Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Episode 9: A Good Buy From MGM

Why, we didn't know you cared! But since you do, here's our ninth episode, in which friend-of-the-podcast and Council stalwart Nick Santa Maria drops by to discuss The Big Store, which we all agree was made by MGM in 1941 and stars the Marx Brothers and Tony Martin.

Episode Description: "Actor, writer, and singer Nick Santa Maria joins us to defend The Big Store…not the funniest of the latter-MGM films, but (in our opinion) the most likable. We speculate on the secret life of Hiram Phelps and love life of Mr. Grover, plus hear a rare audio clip of Tony Martin and his version of reality. We're also treated to the death stories of a couple of cast-members! Finally, everyone is rewarded by us not playing 'The Tenement Symphony.'  Note that your enjoyment of this episode will be greatly enhanced by watching the film first, as we get into detail that you might not remember..."

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This episode's end music is Nick Santa Maria's sweet rendition of "If It's You," by Ben Oakland, Artie Shaw, and Milton Drake, featured in The Big Store.

Get your copy of The Misadventures of Biffle and Shooster, featuring Nick, right here!

And here's MGM's original trailer for The Big Store, referenced in our episode title:

And there you have it, folks! As always, you can find us everywhere on the web, and join us in the Marx Brothers Council Facebook group to discuss this episode and all other Marxian matters.

See you next month!


  1. Great podcast. I really like when you focus on one film - I learned some things here, some that I didn't even WANT to learn.

    One thing, Martha Phelps is called Aunt Martha by Tommy Rogers. Term of endearment? Actual relation? I like YOUR explanation better.

    1. BTW - I was intrigued by Nick's JERRY LEWIS credit, so I tracked down the BUFFALO BILL episode on You Tube --- and it looks like he was cut out!

  2. Very enjoyable podcast. Two ideas I have on the film:

    1: I love the bit where Harpo's typewriting is so loud, nobody can hear a word. What always bugged me a little bit is Groucho's sour looks toward Harpo. In a Paramount film, Groucho would be in on the fun. I'm probably nitpicking.

    2: I know I am just making this up, but I like to think of Harpo's "harp trio" scene not as a dream but as Harpo actually projecting himself into the scene and projecting back out when it's all over. Call it magic, call it what you want. It's a power Harpo has but only when nobody is around.

  3. About 20 years ago, I met one of the the dancers featured in the "Sing While You Sell" number. Can't remember her name, but she said Groucho was really funny between takes. Coincidentally, I remembered seeing her, her husband and a third guy doing a dance routine on the Ed Sullivan show in the early 1960s.

    Not sure if I missed you mention this at the beginning of the show, but did you know that 'The Big Store' was a remake of the 1936 Metro drama "The Longest Night"?

    1. Thanks, Kevin -- very interesting, about THE LONGEST NIGHT! I don't know the film, but from some quick reading on the web, I see it had a similar plotline, and even a villain named Mr. Grover! A subject for further research, to be sure.

  4. Disappointed you didn't discuss Virginia O'Brien & her version of Rock-a-bye. It is awesome.

  5. Yesterday I watched "The Big Store" for the first time in decades before re-listening to this podcast, and I was happy to hear how our opinions dovetailed, right down to Douglas Dumbrille's stunt double (he's not even the same body type!)

    I laughed out loud alot during "The Big Store", perhaps because it's only the third time I've seen it in over 40 years. By and large Groucho appears to be having a good time, as does Harpo. Only Chico is walking through his part, as if he's concentrating more on his next gin rummy game.

    Still, his duet with Harpo is my favorite of all of Chico's numbers. It was easy to see that the two guys onscreen really were brothers having fun. The reactions of the extras in the background seem genuine, especially the woman on the left who momentarily turns her back to the camera to hide her laughter.

    As for the bedroom scene, if nothing else Groucho has some pretty funny lines, even if the scene as a whole is stupid. And the roller skating scene is funny simply because the stunt doubles look nothing like the actors they're playing.

    I think the reason "The Big Store" often plays well with audiences today is because it's very unpretentious, as well as being relatively short (80 minutes, making it ideal for either the top or bottom of a double bill). It's simply easy to watch, like your typical MGM musical of the time.

    And in the time of DVD, it's easy to fastforward through Tony Martin's numbers. By the way, Nick's version of "Is It You" is better than Martin's.


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