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Super Bowl Report

7. 'Horse Feathers'

February 01, 2009|Tom Roston

It may take more than 54 minutes in this 66-minute film before the first pigskin flies, but this classic 1932 Marx Brothers movie has provided some of the screen's most indelible images of the game. There's Groucho's madcap leaping tackle from the sideline; Chico's hilarious audibles ("Eany, meany, miney, mo, ready or not, here we go"); Harpo's improvising with a hot dog, bananas and, best of all, a yo-yo football; and, ultimately, the four brothers riding in a horse-drawn garbage chariot to win the big game.

The story? Well, as in most Marx Brothers films, that's secondary to the gags, non sequiturs and one-liners in this tale of new headmaster Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho), who comes to Huxley College, where his son (Zeppo) is attending. With the school in decline, the Wagstaffs devise to give Huxley a boost by making sure its football team beats rival school Darwin. Professor Wagstaff's scheme is to recruit a couple of ringers, but he ends up with two louts (Harpo and Chico), who nonetheless help lead the school to victory.

The brothers' fourth feature was an immediate critical and box-office success. The film came during the Depression, when audiences were eager to see a satire of the collegiate elite. And football was a rarefied sport back then, so Chico's on-field encouragement to Harpo to get a "home run" was a zinging reminder that the game wasn't in the same league as American's favorite pastime.

Perhaps as a testament to these visionaries, few have tried to satirize the game since. (Only Adam Sandler, in 1998's "The Waterboy," has managed to squeeze out a few chuckles.)

-- Tom Roston

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