Filmsite Movie Review
Horse Feathers (1932)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

In a classic scene with two other professors, Wagstaff makes an attack on education while cracking open walnuts with the telephone:

Wagstaff: ...This college is a failure. The trouble is, we're neglecting football for education.
The Professors (in unison): Exactly, the professor is right.
Wagstaff: Oh, I'm right, am I? Well, I'm not right. I'm wrong. I just said that to test ya. Now I know where I'm at. I'm dealing with a couple of snakes. What I meant to say was that there's too much football and not enough education.
The Professors (in unison): That's what I think.
Wagstaff: Oh, you do, do you? Well, you're wrong again. If there was a snake, you'd apologize. Where would this college be without football? Have we got a stadium?
The Professors (in unison): Yes.
Wagstaff: Have we got a college?
The Professors (in unison): Yes.
Wagstaff: Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.
The Professors (in unison): But Professor. Where will the students sleep?
Wagstaff: Where they always sleep. In the classroom.

Wagstaff is notified by his secretary that the Dean of Science has been impatiently waiting:

Secretary: Oh, Professor. The Dean of Science wants to know how soon you can see him. He says he's tired of cooling his heels out here.
Wagstaff: Tell him I'm cooling a couple of heels in here. Where were we? Oh, yeah. How much am I payin' you fellas?
One of the Professors: $5,000 a year, but we've never been paid.
Wagstaff: Well, in that case, I'll raise you to $8,000. And a bonus. Bring your dog around, and I'll give him a bonus, too.

The secretary returns a few moments later and cries: "The Dean is furious. He's waxing wroth (wrath)." Wagstaff jokes with a classic line:

Is Roth out there, too? Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while.

Wagstaff is warned that his son is paying too much attention to the college widow. So Wagstaff phones her up personally and asks about his son's relationship with her.

Mrs. Bailey (innocently): ...We're just very good friends.
Wagstaff: ...Well, I want to see you. Come right over to my office. You can't? You're in bed? Well, in that case, I'll come over to your office.

But he is interrupted, not by the Dean of Science, but by Pinky and Baravelli (dogcatcher and iceman) who deliver and hide the blocks of ice [slang for diamonds] behind a picture on the Professor's office wall. They expect to be paid:

Wagstaff: How much do we owe ya?
Baravelli: Two thousand dollars.
Wagstaff: Two thousand dollars for ice? I can get an Eskimo for two hundred dollars and make my own ice.

Pinky begins throwing (later shoveling) the Professor's books in the fire. Wagstaff tells Baravelli to forget the money and go to college, and he tells the uneducated Baravelli:

You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.

Wagstaff enrolls Pinky and Baravelli in the college as students so that they can play football. When asked to sign an agreement, Pinky can only mark a cross, and Wagstaff compliments him on being able to write. Wagstaff says it will only be official with a seal: ("Where's the seal?") Pinky immediately delivers a live seal to his desk - and they all exit, following the seal.

Wagstaff leads the two overaged students to their first class. Upon entering, Wagstaff asks: "Have they started sawing the woman in half yet?" The new students present the teacher with gifts of an apple and a watermelon, as if they were in a child's school. Soon, the two new, eager young students are kissing female students and fighting with each other. (Pinky threatens to punch Baravelli, then kicks him.)

In a classic Biology classroom scene, the Biology Professor Hornsvogel (Robert Grieg) lectures with a serious tone:

Biology teacher: Now, let us go on with our lecture.
Wagstaff: I wish you'd go on without your lecture.
Biology teacher (asking Wagstaff about his view in the microscope): What do you think of that slide?
Wagstaff: Well, I think he was safe at second, but it was very close.
Biology teacher: Now, let us examine the circulatory system. Here is the liver.
Wagstaff: What! No bacon! I'd send that back if I were you.
Biology teacher: The liver, if neglected, invariably leads to cirrhosis. Of course, you are all familiar with the symptoms of cirrhosis.
Baravelli: Sure. So roses are red. So violets are blue. So sugar is sweet. So so are you.
Wagstaff: I can't see him, and I bet I know who it is.
Biology teacher: For the protection of the heart, or cardium, Mother Nature has provided a sac, called the pericardium. Any questions?
Baravelli: Yes. When you gonna cut the watermelon open?
Wagstaff (challenging the professor): ...Is this stuff on the level or are you just making it up as you go along. My feet are getting tired from this walk.
Biology teacher: Why, everything I told you can be found in the simplest text book on anatomy. I'm sure my students will bear me out.
(The teacher is borne out of the classroom into the corridor, literally, by the two new students.)

