Room Service (William A. Seiter / U.S., 1938):

Strapped lunatics, starving artistes. The work is a play within a play, with the auteurs frozen in anticipation of The Exterminating Angel, the off-screen cast camped out in the lobby, and a vanishing producer. The Marx Brothers at the luxurious White Way Hotel, about to be kicked out: Groucho and Chico scramble to pile a whole closet of coats and hats on themselves, Harpo comes in already bare-chested. "He just don't believe in shirts." "An atheist, eh?" The manager (Cliff Dunstan), Groucho's brother-in-law, has an efficiency expert (Donald MacBride) on his back, while the callow playwright (Frank Albertson) wavers from despair to longing for the impresario's secretary (Ann Miller). Some malady is needed to keep them from being banished, so Harpo fills his cheeks with iodine and spews at the young author through a spaghetti colander: instant measles. The single-room situation is a "frowzy dungeon," through it pass stuffed moose heads and fake suicides, a sacrificial turkey is smuggled in only to fly out the window. Despite the nifty, four-way choreography of a desperate meal (Chico tosses a pinch of salt over his shoulder for luck, Harpo snatches it mid-air and wolfs it down), William A. Seiter's direction keeps the brothers at half speed, stuck to static material. "I'll give you the best performance you ever saw in a hotel bedroom," Albertson exclaims, and the shattering thing is that Groucho isn't allowed to respond. With Lucille Ball, Philip Loeb, Philip Wood, Alexander Asro, and Charles Halton. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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