Always remember:
"The password is swordfish..."

Horse Feathers (1932) was the Marx Brothers' ("The Four Marx Brothers," as Zeppo was still with them) fourth film and the second written directly for the screen. While it tends not to be mentioned among the "best of the Marx Brothers" lists with Animal Crackers (1930), Duck Soup (1933), or A Night at the Opera (1935), it's every bit as good, if less ambitious.

The story is set at Huxley College, where there has been a new president hired every year since 1888, the last year they had a winning football team. It opens with Groucho as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff being presented to the faculty and student body as the latest hire. When told that the faculty has some suggestions for his, he launches into song:

I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it!

Wagstaff's son, Frank (Zeppo Marx), attends the school but is spending more time with the college widow (Thelma Todd) than his studies. (It turns out that she has been using him in order to get information on the football team for rival college Darwin . . . yeah: Huxley and Darwin.) Frank convinces his father that the only way to save to college is to have a winning team. In order to do that, he needs to hire some ringers.

Where to find them? The speakeasy, of course.

There the ice man (who sells bootleg liquor on the side), Baravelli (Chico Marx) is guarding the door. It leads to one of the groups' classic routines:

Baravelli: Who are you?
Wagstaff: I'm fine thanks, who are you?
Baravelli: I'm fine too, but you can't come in unless you give the password.
Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?
Baravelli: Aw, no! You gotta tell me. Hey, I tell what I do. I give you three guesses. It's the name of a fish.
Wagstaff: Is it Mary?
Baravelli: Ha-ha. That's-a no fish.
Wagstaff: She isn't, well, she drinks like one. Let me see. Is it sturgeon?
Baravelli: Hey you crazy! Sturgeon, he's a doctor cuts you open when-a you sick. Now I give you one more chance.
Wagstaff: I got it! Haddock!
Baravelli: That's-a funny. I gotta haddock, too.
Wagstaff: What do you take for a haddock?
Baravelli: Well-a, sometimes I take-a aspirin, sometimes I take-a Calamel.
Wagstaff: Say, I'd walk a mile for a Calamel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calamel. I like that too, but you no guess it. Hey, what-sa matter, you no understand English? You can't come in here unless you say 'swordfish.' Now I'll give you one more guess.
Wagstaff: (to himself: Swordfish. Swordfish) I think I got it. Is it 'swordfish'?
Baravelli: Hah! That's-a it! You guess it!
Wagstaff: Pretty good, eh?

Baravelli opens the door and Wagstaff sneaks in and closes the door on him. Asks for the password:

Baravelli: No. You're no foolin' me. Swordfish.
Wagstaff: No, I got tired of that. I changed it.
Baravelli: (knocks) What's the password now?
Wagstaff: Gee, I forgot it. I'd better come outside with you.

Then they're both locked out.

There Wagstaff meets Pinky (Harpo Marx), the local dogcatcher, and mistaking him and Baravelli as the two ringers, he hires them. Unfotunately for Huxley, Darwin, then hires the actual ringers.

Since they have to make it appear they are students, Baravelli and Pinky must attend classes. In what was a reworking of one of the Marx Brothers' vaudeville routines ("The Biology Lecture"), they proceed to take over a classroom with the usual results.

Professor: The liver, if neglected, invariably leads to cirrhosis. Of course, you are all familiar with the symptoms of cirrhosis.
Baravelli: (stands) Sure! Cirrhosis are red, so violets are blue, so sugar is sweet, so so are you.

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 is-a captain, then is-a lieutenant, then is-a corpuscle.

The scene concludes with a massive pea shooter battle between them and Wagstaff.

Upon finding out that he has hired the wrong men, Wagstaff devises a plan to have Baravelli and Pinky kidnap the two tough Darwin players—a job they are not physically or intellectually capable of.

Baravelli: You gotta brother?
Ringer 1: No.
Baravelli: You gotta sister?
Ringer 1: Yeah.
Baravelli: Well-a, you sister, she's a very sick man, you better come with us.
Ringer 1: Yeah? What happened to her?
Baravelli: She had-a accident in her automobile.
Ringer 2: Ah, she has no automobile.
Baravelli: Well-a, maybe she's-a fall off-a horse. I don't-a look very close. Come on, we take you in our car.
Ringer 1: You will, eh? Well, I have no sister.
Baravelli: That's all right. We no gotta car. Come on.

Needless to say, they end up being locked up by the guys meant to be their hostages. After escaping, they have to help Huxley win the big game in a great ending that includes attaching a huge rubber band to the football, Pinky tripping the other players with banana peels, and Wagstaff running from the stands to tackle one of the other players to save a touchdown. The dogcatcher almost loses the game when a stray runs onto the field but saves the day by riding a horse-drawn garbage cart like a Roman chariot and downing multiple balls in the endzone.

The movie ends with Frank marrying the college widow who is now a widow no longer.

The original film had two slightly cut scenes and plans for an alternate ending. The students celebrate by having a huge bonfire. Pinky, in his overexuberance, sets fire to the college. They hear that Jennings (David Landau), the head of Darwin, is trapped inside. Saying "There's no smoking in the corridors," Wagstaff hands someone his cigar and rushes into the building. When he returns, he has only a diploma, which he gives to Frank. Taking his cigar, he states "I bet that'll burn Jennings up."

The title, incidentally, is slang meaning something that is "nonsense, balderdash" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1983). Something that perfectly describes the glorious anarchy of the Marx Brothers.

(References checked and quotes verified with imdb and, info on the original ending from

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