Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Day at the Races (1937)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Day at the Races (1937)

In this Marx Brothers' madcap comedy (their 7th film), made for MGM (their second film for the studio):

  • in Sparkling Springs, Florida, the Standish Sanitarium, owned by pretty Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan), was facing liquidation, bankruptcy, and the sale of the institution within a month; Judy's handsome fiancee-boyfriend Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), who was employed as a nightclub singer, gave up expensive voice lessons (and a career in radio) and spent his entire life savings of $1,500 dollars on a misfit racehorse named Hi-Hat (owned by a rich banker), with the future hope of winning a Big Race to help finance and save Judy's sanitarium

Sanitarium Driver Tony (Chico Marx)

Sanitarium Owner Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan)

Judy's Fiancee-Boyfriend - Singer Gil Stewart (Allan Jones)
  • one of Judy's loyal employees and friends, Sanitarium bus driver/chauffeur Tony (Chico Marx), recommended financial aid from wealthy, live-in hypochondriacal patient Mrs. Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont); when Mrs. Upjohn indignantly threatened to leave and seek treatment for her hypochondria from a Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) from nearby Palmville, FL., Tony decided to intervene and promised her that the same Dr. Hackenbush was arriving shortly; Mrs. Upjohn assured Judy that she would remain at the sanitarium and help support it - to save the financially-failing facility, if she was treated by Hackenbush
  • Tony sent a telegram to Dr. Hackenbush to summon him to the Standish Sanitarium as a new Chief of Staff; it was clear, however, that he was running a vet practice for small animals and horses, not a facility for human patients
  • meanwhile, evil banker Mr. J.D. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille), with his secret accomplice Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley), the Sanitarium's financial officer, were conspiring to buy the soon-to-foreclose property and convert it into a gambling casino - to supplement Morgan's other holdings including a nearby race track and hotel (with nightclub)
  • once Dr. Hackenbush arrived, he described his dubious education, background and experience; he handed a large horse-size pill to Mrs. Upjohn when she asked for her medicine and assured her: "You have nothing to worry about. The last patient I gave one of those to won the Kentucky Derby"; when Whitmore asked about the large pill, Hackenbush quipped: "Say, you're awfully large for a pill yourself"
  • meanwhile, at the nearby race track, mute Stuffy (Harpo Marx), Morgan's horse jockey riding on Hi-Hat, won a race that he was ordered to lose, and was fired; it was obvious that Hi-Hat always reacted violently whenever in the presence of Morgan (or his picture); Stufffy's friend Tony suggested to Hi-Hat's new owner Gil that Stuffy could now serve as Hi-Hat's main jockey and caretaker, but Gil claimed that he was broke
  • in a brilliant sight-gag, the Sheriff (Robert Middlemass) arrived to collect money for Hi-Hat's overdue $15 feed bill from Gil; Stuffy and Tony - to prevent the horse from being repossessed - repeatedly pickpocketed the threatening Sheriff of the same $5 dollar bill offered as partial payment to make it look like the bill was paid, until they were caught
  • in the next classic "Tootsie-Frootsie" ice cream/code book scene, Judy's friend and disreputable, race-track ice-cream vendor Tony used another scam or ploy to raise the feed money and for betting money on a horse named Sun-Up after receiving a race tip from Gil; he sold racing hints to Dr. Hackenbush, requiring that he also purchase numerous code books and breeder's and jockey's guides to decipher the various parts of the coded race tips, before making his own profitable bet on the winning horse Sun-Up
  • when Judy asked for a picture of Dr. Hackenbush, to help publicize the Sanitarium and acquire more patients, he attempted to disguise his lack of medical-doctor credentials: "I'm not a famous man. I'm just a simple country doctor with horse sense"; she requested that he treat Mrs. Upjohn kindly, since she was the sanitarium's lifeline, and Hackenbush answered: "Well, she's not exactly my type, but for you, I'd make love to a crocodile"
Hackenbush's Clever Phone-Prank of Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley) Regarding Hackenbush's Employment History
  • in a split-screen phone prank scene of impersonation, Hackenbush played lots of tricks to infuriate and enrage Judy's scheming business manager-partner Whitmore who was trying to discredit him; after intercepting a phone call from Colonel Hawkins of the Florida Medical Board, Hackenbush impersonated "Hawkins" as half-deaf and drawling (and also pretended to be the two receptionists on both ends) to prevent Whitmore from acquiring discovering Hackenbush's lack of qualifications from the records department for the job at the Standish Sanitarium; he pretended he was in the midst of a hurricane (with a noisy electric desk fan): ("There's a hurricane blowin' and you'll have to talk a little loudah"), kept summoning Whitmore to a buzzing intercom from the adjoining office to complain about the noise, and also kept providing answers showing how forgetful he was about the subject of the call
  • during the first of two absurd medical examination scenes, new patient Stuffy was examined by Dr. Hackenbush; he offered his preliminary diagnosis of the patient: "Either he's dead or my watch has stopped!"; at the end of the exam, Hackenbush realized that his auriscope mirror was reversed on his forehead and that he had really been examining himself: ("He's what we designate as the crummy moronic type. All in all, this is the most gruesome looking piece of blubber I've ever peered at"); as a result of the exam, Tony realized that Hackenbush was a horse doctor, not a human doctor
  • at the Gala Water Carnival held at Morgan's Sparkling Springs Lakes Resort where Gil sang, Hackenbush danced with Mrs. Upjohn, but continually flirted with a slinky call girl - a big beautiful blonde named Miss Nora "Flo" Marlowe (Esther Muir); after Tony's solo at a grand piano for the audience, Stuffy destroyed the piano and converted its innards into a makeshift harp and entertained the patrons with a Rachmaninoff number

