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It’s off to the races tonight for the first evening movie of Turner Classic Movie’s “31 Days of Oscar” celebration.

7 p.m. — “A Day at the Races” (1937) — A good, but not great follow up to the Marx Brothers’ best movie ever, “A Night at the Opera” that came two years earlier. Groucho, Chico and Harpo are in the world of horse racing this time as they put their hopes on a horse owned by Alan Jones to win a big race and earn enough money to save a sanitarium owned by Maureen O’Sullivan. There are some great moments in this film — when Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) is given a medical exam by the boys and when Chico gets Groucho to buy at least $100 worth of racing tip books just to place a $2 bet.
Some advice. When the musical number “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” comes out turn the channel and check the score of the game or make yourself a snack. It’s racist material that will make you cringe. It included some talented African-American artists — singer Ivie Anderson of the Duke Ellington orchestra and Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, a top-notch troupe of swing dancers — but they deserved better material.
Producing legend Irving Thalberg, who brought the Marx Brothers to MGM after their tenure with Paramount had ended, died just after filming for “A Day at the Races” had begun. He was just 37. After his death, MGM’s interest in the Marx Brothers waned and their film career started going downward.
This movie was nominated for an Oscar for best dance direction, an award no longer given.

10:45 p.m. “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) — I’ve written about this film before on this blog and it’s always a joy to do so. If it weren’t for “Casablanca”, this would be my favorite classic movie of all time. It is one of best films ever to deal with a social issue, that of World War II veterans adjusting to life back home after the war ended. Directed by William Wyler, who flew combat missions over Europe and filmed them, it is the story of three veterans — Fredric March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell — who return to a fictional place called Boone City and the lives they led before the war. But they are all changed people in one way or another. I liked how the screenplay had the three not knowing each other before they were on the same plane home. Establishing their relationships is crucial to the movie’s plot. The wedding scene at the end always puts a lump in my throat. You want these characters to find happiness and peace as they move on with their lives. You obviously don’t know if they do, but the film leaves you with a sense of hope. Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Cathy O’Donnell are the wives, daughters and girlfriends who also have to adjust to their significant others being home. The film won seven Oscars including best director for Wyler, best picture, best actor for March and best supporting actor for Russell.