Posts from the ‘Marx Bros.’ Category

The Coconuts

Cover of "The Cocoanuts"

Cover of The Cocoanuts

The Coconuts was the first Marx Bros. film (to be released) from 1929 and it is the most dated of their films. Whilst Groucho and Harpo are both in great form, and even Chico is funny, the movie is a bit bogged down by the elements that would bog down future Marx Bros. films, namely needless crooning of some very boring songs (by Irving Berlin) as well as Chico playing the piano and Harpo playing the Harp. These elements can almost be excused here as this was a remake of their Broadway play and looks to be exactly like a play that has been filmed. Zeppo is also in the film but does nothing much.

The Coconuts also has the ‘Viaduct’ scene with Groucho and Chico and lots of scenes featuring Groucho and his usual foil, Margaret Dumont, playing the wealthy dowager.

Another this I feel should be noted is that the film is in very bad shape. I wonder what restoration Universal has done on the movie since they acquired it.

Love Happy

Cover of "Marx Bros. (Movie Icons)"

Cover of Marx Bros. (Movie Icons)

Love Happy is notable for two things, 1) it is the worst of all the Marx Bros. films and 2) it features the screen debut of Marilyn Monroe.

Groucho never appears on-screen with his other two brothers, while Chico looks very old (he was 62) and tired. There are some OK jokes with Groucho, and Harpo has a few good gags too courtesy of Frank Tashlin, who co-wrote the film. Although Harpo’s schtick does wear thin after 30 minutes. The best scene is the 2 brief minutes when Marilyn is on-screen with Groucho getting in a couple of good lines, but overall it is a terrible and terribly boring film.

At The Circus

Marx Brothers, head-and-shoulders portrait, fa...

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This 1939 Marx Bros. film starts off very slowly with one of those intolerable songs performed by someone not named Groucho. In this case it is Kenny Baker and Florence Rice who perform the mind-numbingly opening number. I wonder whether 1930s and 40s audiences really enjoyed these occasions when the Marx’s were not on the screen as I don’t. The same applies to Chico’s piano performances and Harpo’s harp recitals, which in At The Circus is tacked onto the politically incorrect Swingali number. It’s a wonder that the songs aren’t very good as they are written by Harold Arlen who composed the more memorable music to another movie in 1939, The Wizard Of Oz. These are all fast-forwardable moments and it is not until the 12 minute mark of the film that Groucho finally arrives, but when he does it is worth it.

The first scene in which Groucho appears, where he tries to get onto the train but Chico won’t let him because “He don’t gotta the badge” is really funny, but the films most memorable moment comes when Groucho finally gets onto the train to sing the fantastic ‘Lydia The Tattooed Lady”, the only good song in the entire film. [rant] Back in 1939 this would have been hilarious as at that time the only women to have tattoos were in the circus, but I guess that it has lost much of its relevance today since most women under 40 these days have some ink on their body. It used to be a sign of rebellion for a person to get a tattoo but now it is a sign of conformity with what ones peers are doing and it is almost more rebellious for someone not to have a tattoo. I never really got the point of why people chose to get tattoos. I know that they will claim that it is art but from an aesthetic point of view it is pretty gross. I think that the human body is enough of a work of art without a person covering it in graffiti. Michelangelo never put ink over David. Botticelli did not give his Venus any tattoos. I really don’t get it. [/end rant]

Lyrics to “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady”

Music by Harold Arlen and Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?

Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
and a torso even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is The Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it, The Wreck of the Hesperus too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!
La-la-la…la-la-la.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
When her robe is unfurled she will show you the world,
if you step up and tell her where.
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree,
or Washington crossing The Delaware.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
When her muscles start relaxin’,
up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Queen of them all.
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
with a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!
La-la-la…la-la-la.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
Come along and see Buffalo Bill with his lasso.
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon.
Here’s Godiva, but with her pajamas on.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
Here is Grover Whelan unveilin’ The Trilon.
Over on the west coast we have Treasure Isle-on.
Here’s Nijinsky a-doin’ the rhumba.
Here’s her social security numba.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
La-la-la…la-la-la.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia The Champ of them all.
She once swept an Admiral clear off his feet.
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat.
And now the old boy’s in command of the fleet,
for he went and married Lydia!
I said Lydia…
(He said Lydia…)
They said Lydia…
We said Lydia, la, la!

Lydia became one of Groucho’s signature songs.

