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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I Still Love the Marx Brothers

If you've never seen a Marx Brothers movie, you may be disappointed.  By modern tastes, it will seem draggy in spots, the acting is third rate, and the script is cheesey.  I don't care.  I still love the Marx Brothers.  As I was re-watching Night at the Opera the other evening, fast-forwarding through all the scenes with Zeppo and his love interest, I wondered why.
Let's start with Groucho.  The Marx Brothers are frequently described as "anarchic" and Groucho is the main reason.  In the opening scene, ostensibly he's trying to seduce his employer played by Margaret Dumont.  A generation, maybe every generation, of actors based their smooth-talking shysters after Groucho's persona: Phil Silvers and Zero Mostel leap to mind instantly.  But Groucho is so lunatic he can't even play a shyster straight.  In the opening scene, he's stood Dumont up!  He's sitting at an adjoining table with a peroxide blond!  And just before leaving the blond to shmooze and insult Dumont (he never stops insulting her) he insults the blond.  This isn't misogny, because Groucho has a zinger for everyone he meets.  Nor are these insults in the crude Don Rickles sense.  It's pun, wordplay, and innuendo.  Groucho's character is such a loose cannon that it endangers the logic of the story.
And then comes Chico and Harpo.  Movies don't feature musical interludes as they used to, and something's been lost by that.  Chico is just a joy to watch at the piano; he literally plays it, the way you play with a toy.  Harpo's musicianship is also wonderful, but for me he overplays the angelic bit as he strums his harp.  Harpo is no angel.  He's at his best producing an endless stream of geegaws, odds, and ends from his capacious coat, groping and chasing various women.
When people talk about the Marx Brothers, they usually bring up Duck Soup, which is a lot of fun, but I also like Coconuts and Animal Crackers.  Go back and watch the Marx Brothers.  They can teach you a lot about madcap.
Groucho's moustache was painted on with greasepaint.  Chico's accent is absolutely unconvincing.  The puns are attrocious.  I don't care.  I still love the Marx Brothers.

1 comment:

  1. When Liam and I need to yell at each other we say, "HACKENBUSH!"
    (A Day at the Races)

    Thanks for this.