|The Big Store|
Theatrical poster for Big Store (1941)
|Directed by||Charles Reisner|
|Produced by||Louis K. Sidney|
|Written by||Nat Perrin (story)|
|Music by||Hal Borne|
Georgie Stoll (musical direction)
Earl Brent (adaptation)
Arthur Appell (dance direction)
|Cinematography||Charles Lawton Jr.|
|Edited by||Conrad A. Nervig|
The Big Store is a 1941 American comedy film in which Groucho, Chico and Harpo wreak havoc in a department store. Groucho plays detective Wolf J. Flywheel (a character name originating from the Marx-Perrin radio show Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel in the early 1930s).
The Big Store was the last of five films the Marx Brothers made under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and it was advertised as their farewell film. However, they returned to the screen in A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949).
The Big Store costars singer Tony Martin and Virginia Grey as the love interests, and long-time Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont in her seventh and final film with the Marxes. The villain was portrayed by Douglass Dumbrille, who had played a similar role in A Day at the Races (1937).
Tagline: "Where everything is a good buy. Goodbye!"
Phelps Department Store owner Hiram Phelps has died, leaving half-ownership in the business to his nephew, singer Tommy Rogers. The other half is left to Hiram's sister and Tommy's aunt, Martha Phelps (Margaret Dumont). Rogers has no interest in running a department store, so he plans to sell his interest and use the money to open a music conservatory. Store manager Grover (Douglass Dumbrille) wants to kill Rogers before he can sell his share, marry the wealthy Martha, then kill her to become sole owner of the store. Martha is highly suspicious, worried about Tommy's safety lest anyone suspect her of foul play to take over the store. Against Grover's wishes she hires private detective Wolf J. Flywheel (Groucho) as a floorwalker and bodyguard. Between Tommy's affair with fellow sweetheart Joan (Virginia Grey) and Flywheel romancing Martha, the brothers eventually expose Dumbrille and save Tommy.
The film has two extended scenes. One is in the store's bed department, with novel beds that come out of the walls and floor.
The second takes place near the film's climax, where Groucho, Chico and Harpo escape their pursuers in a madcap chase through the store, involving the elevator, a staircase, chandeliers, roller skates, a mail chute and a bicycle. The elaborate sequence utilized an unusual number of stunt doubles, Mack Sennett-type slapstick stunts and stop motion photography for a Marx Brothers film.
At two points, Groucho breaks the fourth wall. During the "Sing While You Sell" sequence, as he narrates a fashion show, he speaks a few asides, including "This is a bright red dress, but Technicolor is so expensive." Later, he comments, "I told you in the first reel [Grover] was a crook."
As in the previous Marx Bros. MGM films, The Big Store contains elaborate musical numbers, including as the upbeat "Sing While You Sell", led by a singing, dancing Groucho; and the "Tenement Symphony" sung by Tony Martin and a children's choir. The screenwriting team of Kuller, Golden and Fimberg also supplied the lyrics to Hal Borne's original music. The Big Store is the second Marx film with an instrumental version of "Cosi-Cosa" from A Night at the Opera, which can be heard during the moving bed scene. It was also heard in A Day at the Races.
Theodore Strauss of The New York Times wrote that "if it lacks the continuously harebrained invention of, say, 'A Night at the Opera,' the boys are still the most erratic maniacs this side of bars. If one were entirely truthful one would have to admit that the picture has many a dull stretch, that the tricks have been overworked, that the boys are slowing down, etc., etc. But with Marxian adherents--among whom we most decidedly belong--the question is simply, Are the Marx Brothers in it? They are." A review in Variety called it a "moderate comedy where dull stretches overshadow the several socko laugh sequences during a bumpy unfolding ... Marx Bros. repeat their familiar antics without much variation from previous appearances."Film Daily suggested that a couple of the chase scenes were "a little lengthy" but still concluded, "A 'laugh clocker' could run a high total checking this and the preview audience seemed to love it."John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that the film was "not great Marx material, not a film that collectors will exhibit as a sample of this era's humor, but again and again the old flash is there."
The film made a profit of only $33,000. Nonetheless, it was among the more profitable Marx Brothers films of the period.