Wagstaff bats an alabaster model of a human skull to the floor: "You numbskull!" In a cloth cap rather than a mortarboard and academic robe, Wagstaff takes over the biology lecture, and improvises profusely and confusingly on the topics of blood, the heart, and the circulatory system - and the Alps!

Wagstaff: As you know, there is constant warfare between the red and white corpuscles. Now then, baboons, what is a corpuscle?
Baravelli: That's easy. First there's a captain. Then there's a lieutenant. Then there's a corpuscle.
Wagstaff: That's fine. Why don't you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out? We now find ourselves among the Alps. The Alps are a very simple people living on a diet of rice and old shoes. Beyond the Alps lies more Alps and the Lord Alps those that Alps themselves. We then come to the bloodstream. The blood rushes from the head down to the feet, gets a look at those feet, and rushes back to the head again. This is known as auction pinochle. Now in studying your basic metabolism, we first listen to your heartsbeat. And if your hearts beat anything but diamonds and clubs, it's because your partner is cheating - or your wife...Now take this point for instance (He points to a horse's ass placed over an anatomy chart - a picture of Pinky's beloved horse that he placed there when Wagstaff wasn't looking) - That reminds me, I haven't seen my son all day. Well, the human body takes many strange forms. Now here is a most unusual organ. The organ will play a solo immediately after the feature picture. Scientists make these deductions by examining a rat, or your landlord, who won't cut the rent. And what do they find? Asparagus! Now, on closer examination... (Pinky has now placed a picture of his ballerina beauty over Wagstaff's anatomy chart) Hmm! This needs closer examination. In fact, it needs a nightgown. Baravelli, who's responsible for this? Is this your picture?
Baravelli: I no think so. It doesn't look like me.

Pinky has fallen in love with a circus ballerina and is obsessed with covering the charts in the biology classroom with her poster. Wagstaff wants to know who has played this trick. Pinky plays the part of a repentant, guilty child, slowly raising his hand, standing, and crying. Wagstaff reprimands the culprit: "Young man, as you grow older you'll find you can't burn the candle at both ends." But Pinky's face lights up with a wide grin as he pulls a candle burning at both ends from his trenchcoat. Wagstaff is stunned and forced to recant:

Well, I was wrong. I knew there was something you couldn't burn at both ends. I thought it was a candle.

To punish someone, Wagstaff orders one of the pretty girls in the class to stay after. She complains that she is innocent, so he explains his prejudice: "There's no fun keeping him after school." The scene ends in the middle of a classic shootout scene with pea-shooters between the two new students and Wagstaff.

A fast-paced, mad-cap scene of all-out bedlam includes all four Marx Brothers in a classic scene of hide-and-seek, entrance-and-exit, and musical couch at Connie's boudoir. Her first visitor is Jennings, who discusses with her how she is romancing and using Frank to learn the football signals to win the Huxley-Darwin game. He warns her not to fall in love with Frank. He leaves her company, and as he takes away his overcoat from the coat peg, Pinky appears hanging underneath his coat. He sneaks across the floor to kiss Connie on the neck. She thinks it's Jennings. After they leave, Frank arrives to romance the widow, also kissing her on the neck. She thinks it is Jennings again ("Are you still here?"), but she doesn't let Frank know Jennings has recently visited. Frank is fearful of his father's wrath for having seen her: "The old man gave me a terrible bawling out for seeing you." He leaves for a moment to pour drinks for the two of them.

