Room Service (1938) starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx), Lucille Ball, Ann Miller
Room ServiceÂ is one of the Marx Brothers underrated movies. Although it’s not as good as their very best movies (A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races), it’s still a funny, enjoyable movie. The basic premise has Groucho Marx as play producer Gordon Miller, who’s trying to find a backer for his new play, while rehearsing the play – and himself and the entire cast staying at a hotel managed by his brother-in-law. They are months overdue on their bill, and are in danger of being thrown out. Add to this mix the author of the play coming to stay with Groucho, Chico and Harpo, who are trying every trick in the book to stay into the hotel until the following morning, when a large backer will bankroll the play and save them from bankruptcy. The plot begins to pick up at this point, and becomes more madcap – and more like a Marx Brothers movie. The first 30 minutes, frankly, proceeds too slowly, and should probably have been edited down to 15 minutes. After that point, the plot moves briskly, and the humor begins to come alive, both visually and verbally.Â Some of the schtick is very funny, and the entire movie is enjoyable from that point onward.
The play is ready to open in a day, and if they can avoid getting thrown out of the hotel first, they will be able to pay off their bills. To complicate matters, the author of the play comes in just as Groucho, Chico and Harpo are about to skip out on the hotel bill. One thing leads to another, and they decide to pretend that the author has contracted measles in order to prevent their being thrown out of the hotel room. This leads to one of the madcap moments in the film, where Harpo spits iodine through a strainer to cover the author with spots for his ‘measles.’ They can’t be thrown out, but they aren’t getting any food, either – one attempt has Harpo winning a turkey in a drawing, only to have Harpo bring a live turkey to the hotel room, and have the turkey ‘fly’ out the window (with wires manipulating the puppet turkey to fly – a very funny moment, with the wires being so obvious that they’re hilarious).
Later, as the hotel manager is preparing to have them arrested, the author fakes his own suicide, blaming the hotel manager for driving him to it – as does Harpo. The hotel manager feels appropriately guilty, giving the play enough time to go on and become a smash success. The hotel manager reacts appropriately when he meets the ‘dead’ author and the ‘dead’ Harpo on stage – a nice, zany ending. It should also be noted that both Lucille Ball and Ann Miller appear in supporting roles.
Room Service is also available as part of The Marx Brothers Collection (A Night at The Opera/A Day at The Races/A Night in Casablanca/Room Service/At the Circus/Go West/The Big Store).
Editorial Review of Room Service (courtesy of Amazon.com )
This Broadway farce was tailored as a movie for the Marx Brothers, but the fit wasn’t necessarily a good one. Still, a little Marx comedy mayhem is better than none. Groucho plays a theatrical producer holed up in a hotel room; he doesn’t have a cent but he does have a sure-fire Broadway hit, if only he can put the funds together to get it on stage. To do so, he’s willing to try anything–including convincing the naive playwright that he’s got a contagious disease in order to quarantine him and keep the hotel manager at bay. The cast includes Ann Miller and a young Lucille Ball but the humor is not as sharp or quick-witted as the Marx Brothers’ usual fare. —Marshall Fine
Funny movie quotes from Room Service starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo)
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): [taking off layers of clothing] Now I know how Gypsy Rose Lee feels.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): You go down and tell Waggner that if he doesn’t behave himself, I’ll buy this hotel and make him a bellhop.Â No, that’s too good for him … I’ll make him a guest!
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): I still think it’s a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.
Hilda Manny (Ann Miller): If I don’t come back you’ll know it’s good news.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): And if you do come back bring four bottles of poison.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): You’ve been in jail?
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): Sure, it’s’a not so bad. You behave and they make you a trustee.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): The young lady can play one of the miners.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): But the miners are all men!
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): Do me a favor, Davis, and keep sex out of this conversation! I’ve never produced anything but clean plays.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): You take the night shift, and I’ll take the day shift, and I’ll be in Scotland before ya!
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): Wait a minute. Suppose one of us got sick.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): [snaps his fingers] That’s the idea! They can’t put a sick man out, it’s against the law!
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): Remember I had kidney trouble at the Astor and gall stones at the Plaza!
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): Those were the happy days.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): I’m weak! If I don’t get something to eat pretty soon, I’m gonna collapse!
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): Hey, we’re just as hungry as you are.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): Yeah, but you fellows are used to it. I’ve never gone without food for 18 hours before.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): It’s all a matter of willpower. If you just make up your mind.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): I can make up my mind alright, I just can’t do anything about my stomach.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): If only we had something to hock.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): How about that moose head?
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): Oh no you don’t! I shot him with my own two hands, I ate him up to the neck, but I refuse to part with the rest of him!
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): If I could get my watch out of hock, I’d hock it again.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): I’m so hungry I’m starting to see spots before my eyes.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): Me, too.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): Mine are beginning to look like hamburgers.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): If you see one with onions, save it for me.
[Talking about the Russian waiter, who wants to act in the play]
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): Gee, he has a lot of talent.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): I’ve seen him carry twelve trays at once.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): You can’t miss him, second straitjacket to the left.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): I’ll give you the best performance you’ve ever seen in a hotel bedroom.
Leo Davis (Frank Albertson): Gee, I-I-I don’t know whether I can keep it up for two and a half hours.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): It’s all right. We’ll help you.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): Shhh. Money.
[pretending that Leo Davis has died]
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx): Too soon, too soon, he died too soon.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): An hour too soon.
Harry Binelli (Chico Marx): Hello? Room Service. Bring up enough ice to cool a warm body.
Gregory Wagner: Jumping butterballs!
Trivia for Room Service starring the Marx Brothers
- This is the first (and last) time the Marx Brothers worked with material not specially created for them.
- During salary negotiations with R-K-O, former Marx Brother Zeppo Marx represented his brothers, threatening to rejoin the group if their demands weren’t met!
- The only film the Brothers made with R-K-O Studios.
- The original play was adapted into a Marx Brothers screenplay by Morrie Ryskind, who co-wrote the stage and screen versions of The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930) and also co-wrote A Night at the Opera (1935). Much of the original play’s strong language had to be toned down for the screen, into milder expletives such as ‘Jumping Butterballs!’
- Although she seems much older and mature, Ann Miller is only 15 years old in this film. She had lied about her age and obtained a fake birth certificate when she was about 14 years old stating that she was 18. Ms. Miller was so tall, poised and beautiful that she pulled it off.
- Lucille Ball, who has a supporting role in this film, would later buy the studio that made this film, RKO Studios. She and Desi Arnaz purchased it during the height of their success on I Love Lucy (1951) and renamed it Desilu Studios.
- Frank Albertson, who plays the handsome young playwright Leo Davis, is the same actor who later played Tom Cassidy in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the millionaire who brings $40,000 cash into the real estate and Janet Leigh’s character steals it. Since he looks entirely different in the two roles, many people who have seen both films, even after repeated viewings, do not realize that it is the same actor.
- Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx would later reteam in a memorable episode of I Love Lucy(1951) when they do the famous ‘mirror’ routine: I Love Lucy: Lucy and Harpo Marx (#4.27) (1955).
- Eddie Albert, best known as Oliver Douglas on TV’s Green Acres (1965) costarring Eva Gabor, was in the original 1937 Broadway cast as Leo Davis, the playwright.
- The Broadway play Room Service opened at the Cort Theater on May 19, 1937, and ran for 500 performances (without the Marx Brothers).