Big Store, The (1941): Late Comedy from Marx Brothers

The last of five films the Marx Brothers made while under contract to MGM, The Big Store was a comedy in which Groucho, Chico and Harpo wreak havoc in a department store.

Groucho plays detective Wolf J. Flywheel, a character name from the Marx-Perrin radio show “Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel” in the 1930s.


The Big Store
Big Store poster.jpg

Theatrical poster for The Big Store (1941)

The Marxes had decided to retire as a team and The Big Store was advertised as their farewell film. However, they would return to the screen in A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949).

The last two films were made because Chico, a compulsive gambler, needed the money.

The Big Store costars singer Tony Martin and Virginia Grey as the love interests, and long-time Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont in her seventh and final film with the Marxes.

The villain was portrayed by Douglass Dumbrille, who had played a similar role in A Day at the Races (1937).

Tagline: “Where everything is a good buy. Goodbye!”

Among the comedy highlights is a sequence in the store’s bed department, with novel beds that come out of the walls and floor.

In the film’s climax, Groucho, Chico and Harpo escape their pursuers in a madcap chase through the store, involving the elevator, a staircase, chandeliers, roller skates, a mail chute and a bicycle. The elaborate sequence relied on many stunt doubles, Mack Sennett-type slapstick stunts and stop motion photography.

Groucho breaks the fourth wall in the “Sing While You Sell” sequence, as he narrates a fashion show, speaking some asides, like “This is a bright red dress, but Technicolor is so expensive.” Later, he comments, “I told you in the first reel Grover was a crook.”

As in previous Marx movies, The Big Store contains elaborate musical numbers, including the upbeat “Sing While You Sell,” led by a singing, dancing Groucho; and the “Tenement Symphony” sung by Tony Martin and a children’s choir.

The Big Store is the second Marx film with instrumental version of “Cosi-Cosa” from Night at the Opera, heard during the moving bed scene; it was also used in Day at the Races.


Directed by Charles Reisner
Produced by Louis K. Sidney
Written by Nat Perrin (story), Sid Kuller, Hal Fimberg, Ray Golden
Music by Hal Borne, Georgie Stoll (musical direction), Earl Brent (adaptation)
Arthur Appell (dance direction)
Cinematography Charles Lawton Jr.
Edited by Conrad A. Nervig
Distributed by MGM

Release date: June 20, 1941

Running time: 83 min.


TCM showed the movie on October 2.