Overall the film isn’t one of the Marx Bros. best but it is still quite fun and worth a look. Any film featuring Groucho Marx‘s wit and Harpo Marx‘s slapstick and even Chico Marx‘s racial stereotype is always good watching. I used to be fascinated by the film when I was a kid, I actually set the video recorder to tape it late one night when it was on but unfortunately I missed the last five minutes of the film. Even back in the 80s you couldn’t rely on the TV stations to stick to their schedules. Grrr!!!

A Night At The Opera

The contract scene between Chico and Groucho

Image via Wikipedia

Many people say that A Night At The Opera is the Marx Bros. finest film, although I do prefer Duck Soup. It was their first film for MGM and the first without Zeppo. It also features some of the best one-liners in all of filmdom including Chico’s…

“You can’t fool me, there ain’t no sanity clause.”

It also features a lot of Groucho quipping with his favourite straight man Margaret Dumont and Harpo’s silly slapstick. It also features the stateroom scene, one of the funniest in all of their movies.

Unfortunately this was also one of the first Marx Bros. films to feature a romantic sub-plot and the boring musical numbers that plagued the latter Marxist films. These are usually just some really boring 1930s ballads sung by some boring crooner or diva who are supposed to be the hero and heroine of the film. Anytime that someone who is not named Groucho Marx starts singing in a Marx Bros. film makes me grab the remote control for the DVD player. The same applies when Chico Marx starts playing the piano or Harpo Marx starts playing the harp. It takes a lot of effort to endure these pieces of tedium but the comedy on the other side is usually very funny and rewards the viewer with lots of laughs.

It is interesting to note that the silent film comedian Buster Keaton (old Stoneface) wrote for this movie but is uncredited for it.

Monkey Business

This is the third film that the Marx Bros. made, the one that features them as stowaways on a ship. The film is perhaps a bit more chaotic that the later Marx films but it still has some funny moments. Perhaps the most well-known scene in this film is this one…

The only real downer in the film comes in the last fifteen minutes when Chico has his obligatory piano recital and Harpo plucks the harp. Then again these things happen in all Marx Bros. films and one can always press the fast forward button. You can at least be thankful that there is no lame crooner taking up screen time from the Brothers’ antics, which would happen when they went to MGM.

It is a great film although not quite as funny as Duck Soup.

It’s currently available from Target for less than $10 and has just been re-released by Universal as part of their Studio Classics range.

Go West

Cover of "Marx Bros.: Go West/The Big Sto...

Cover of Marx Bros.: Go West/The Big Store

I love the Marx Bros. and even though Go West isn’t their best film it still has its enjoyable moments, especially when Groucho, Chico and Harpo are together. Their antics are as funny as usual, it’s just that when they are not on camera the film is not very interesting. And that is the problem with all the MGM Marx Bros. films. When the Marx’s are not on-screen there is usually some terrible side romance plot between a couple of really boring actors. Worse is when they have to sing, which is something that I never understood about Marx Bros. films. Why do they feature these horrible songs sung by the supporting players? Usually the Groucho would have a really funny song or two that he would sing in each of his films but that is sadly lacking in Go West. We do get Chico playing the piano and Harpo playing the harp, which like the non-Groucho songs force a viewer to press the fast forward button. I really shouldn’t complain about this as it is a feature of all of the Marx Bros. MGM films. Instead I should be talking about the funny stuff like Groucho’s snappy one liners and Chico and Harpo fleecing their brother with the $10 bill at the railway station before they head west. There is also the destruction of the train at the film’s finale that is a kind of iconic image in cinema history. It is a funny film if you can put up with the lousy singing and boring instrument playing.

A Night In Casablanca

Marx Bros cropped

Image via Wikipedia

I finally watched this movie this morning. It was the last film that the Marx Bros. made together and it’s not their greatest of moments. The film does feature a fair bit of the Marx’s trademark humour but other than the hotel room scene, which drags on a little too long, there is nothing that they had not done in earlier films. There are no classic Marx Bros. moments here. The film is primarily about Nazis and stolen Jewish artworks that were hidden in the hotel Casablanca. The plot is a little disjointed and there seems to be a bit too much going on a lot of the time. The Brothers don’t really get too much time to do their gags justice, with the exception of the amusing hotel room scene that I previously mention. That’s not to say that it is a bad movie, it is still more entertaining than anything that Adam Sandler has made in the last decade or so. While it may not be as hilariously funny as Duck Soup or A Night At The Opera it is still very interesting and worth a look.