator)  
    Bill Irving (Man for horn business)  
    John Hyams (Judge)  
    Wilbur Mack (Judge)  
    Lee Murray (Judge)  
    Henry Mowbray (Man for hat business)  
    Dudley Dickerson (Black wheelchair attendant)  
    Jack Horton (Drunk)  
    John Hiestand (Radio announcer)  
    Mary MacLaren (Nurse)  
    Edna Bennett (Nurse)  
    Vivian Barry (Telephone girl)  
    Jacqueline Clancy (Child)  
    Hooper Atchley    
    Arthur Stuart Hull    
    Edward Earle    
    Jack Daley    
    Harry Lash    
    Ray Flynn    
    Elizabeth Williams    
    George Cowl    
    Edith Kingdon    
    Byron Foulger    
    Alexander Melesh    
    Jack Kenney    
    James Quinn    
    Troy Brown    
    Four Hot Shots    
    The Three Chocolateers    
    Plantation Boys    
    Ben Carter    
    Darby Jones    
    Buck Woods    
    Dorothy Dandridge    
    Cullen and Pauline    
    Gus Robinson    

Summary: When Tony, an employee at the financially troubled Standish sanitarium, discovers that Judy Standish, the head of the sanitarium, is in danger of losing the institution to banker Morgan, he decides to seek a large donation from wealthy patient Mrs. Upjohn. Judy and Tony are about to ask Mrs. Upjohn for a contribution, when they overhear her complaining about her care and planning to leave the sanitarium and return to her old physician, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, in Florida. The quick-thinking Tony prevents Mrs. Upjohn's departure by lying to her and telling her that Hackenbush has just been hired by the sanitarium. When Judy discovers that her sweetheart, singer Gil Stewart, has spent his entire life savings of $1,500 on a horse instead of voice lessons, she spurns him. Soon after his arrival, Dr. Hackenbush, a horse doctor who has fooled Mrs. Upjohn into believing that he is a real doctor, is appointed Chief of Staff of the sanitarium. At a nearby racetrack, Stuffy, a jockey who rides a horse named Hi-Hat for Morgan, is fired when he wins a race that he was supposed to throw. Stuffy is then induced by Tony to ride the horse for Gil, its new owner, but Gil cannot produce enough money to pay for the horse's feed. Tony raises the feed money by duping Hackenbush into buying a tip on a race and then suckering him into buying a stack of books that he claims are necessary to decipher the tip. Back at the sanitarium, Whitmore, the business manager who is working with Morgan to get the institution out of Judy's hands, tries to call the Florida Medical Board to get Hackenbush's references. His efforts are temporarily thwarted, however, by Hackenbush's clever pranks. Following Tony's attempt to admit Stuffy into the sanitarium as a patient, so that he can spy on Whitmore, Tony learns that Hackenbush is really a horse doctor. Later, Tony tries to repair Gil and Judy's broken relationship by having Gil secretly admitted as a patient. The scheme fails, however, when Judy discovers the ruse and throws him out. The situation for the Standish sanitarium looks hopeless until Gil offers to help by singing at a water carnival, which he hopes will land him a contract. Chaos ensues when Tony and Stuffy arrive at the carnival and Stuffy destroys a piano, turns it into a harp, and then gives a concert. He and Tony then take over the carnival orchestra and lead the sheriff on a wild chase. When Tony and Stuffy learn that Whitmore has devised a plan to get Hackenbush fired by arranging to have Mrs. Upjohn discover him in a compromising position with vamp Cokey Flo, they try to warn the horse doctor. Posing first as house detectives and then as paperhangers, Tony and Stuffy try, but fail, to signal Hackenbush to stay away from Flo. Finally, in an act of desperation, Tony and Stuffy paste Flo to the wall to prevent her from causing Hackenbush's dismissal. When Whitmore tries to remove Hackenbush by bringing in Dr. Steinberg to prove that he is a fraud, Hackenbush creates a diversion by informing Mrs. Upjohn that she has "double blood pressure." Worried, Mrs. Upjohn demands an immediate examination, which Hackenbush bungles completely. When the sheriff arrives with a warrant for Hackenbush's arrest, Tony, Stuffy, Gil and Hackenbush escape and hide in Hi-Hat's stable. Judy soon discovers them and tells Gil that she loves him more than the sanitarium and that she wants to be included in his plans. Morgan eventually finds Hackenbush and his friends, and as he is about to have them arrested, Hi-Hat runs for the racetrack and inadvertently enters the next race. Hi-Hat wins the race when Tony and others spur the horse on by showing it a picture of Morgan, who abused the horse in the past. The sanitarium's mortgage is paid with money won from the race, and Gil gets to keep his sweetheart. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's, Inc.)
Production Text: A Sam Wood Production
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Sam Wood (Dir)
  Robert A. Golden (Asst dir)
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten (Prod)
  Irving Thalberg (Prod)
  Max Siegel (Assoc prod)
Writer: Robert Pirosh (Scr)
  George Seaton (Scr)
  George Oppenheimer (Scr)
  George S. Kaufman (Scr)
  Al Boasberg (Scr)
  Leon Gordon (Scr)
  Robert Pirosh (Orig story)
  George Seaton (Orig story)
  Al Boasberg (Orig story)
  Leon Gordon (Orig story)
Photography: Joseph Ruttenberg (Photog)
  Leonard Smith (Photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Stan Rogers (Art dir assoc)
  Edwin B. Willis (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Frank E. Hull (Film ed)
Costumes: Dolly Tree (Ward)
Music: Franz Waxman (Mus dir)
  Bronislau Kaper (Mus)
  Walter Jurmann (Mus)
  Merrill Pye (Mus presentation)
  Roger Edens (Mus arr)
  Leo Arnaud (Choral and orch arr)
  George Bassman (Orch)
  Paul Marquardt (Orch)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Dance: Dave Gould (Mus numbers staged by)
Production Misc: Ben Carter (Black seq cast by)
  David Chudnow, Inc. (Black seq cast by)
Country: United States

