The Phelps Department Store is about to be sold by its new part owner, Tommy Rogers with the permission of Martha Phelps, the dowager co-owner. The current manager doesn't want this as the irregularities in the books will show up. When an attempt is made on Tommy's life, Martha enlists the worst private eye in the world to protect him, Wolf J. Flywheel.Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Halfway through "The Big Store," my Dad turned to me and remarked, "This is an uneven movie - some parts are great, some are terrible, some are boring and some are a scandal." I couldn't put it better myself (and so I didn't try!).
The scandalous parts are, of course, the scenes involving broad stereotypes.
The Marx Brothers always walk a pretty fine line on the right side of good taste, as much of their humor involves insulting women and authority figures. But that's their schtick, and it's usually pretty harmless (not to mention hilarious). It's only when they go after ethnic groups that they lose me. And yet, I always laugh during the "bed scene" in this movie, so maybe they don't really lose me; I hate to say it, but stereotyping IS often funny. But it's an uncomfortable kind of funny.
It's a shame because the Brothers clearly aren't playing to their strengths in this movie. The final chase scene is good fun, but not really their "thing" (somehow, the slapstick seemed better thought out in "A Night at the Opera"). Still, they shine in several scenes, most notably when Groucho first meets Grover and proceeds to insult him while simultaneously wooing Margaret Dumont with Romantic poetry. I also like Harpo's fantasy segment, one of the more imaginative musical numbers from the latter-day movies. I don't even mind the obligatory Handsome Young Man character as he's got a good rapport with Groucho, but his bizarro Tenement Symphony (which is mercifully excised from most TV versions) really needs to go.
I sound like I hate this movie, but I really don't. Though it's clearly a big step down from the best of Marx, The Big Store is still intermittently hilarious, and even at its worst, it's diverting. Lesser comedians would kill to be as good as the Marx Brothers on a mediocre day.
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