Hackenbush's Flirtatious Love Interest - Blonde Floozie "Flo" (Esther Muir) at the Water Carnival

Stuffy's Pantomime of the Conspiratorial Plan (Hackenbush's Seduction By a Woman) For Tony
  • one of Whitmore's further schemes to cause a scandal and disqualify Hackenbush was by hiring temptress "Flo" to seduce Hackenbush and have Mrs. Upjohn catch them having an affair; Stuffy overheard the plan, and in a priceless scene, Tony played a pantomime-charades game with him to guess and piece together what he had heard; he interpreted that Hackenbush would be framed by a woman knocking on his door
  • one of the film's highlights was Flo's romancing of Hackenbush in his suite during a midnight dinner; to prevent their romantic affair from going any further, Stuffy and Tony arrived to interrupt the romance and save him; the two first posed as his friends, then as house detectives (with two bulldogs), but were repeatedly thrown out
  • then, to seduce Hackenbush, Flo engaged in a close embrace with him - the film's most famous quoted line: Flo: "I want to be near you. I want you to hold me. Hold me closer! Closer! Closer", Hackenbush: "If I hold ya any closer, I'll be in back of ya"

Hackenbush to Flo: "If I hold ya any closer, I'll be in back of ya"

On the Sofa Together
Stuffy and Tony Wallpapering Miss "Flo" to the Wall
  • Tony and Stuffy entered a third time as wall-paper hanging decorators; incredulously, they wall-papered Flo to the wall and hid her under a pile of sofa cushions to prevent her from being seen by Whitmore and Mrs. Upjohn who knocked on the door and entered, intending to dismiss him after finding him cheating
  • the next day, Mrs. Upjohn apologized to Dr. Hackenbush for mistrusting him, and he urged her to agree to pay the notes on the sanitarium for Judy to make up for her error in judgment; he then professed his love for her: "It's the old, old story, boy meets girl. Romeo and Juliet. Minneapolis and St. Paul"
  • meanwhile, Whitmore has hired an examining doctor from Vienna named "Dr. Leopold X Steinberg" (Sig Rumann) to try to expose Hackenbush as a fraudulent quack; Steinberg mentioned to Hackenbush that he doubted the diagnosis of Mrs. Upjohn's condition as having "double blood pressure"
  • during preliminary preparations for Mrs. Upjohn's thorough medical exam to settle the issue, Hackenbush attempted a diversion to kill time and stall, and distract both Whitmore and Dr. Steinberg; Tony and Stuffy served as his assistants (with garage station lab-coats), and took Dr. Steinberg's name as their own, causing confusion when Hackenbush introduced the many 'Steinbergs' to each other, and they all bowed simultaneously
  • to delay the exam, Hackenbush, Tony and Stuffy kept resterilizing their hands by washing, and asked for new white lab coats; when three nurses arrived with the coats, Stuffy stepped into one with his arms out and grabbed one of the nurses; Hackenbush cautioned him: "Just put the gown on, not the nurse"; Stuffy whisked the nurse's outer garments off, leaving her in a slip
  • during Mrs. Upjohn's actual medical exam, she was laid out and strapped into a tilted-up operating chair/table; a "MEN AT WORK" sign was hung at her feet and she was prepared as if in a barber's shop; she was also bounced up and down in the operating chair; the ridiculous exam was interrupted when Stuffy set off the room's overhead sprinkler system, dowsing the entire operating room with rain; race horse Hi-Hat burst into a sprinkler-soaked sanitarium and rescued the "Hackenbush team" of doctors; the trio escaped on Hi-Hat and hid out in Hi-Hat's stable, where everyone commiserated about how the sanitarium would belong to Morgan by the next day