When Frank is gone, Professor Wagstaff arrives to straighten out his son's lovelife. [Upon his arrival - and whenever he exits and enters again, he takes off and puts on his rubbers, and raises and lowers his umbrella - two crude visual puns.] He expresses his concern to the vivacious widow about her interest in his son. And then the self-contradictory Wagstaff promptly attempts to seduce her - he sits down next to her on the sofa and then on her lap:

Wagstaff: Are you Miss Bailey? Come, come! One of us is Miss Bailey, and I'm not!
Miss Bailey: I'm Miss Bailey, and who are you?
Wagstaff: (He pulls out an invisible calling card) I'm Professor Wagstaff. Who are you?
Miss Bailey: Miss Bailey!
Wagstaff: Ah, then you are Miss Bailey! Thought you could slip one over on me, didn't you? Listen, Madam, you've got to give my son up.
Miss Bailey: Give him up?
Wagstaff: You can't take him from me! He's all I've got in the world, except a picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware.
Miss Bailey: But, Professor, I...
Wagstaff: Whatever you say is a lie! He's only a shell of his former self which nobody can deny. Whoopee! I tell you, you're ruining that boy, you're ruining him. Did my son tell you you have beautiful eyes?
Miss Bailey: Why, yes.
Wagstaff: Told me that, too! Tells that to everyone he meets! Oh, I love sitting on your lap. I could sit here all day if you didn't stand up.

Just then, Pinky knocks loudly on the door, causing Wagstaff to hide outside the door. Pinky enters carrying a cold block of ice in his hands. He dumps it out the window when Connie refuses to take it. After Pinky leaves, Wagstaff comes out of hiding and returns to Connie's lap. He asks who the visitor was.

Connie: The ice man.
Wagstaff (quips): Is that so? Well, you can't pull the wool over my ice. That ice man stuff leaves me cold.

And then Wagstaff is caught red-handed by his son Frank who returns with the drinks - the father has been caught by his son doing what he has forbidden his son to do. Wagstaff reverses roles and acts like an enraged father toward his innocent son, his unique do-something-and blame-someone-else routine: "So I caught you at last. And you are fooling around with this woman. Oh the shame of it! That I should live to see a son of mine try to take a dame away from his father." This time, he berates his son for taking her away from him. He announces his plans to marry Connie, and tells his son to leave ("Enough of this, you leave here immediately and I'll stay here and settle with this woman.")

Then, on second thought, Frank and his father leave together. But Wagstaff shuts the door behind his son and comes right back into the room. He leaves a light in the window for his son - a sign of his devotion:

Be a lamp in the window for my wandering boy.

And then in one more breath, finds himself back on Connie's lap.

Then Baravelli knocks loudly on the door, causing Wagstaff to make another exit and hide outside the door again. Baravelli enters and delivers a block of ice - he throws it out the window. Uninvited, Baravelli jumps on Connie, manhandles her, kisses her neck and shows amorous advances in Italian. Wagstaff comes back in and can't reach Connie because Baravelli is in the way beside him on the couch. Pinkie comes in for a moment, stomps across the couch, and dumps another block of ice out the window. Wagstaff comments: "This must be the main highway."

The nonsensical, madcap scene goes on and on: Jennings returns to Connie, so Baravelli must pretend to be Connie's music teacher. Wagstaff gives an alibi for his own presence:

I'm the plumber. I'm just hanging around in case something goes wrong with her pipes. (To the audience) That's the first time I've used that joke in 20 years.

With Baravelli at the piano, Connie practices her scales, and tells him she has a falsetto voice. Baravelli replies: "My last pupil, she got a false set of teeth." He serenades her with a non-sensical version of "Everyone Says 'I Love You'." While Baravelli plays the piano, Wagstaff approaches to the camera and wisecracks to the audience:

I've got to stay here but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this thing blows over.

After the piano playing, Jennings throws them out, suspicious about the music lesson and teacher.

Previous Page Next Page