GO WEST (MGM, 1940), directed by Edward Buzzell, capitalizes on the recent popularity of the western genre that began in 1938-39, placing the three Marx Brothers in the old west, circa 1870, shortly before "Don Ameche's invention of the telephone." Although not in the classic western comedy sense as MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (Universal, 1940) featuring Mae West and W.C. Fields, GO WEST (no relation to the 1925 Buster Keaton silent) has something going for it. No, they didn't get to find out how the West was won, nor do the Marx Brothers get to have their frequent foil, Margaret Dumont, sporting western attire and shooting up the town like Annie Oakley. It does, however, provide some fine comical moments that would keep the Marx Brothers and their gag writers from getting lynched by theater patrons.
Forward: "In 1851, Horace Greeley uttered a phrase that did much to change the history of the United States. He said, 'Go west, young man, go west.' This is a story of three men who made Horace Greeley sorry he said it." The plot revolves around the deed to worthless property of Dead Man's Gulch acquired by Dan Wilson (Tully Marshall) forty years ago from a crook named Turner. Terry (John Carroll), Turner's grandson, wants to marry Eve (Diana Lewis), Wilson's granddaughter, and in order to put an end of the Wilson-Turner feud and amend his grandfather's thievery, he requests the executive board of the New York and Western Railroad Company to link Cripple Creek to the Pacific by ways of Dead Man's Gulch so that Wilson will get $50,000 for his property. Because Wilson is in need for $10 to buy a grubstake, his helpers, the Panello brothers, Joe (Chico) and Rusty (Harpo), who have come west digging for gold, offer him the money. As security for the loan, Wilson signs over his deed to them. While at the Crystal Palace Saloon in Birch City, Rusty steals a keg of beer to quench his thirst. In order to pay for the 10 cent drink, Joe signs an I.O.U. over to "Red" Baxter (Robert Barrat), the town boss, unwittingly on the back of Wilson's deed. Baxter places the deed in his cash register so he and joint-owner John Beecher (Walter Wolfe King), who's to arrive in town, could sell it to the railroad company at their asking price. Beecher intends on buying the deed for $500 while S. Quenton Quale (Groucho), a representative and embezzler, offers $10,000. Realizing his error, Joe has Rusty retrieve the deed from Baxter's cash register, giving it to Quale for his asking price and offer the money to Wilson's granddaughter. Quale intentions on cheating the Panello brothers backfires when Baxter and Beecher join forces and cheat him instead. They get the deed, with Baxter putting it in his safe. The method of how Quale, Joe and Rusty retain the deed remains to be seen.
On the musical program: "You Can't Argue With Love" by Gus Kahn and Bronislau Kaper (sung by deep-voiced June MacCloy); "The Woodpecker Song" (piano solo by Chico); "Beautiful Dreamer" by Stephen Foster (sung by Diana Lewis); "Ridin' the Range Together" by Roger Edens and Gus Kahn; (sung by John Carroll); and "From the Land of the Sky Blue Water" (harp solo on loom by Harpo on Indian reservation) by Charles Wakefield Cadman.
Placing the Marx Brothers in a western setting is a welcome change of pace. Even Chico abandons his traditional pointy hat, until the latter half of the story anyway. Although amusing, the good guys vs. the bad guys over a deed was handled so much better when Laurel and Hardy did it WAY OUT WEST (1937). GO WEST is not a bad movie, but should have been better. It shows great promise with its hilarious ten minute opening at the train station where wiseacre Groucho is outsmarted by Chico and Harpo for money (Chico: $9 change please), and redeems itself from prior weakness near the finish with its 15-minute Keystone comedy type locomotive race against time as the wild bunch take over command as engineers with Groucho yelling "Timber" to acquire more wood for the steam engine. There's a great bit with Harpo hanging on between two railroad cars and slowly stretching as the coaches grow further apart. Other comic supplements, ranging from good to average, include Groucho and Chico's flirtation with Baxter's saloon gals while Harpo ("that redhead is a demon" quotes one of the floozies) in the next room searches for the stolen deed before dynamiting Baxter's safe. One scene worth noting having Groucho getting slickered by Baxter and tripped down a flight of stairs (as in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA), thus, making him the laughing stock of the town, actually takes away from his traditional character who used to make fools of the villains. Unlike their earlier MGM efforts, the romantic subplot, enacted by John Carroll and Diana Lewis, doesn't take too much time away from the brothers to make this 80 minute comedy drag.
Aside from the Marx Brothers assisting a young couple in need, and showing the tender side of their nature by comforting Wilson's granddaughter after learning the outcome of her grandfather's deed, GO WEST might have misfired altogether had it not been for the aforementioned opening and closing segments. What a shame that the not-so-memorable moments prevented GO WEST from becoming the greatest western satire of all time.
Distributed on video cassette in the late 1980s by Turner Home Entertainment, GO WEST, currently available on DVD, can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, so saddle up partners and have a rootin- tootin' time with those three dudes, the Marx Brothers.(***)