  • there were two musical sequences that were conducted in the neighborhood of poor black shanty towns: (1) Pied-Piper-like Stuffy with a piccolo led a cavalcade of children through the area in Gabriel: ("Who Dat Man?") - they thought he was Archangel Gabriel, and (2) an exuberant song and jitterbug-dance number known as All God's Chillun Got Rhythm was performed with gravity-defying, jitter-bugging danced by Herbert "Whitey" White's Lindy Hoppers; it then progressed into "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"
  • during the musical number when Morgan, Whitmore and the Sheriff arrived to arrest the group for fraud, Hackenbush, Tony and Stuffy vainly attempted to disguise themselves by painting their faces with axle grease (a blackface disguise), but they were nevertheless discovered; when Hi-Hat saw Morgan and heard his voice, he became extremely agitated and jumped over the barn door (with Stuffy riding him) to escape; the group decided that Hi-Hat's jumping and racing prowess made him a possible contender in Saturday's Grand Steeplechase race at the Sparkling Springs Racetrack
  • in the film's climactic conclusion, Hi-Hat (#7) was entered in the Big Race with Stuffy as his jockey; many diversionary tactics were used to delay the start of the race, so that Hi-Hat could be smuggled into the race as a late-added starter; once the race officially began after many delays, Hi-Hat balked at the first jump, but Stuffy had a solution to get him running - he showed Hi-Hat a picture of the hated Morgan, and the horse became agitated and took off; the sound of Morgan's voice was also projected over the loudspeakers to spur him on
  • during the slapstick race sequence, Stuffy rode Hi-Hat to defeat - but then it was discovered that Hi-Hat and Morgan's horse Skee Ball were unknowingly switched when the two riders were upset in one of the jumps, and emerged from the muddy water unable to identify the horse's numbers; Morgan's jockey actually rode Hi-Hat to victory; Hi-Hat won the $50,000 purse, to be used to save the sanitarium, and Gil won his love Judy

Hi-Hat (#7) with Stuffy as Jockey

The Triumphant Hi-Hat on the Race Track Following His Victory

Hackenbush's Closing Marriage Proposal
  • as everyone (including the winning black singers who had bet on Hi-Hat) walked along the racetrack, Hackenbush delivered the film's punchline - he promised marriage to Mrs. Upjohn: "Emily, I have a little confession to make. I really am a horse doctor. But marry me, and I'll never look at any other horse"

Wealthy Hypochondriac Patient Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont)

Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) - Vet for Small Animals and Horses

(l to r): Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley) and Mr. J.D. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille)

Racetrack Jockey Stuffy (Harpo Marx)

Bribing and Pickpocketing the Threatening Sheriff (Robert Middlemass) When He Came to Collect Hi-Hat's $15 Dollar Feed Bill

"Tootsie-Frootsie" Ice Cream Vendor Scene

Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) with Judy Standish at the Sanitarium: "I'm just a simple country doctor with horse sense"

Hackenbush's Medical Examination of Stuffy: "Either he's dead or my watch has stopped!"

Stuffy Playing the Strings of a Destroyed Piano at the Water Carnival

Mrs. Upjohn's Apology to Hackenbush, and His Profession of Love to Her

The Arrival of Dr. Steinberg (Sig Rumann) to Expose Hackenbush

Preparations for the Exam

The Introduction of the Other Two 'Steinbergs' (Tony and Stuffy) to Dr. Steinberg

Hackenbush to Stuffy When New Lab Coats Were Delivered: "Just put that gown on, not the Nurse"

Examining Mrs. Upjohn in a Reclining Chair

"Who Dat Man?"

All God's Chillun Got Rhythm


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