The Big Store

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

The Big Store was the last of five films the Marx Brothers made under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and it was advertised as their farewell film. However, the team would return to the screen in A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949).

The Big Store co-starred singer Tony Martin and Virginia Grey as the love interests, as well as 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.

Tagline: "Where everything is a good buy. Goodbye!"


The Phelps Department Store owner Hiram Phelps has died, leaving half-ownership in the business to his nephew, singer Tommy Rogers. The other half is owned by Hiram's sister, Martha Phelps (Margaret Dumont), Tommy's aunt. Rogers has no interest in running a department store, so he plans to sell his interest and use the money to build a music conservatory. Store manager Grover (Douglass Dumbrille) wants to kill Rogers before he can sell his share, marry the wealthy Martha, then kill her to become 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 (Groucho) as a floorwalker and bodyguard. Between Tommy's affair with fellow sweetheart Joan (Virginia Grey) and Flywheel romancing Martha, the brothers eventually expose and save Tommy.


The film has two extended scenes, one of them in the store's bed department, which has all kinds of novel beds that come out of the walls and floor.

The second lengthy scene takes place near the climax of the film: Groucho, Chico and Harpo escape their pursuers during a madcap chase through the entire store, using the elevator, a staircase, chandeliers, roller skates, a mail chute and a bicycle. This elaborate chase involves an unusual amount of use of stunt doubles, Mack Sennett-type slapstick stunts and stop motion photography for a Marx Brothers film.

One gag breaks the fourth wall, during the "Sing While You Sell" sequence: while Groucho is narrating a fashion show, he speaks a few asides including "This is a bright red dress, but Technicolor is so expensive." Later in the film, Groucho breaks the fourth wall again when he comments "I told you in the first reel [Grover] was a crook."

Musical numbers

As in the previous Marx Bros. MGM films, the movie contains elaborate musical numbers, such as 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 screenwriting team of Kuller, Golden, and Fimberg also supplied the lyrics to Hal Borne's original music. Also of note is that this is the second Marx film in which an instrumental version of "Cosi-Cosa" from A Night at the Opera can be heard (playing during the moving bed scene), the first being 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



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 film made a profit of only $33,000. Nonetheless, it was among the more profitable Marx Brothers films of this time.[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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