Songs: "On Blue Venetian Waters," "A Message from the Man in the Moon," "Tomorrow Is Another Day" and "All God's Children Got Rhythm," music by Bronislau Kaper and Walter Jurmann, lyrics by Gus Kahn.
Composer: Walter Jurmann
  Gus Kahn
  Bronislau Kaper

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 10/6/1937 dd/mm/yyyy LP7207 Yes

PCA NO: 3231
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Comedy
Sub-Genre: with songs
Subjects (Major): Horseracing
  Quacks and quackery
Subjects (Minor): Balls (Parties)
  African Americans
  Confidence games
  Harps and harpists
  Horse owners
  Impersonation and imposture

Note: According to HR pre-release news items, production on this film was temporarily halted on 14 Sep 1936 following the death of producer Irving Thalberg. Filming did not fully resume until 21 Dec, after which the production incurred many delays due to illness, bad weather and accidents. Jan 1937 HR news items note that Harpo suffered an injured shoulder after he was thrown from a Shetland pony, and that a late Jan flu epidemic broke out on the set, reportedly forcing the makeup man to wear a mask to prevent the spreading of germs. Following Thalberg's death, his brother-in-law, Lawrence Weingarten, took over as producer, and Max Siegel was made associate producer. A Day at the Races was Weingarten's first assignment for M-G-M.
       A biography of the Marx Bros. indicates that an early treatment of the story by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer bore the title Peace and Quiet . An early HR production chart credited George S. Kaufman, George Seaton, Robert Pirosh and Al Boasberg with the screenplay. According to a telegram sent from AMPAS secretary Donald Gledhill to M-G-M, dated 17 Feb 1937, Boasberg protested the studio's decision to place his credit with those of Pirosh and Seaton's for original story and screenplay. Boasberg insisted that "since the picture is a musical picture of an unusual category," the credits should be separated to read: "original story and screen play by Pirosh and Seaton" and "comedy scenes constructed by Al Boasberg." Boasberg threatened to go on national radio and expose the credit disagreement if M-G-M did not comply with his demand. According to modern sources, in response to the threat, the studio decided to omit Boasberg's name from the film credits altogether, and list him only in the Academy Bulletin. Final word, however, came from Boasberg's attorney, who requested that his client's name not appear anywhere in connection with the film. On 14 May 1937, DV published an open letter from Boasberg to Sam Wood, which read: "Thank you, Sam Wood, for your clever direction of my comedy scenes and dialogue in the forthcoming M-G-M picture A Day at the Races ." The letter was signed "Al Boasberg (under contract to Jack Benny)." Boasberg died of a sudden heart attack on 18 Jun 1937, one week after the film was released. Modern sources also relate that Kaufman requested that his name not be included in the screenplay credits because he was only involved in doctoring the script and took no writing assignments.
       Prior to the start of production, and following two years of development and eighteen drafts of the script, the film's gags were tested on audiences during a six-week period when it was taken on the road for 140 stage performances. The stage production toured as Scenes from a Day at the Races , and of the six hundred comedy situations prepared for the Marx Bros., only seventy-five of the highest rated jokes (as tallied from audience reaction cards) were approved for the film. Modern sources also note that the Marx Bros. studied their dialogue and delivery techniques by having vaudeville actors Harry Lash, Bobbie Dooley and John "Skins" Miller demonstrate how they would act out their scenes. The Marx Bros. biography also notes that Harry Stockwell and Lorraine Bridges were originally set for the parts played by Allan Jones and Maureen O'Sullivan. A Day at the Races marked the film debut of actress Dorothy Dandridge. A HR pre-release news item notes that Danny Montrose, a former jockey, was hired as a technical advisor and was set for a part in the film, but his contribution to the final film has not been determined. Actor John Miljan was reportedly tested for a role, but he did not appear in the released film.
