This week, I’m returning to my theme of writing about the great crop of movies that came out in ’39. I’ve already written about most of the ten nominees for Best Picture, only omitting the two I have never seen before. Now I want to start writing about pictures that weren’t in the top ten, but are notable in themselves. They may have been second tier, but oh, a second tier like those in ’39 never existed!
By 1939, Groucho Marx was 48, and starting to show his age. The best years (and films) of the Marx Brothers were behind them. There was no way they could again bottle the magic of such comedy classics as A Night At The Opera or Animal Crackers. But they were still capable of creating a few gold nuggets, every now and then.
At The Circus, while not among the pantheon of Marx Brothers classics, is memorable for two things, one off-screen and one on. One of the gag writers who worked on At The Circus was the great silent comic, Buster Keaton, His career was sliding, and Louie B. Mayer (head of MGM at the time) directed him to work behind the scenes with the Marx Brothers developing comedy gags. The problem was that the comedic styles of Keaton and the Marx Brothers just didn’t mesh. One time, when Groucho was upset over how a joke wasn’t working, he called Keaton on it. Keaton responded, “Hey, I’m only doing what Mr. Mayer told me to do. The truth is that you guys are so good that you don’t need help.”
The second notable fact was that At The Circus featured Groucho performing that great comedy classic song, Lydia, The Tattooed Lady. A quick search of YouTube will pull up many different covers of the sing, including one by Kermit the Frog, but here is the original: