Big Store, The (1941)
Directed by Charles Reisner. Written by Nat Perrin (story), Sid Kuller, Hal Fimberg, Ray Golden. Photography, Charles Lawton. Art Director , Cedric Gibbons with Stan Rogers. Se decoration, Edwin B. Willis, Cast: Groucho Marx (Wolf J. Flywheel), Chico Marx (Ravelli), Harpo Marx (Wacky), Tony Martin (Tommy Rogers), Virginia Grey (Joan Suttton), Margaret Dumont (Martha Phelps), Douglass Dumbrille (Mr. Grover), William Tannen (Fred Sutton), Marion Martin (Peggy Arden), Virginia O'Brien (Kitty), Henry Armetta (Giuseppi), et al. An MGM film. 89 minutes
The Marxes --with Groucho pretending to be great private eye -- save a big department store from crooks.
Practically everybody who has written about this film badmouths it as one of the weakest Marx works, if not the weakest. Here is my minority opinion.
The movie is certainly not a Marx classic, but it is still a delight with many qualities. The brothers do have their share of mad moments or even scenes. The Groucho-Margaret Dumont duo (she is, as usual, his "souffre-douleur") does nicely. Character actor Henry Armetta has funny turns as a customer who comes to the store with his wife and 12 kids. Six of the latter disappear temporarily within beds which, like some other items, each with its own electric wall-button, makes them appear or disappear. (A nice parody of the famous hide-a-bed that can be stored inside a wall.).
Groucho leads an amusing crows of dancer-singers, all store employees, to the pretty good tune of "Sing While you Sell," which comes with a medley of boogie woogie and then-familiar songs: "Yes My Darling Daughter,""Mama Yo Quiero" and others.
Virginia O'Brien sings a lullaby. She was a specialty comic singer for MGM in the 40s, appearing in a dozen and half movies. Well-known for her dead-pan delivery,she would face the camera in totally impassive closeups, stone-faced. No matter what the song she would never shift to any other expressions. This is still quite funny.
Singer Tony Martin, very popular, rather handsome and endowed with a good voice, does here "If It's You," a pleasant romantic song, and in the finale "The Tenement Symphony," with a large orchestra and young people's choruses. This number is now ridiculed by many, yet I believe that it does not deserve this reaction. Yes, it is corny, but has some good passages that don't call for all that scorn. The music is not bad but it is too grandly sentimental and overall dated. Still, the public of the 40s and 50s found it impressive.
Then there's the music provided by Chico and Harpo. They do a piano piece for four hands that's clever and amusing. Later, Harpo at the harp delivers a pleasant medley within a setting of mirrors in which Harpo is shown playing other instruments too. The special effects people did a pretty clever job. I suspect that it was inspired both by mirror tricks in previous Marx movies. The famous 1948 Hall of Mirrors sequence at the end of Orson Welles' Lady from Shanghai may or may not have been influenced by this number.
All things considered The Big Store is eminently watchable (and listenable) to this day, and a plus in the Marx filmography.