       The song "All God's Children Got Rhythm" is also known as "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm." According to the Var review, the water carnival sequence was filmed in light brown sepia, and the ballet scene was shot with a blue tint. Filming of the horse race scenes took place at the Santa Anita racetrack in California. A biography of Groucho Marx lists Al Shenberg as assistant director. Approximately five thousand black performers auditioned for parts in the black musical sequences, according to modern sources.
       The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that in Nov 1936 the PCA urged M-G-M to remove a number of details from the script, including a scene in which Groucho imitates a "pansy"; a scene with an "offensive shot" of underwear on a clothesline; a choking scene; a shot of a nurse disrobed; and the showing of hypodermic needles. The MPAA/PCA file also notes that the film was banned by censors in the Republic of Latvia, which called the film "worthless," and that Austria deleted scenes of a "fat man dancing with Ivie as well as other negro couples dancing in fast jazz rhythm." According to a Marx Bros. biography, the black musical sequences were deleted from some American television broadcasts of the film because they were deemed racist.
       Two plagiarism lawsuits followed the release of the film. The first suit, as reported in HR on 25 Aug 1937, was filed by Henry Barsha and David Weissman, who claimed that the film was taken from their story "High Fever," which had been submitted to and rejected by M-G-M. The second suit was filed by playwright Philip Clancy, who alleged that the picture plagiarized his play Nuts to You . Although HR reported that Clancy's suit was dismissed by a New York court on 28 Mar 1938, a Jul MPD news item noted that a judge later agreed to hear Clancy's appeal. Information on the outcome of both suits has not been found. Another legal entanglement arose before the film began production over the use of the name "Quackenbush" for the character played by Groucho. Modern sources claim that thirty-seven real-life doctors named Quackenbush threatened to sue the studio if it used that name for a character portraying a horse doctor. Despite Groucho's protests, the studio changed his name to "Hackenbush."
       Dave Gould was nominated for an Academy Award for his dance direction of the musical number "All God's Children Got Rhythm."  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   14 May 37   p. 16.
Daily Variety   11 Jun 37   p. 3.
Film Daily   15 Jun 37   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Sep 36   p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Sep 36   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Oct 36   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Dec 36   p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jan 37   p. 34.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jan 37   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jan 37   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jan 37   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Feb 37   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Apr 37   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jun 37   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 37   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Oct 37   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Mar 38   p. 7.
Motion Picture Daily   10 Jun 37   p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily   5 Jul 38   p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald   6 Mar 37   p. 52.
Motion Picture Herald   19 Jun 37   p. 56.
New York Times   30-Aug-36   
New York Times   18 Jun 37   p. 25.
Variety   23 Jun 37   p. 12.

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