Classic Film Guide

Straight Place and Show (1938)

Directed by David Butler, based on a play co-written by Damon Runyon, with a screenplay co-written by Allen Rivkin and additional dialogue provided by Lew Brown, this below average B comedy stars the Ritz Brothers, a cheap imitation of the more famous Marx Brothers. Though both sets of brothers have a leading man, Harry Ritz is not nearly on par with Groucho and Al & Jimmy seem to have no distinct personality traits (unlike Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo) of their own. Therefore, most of their gags revolve around Harry trying to be funny while his brothers provide little more than a peanut gallery for his antics. This particular film revolves around a race track and horse racing, and is a poor substitute for the Marx Brothers’ similarly set A Day at the Races (1937), released a year earlier. The rest of the cast members, save Ethel Merman, are forgettable as is the plot which revolves around a woman so shallow she values a relationship with a horse over the one with her fiancé.

Famed (retired?) steeplechase racer Denny Paine (Richard Arlen) is engaged to socialite Barbara Drake (Phyllis Brooks), but Denny and his future father-in-law (George Barbier) are left to entertain the guests by themselves at their engagement party. Babs is tending to her horse named Playboy instead, while her friend Linda (Ethel Merman) keeps Denny warm. Linda would love Denny to have eyes for her as much as Denny would like to be rid of Playboy. Babs finally arrives, and Linda sings. The scene changes to that of a 10 cent pony ride, run by the Ritz Brothers, who perform a comic routine for their prospective customers. Big time gambler Lucky Braddock (Sidney Blackmer) drives by with his younger, who insists on riding a horse. Watch fast for Lon Chaney Jr. playing Lucky's chauffeur. After learning that he's won big on an earlier race that day, Lucky shares a tip with the brothers for a race later that day. At the track, the brothers pull some shenanigans to get to the front of the line only to find out that they're a dime short for their $15 across the board (win, place and show) bet on #11. So, they perform a street act to get the balance and, in the confusion, then accidentally bet on #7, which happens to be Playboy. Braddock's horse, #11, is leading going into the last stretch when its jockey breaks his stirrup and steers his horse and its challenger out of the running such that Playboy wins. Thinking he'd bet on #11, Harry reads and rips up his #7 ticket before hearing that his horse won. Realizing his mistake, he and his brothers scour the ground to find the long odds ticket which nets them in excess of $3,000!

Realizing that Playboy's win was a fluke, Denny bets Babs that if her horse doesn't win again within 3 months, the horse is his and so is she (e.g. she'll marry him). She takes the bet and, of course, Playboy loses every race and the Ritz Brothers lose all their money betting on him. Ironically, Denny (with driver Will Stanton) ends up getting rid of the horse by selling it to the Ritz Brothers, who then learn that Playboy is actually a jumper and not a flat racer. Babs is incensed to learn that Denny has sold her horse and, encouraged by Linda who has her own motivations, breaks up with Denny. Babs hires a detective (Edward Gargan) to find her horse and then throws in with the brothers to enter Playboy in a $25,000 steeplechase race. Cut off from her father's wealth, Babs is unable to provide the $1,000 entry fee so that the brothers have to earn it on their own. Since Slippery Sol (Stanley Fields) refuses to wrestle the Terrible Turk (Tiny Roebuck) because he cheats, the promoter (Ben Welden) hires Harry, who's willing to fight in order to earn the entry fee. Pat McKee plays the referee for the fight with a predictable result.

*** SPOILERS ***

It shouldn't take any imagination at all to figure out that Playboy will win the big race and Denny will end up with Babs again. However, there is a little more story yet to play out. Denny runs into three top Russian jockeys (Gregory Gaye plays one of these) he knows that are also entered in the steeplechase race. Realizing Babs’s only chance to win is for him to ride Playboy, Denny comes out of retirement to take Harry's place as its jockey. The brothers then overhear the Russians plan to keep Denny from winning. So, they knock them out and don their silks to replace them in the race. A wild ride loaded with slapstick follows, ending in the aforementioned way.

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