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The Big Store

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The Big Store
Theatrical poster for The Big Store (1941)
Directed byCharles Reisner
Written byNat Perrin (story)
Sid Kuller
Hal Fimberg
Ray Golden
Produced byLouis K. Sidney
StarringGroucho Marx
Chico Marx
Harpo Marx
Tony Martin
Virginia Grey
Margaret Dumont
Douglass Dumbrille
CinematographyCharles Lawton Jr.
Edited byConrad A. Nervig
Music byHal Borne
Georgie Stoll (musical direction)
Earl Brent (adaptation)
Arthur Appell (dance direction)
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 20, 1941 (1941-06-20)
Running time
83 min.
CountryUnited States

The Big Store is an American comedy film starring the Marx Brothers released in 1941, with Groucho, Chico and Harpo wreaking havoc in a large department store. Groucho appears as private detective Wolf J. Flywheel (a character name originating from the Marx-Perrin radio show Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel in the early 1930s).

The Big Store was the last of the five films the Marx Bros. made under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 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). Groucho later said that these last two films were made primarily because Chico, a lifelong 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!"


Department Store owner Hiram Phelps has died, leaving half-ownership in the Phelps Department Store to his nephew, singer Tommy Rogers. The other half is left to Hiram's sister and Tommy's aunt, Martha Phelps. Rogers has no interest in running a department store, so he plans to sell his interest in the store and use the money to build a music conservatory. Mr. Grover, the store manager, plots to kill Rogers before he can sell his half of the business, marry the wealthy Martha, then likely kill her too, becoming sole owner of the Phelps Department Store. Martha is highly suspicious, worried about Tommy's safety lest anyone suspect her of foul play to take over the store. Against Grover's wishes, she hires private detective Wolf J. Flywheel as a floorwalker and Tommy's bodyguard. Between Tommy's romance with store employee Joan Sutton and Flywheel romancing Martha, Flywheel, Ravelli and Wacky eventually expose Grover and save Tommy.

Comedy highlights

The film has two extended scenes with all three Marxes. One is in the store's bed department, with novel beds that come out of the walls and floor.

The second takes place near the film's climax, where 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. This elaborate sequence took an entire month to shoot and utilized an unusual number of stunt doubles, Mack Sennett-type slapstick stunts and stop motion photography for a Marx Brothers film.

At two points, Groucho breaks the fourth wall. During the "Sing While You Sell" sequence, as he narrates a fashion show, he speaks a few asides, including "This is a bright red dress, but Technicolor is so expensive." Later, after Grover has been exposed as the villain, Groucho comments, "I told you in the first reel he was a crook."

Musical numbers

As in the previous Marx Bros. MGM films, The Big Store contains elaborate musical numbers, including the upbeat "Sing While You Sell", led by a singing and dancing Groucho; "Tenement Symphony" sung by Tony Martin and a children's choir. The screenwriting team of Kuller, Golden and Fimberg also supplied the lyrics to Hal Borne's original music. An instrumental version of the Arthur Freed - Nacio Herb Brown tune "Sing Before Breakfast" from Broadway Melody of 1936 is heard during the Groucho-Harpo scene. The Big Store is the second Marx film with an instrumental version of "Cosi-Cosa" from A Night at the Opera, which can be heard during the bed department scene. It was also heard at the beginning of the racetrack scene in A Day at the Races.

  • "If It's You"- Tony Martin (music & lyrics by Ben Oakland, Artie Shaw & Milton Drake)
  • "Sing While You Sell"- Groucho, Six Hits and a Miss, Virginia O'Brien and Harpo as a drum-beating snake charmer
  • "Rock-a-bye Baby"- Virginia O'Brien
  • "Mama Eu Quero"- Chico and Harpo (piano duet)
  • "A Whimsical Trio" - Harpo (harp, violin, cello) (by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, using music from the works below)
    • "Mozart's Sonata in C major" - Harpo (harp)
    • "Beethoven's Minuet" - Harpo (harp)
  • "Tenement Symphony"- Tony Martin, onstage choir and orchestra, featuring Chico and Harpo



Reviews of The Big Store were generally positive, but unenthusiastic. Theodore Strauss of The New York Times wrote that "if it lacks the continuously harebrained invention of, say, 'A Night at the Opera,' the boys are still the most erratic maniacs this side of bars. If one were entirely truthful one would have to admit that the picture has many a dull stretch, that the tricks have been overworked, that the boys are slowing down, etc., etc. But with Marxian adherents—among whom we most decidedly belong—the question is simply, Are the Marx Brothers in it? They are."[1] A review in Variety called it a "moderate comedy where dull stretches overshadow the several socko laugh sequences during a bumpy unfolding ... Marx Bros. repeat their familiar antics without much variation from previous appearances."[2] Film Daily suggested that a couple of the chase scenes were "a little lengthy" but still concluded, "A 'laugh clocker' could run a high total checking this and the preview audience seemed to love it."[3] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that the film was "not great Marx material, not a film that collectors will exhibit as a sample of this era's humor, but again and again the old flash is there."[4]

The Big Store made a modest profit of $33,000. Nonetheless, it was initially the most profitable of the three final Marx Brothers films for MGM.[5]


  1. ^ Strauss, Theodore (June 27, 1941). "Movie Review - The Big Store". The New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  2. ^ "The Big Store". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. June 18, 1941. p. 16.
  3. ^ "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 4 June 18, 1941.
  4. ^ Mosher, John (June 28, 1941). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 53.
  5. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 279
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