Saturday, February 21, 2009

Three films with the Marx Brothers

At last I'm writing about my dear Marx Brothers! Possibly only one of many upcoming posts on the subject.

Me and my fabulous best friend Elenova had a Marx Brothers marathon today, watching three films in a row - Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935) and Go West (1940).
I must admit that I've seen each of this films almost a hundred times, but for my friend they were introduced today.
Don't you worry - I will teach her.

Duck Soup

Director: Leo McCarey
USA 1933
68 min

The legendary mirror scene with Groucho and Harpo.

Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is named dictator over the corrupt Freedonia, and declares war on the neighbouring Sylvania for the heck of it, and the money of millionaire widow Mrs. Teasdale (played by the fabulous Margaret Dumont). The ambassador of Sylvania, Trentino (Louis Calhern) employs two spies, Chicolini and Pinky (Chico Marx and Harpo Marx), to find out any embarrassing secret about Firefly to turn his people against him. But his evil plans does not end there - he also hires a woman, Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) to seduce Firefly, while Trentino himself aims to seduce Mrs. Teasdale.

Scene: Rufus T. Firefly charms (or what ever you could call it...?) Mrs. Teasdale, the scene beginning with a wonderful Hollywood musical parody.

You could say that this insane film is surrealism for the masses. It is a weird and unbelievably funny combination of Hollywood musical satire, satire of war, politics and affairs of the state, Harpo's brilliant mime, Chico's stupid and insanely funny italian and Groucho's inimitable puns and ad-libbing.
There's no structure in the film at all, but it is also one of the few films in history where that is something good. After this film (the last the Marx Brothers made for Paramount Pictures) they would sign up with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that would tone down the brothers' spontanious jokes and make them follow the script more. (Of course, no scripts ever could chain the Marx Brothers up from doing what suited them best at the time.)

Duck Soup is also the last movie with the fourth and youngest Marx Brother, Zeppo Marx. He would later leave the movie industry and become an inventor, starting up a company of his own, Marman Products. Among things he invented were a wristwatch which would sound an alarm if the patient went into cardiac arrest, and also his company invented clamping devices which were used in the first atomic bomb raids over Japan in 1945.

The final war scene, with all the brothers changing outfits.
Left to right: Chico, Zeppo, Groucho and Harpo.


Rufus T. Firefly: Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour, which is probably more than she ever did.

Rufus T. Firefly: Forget? You ask me to forget? A Firefly never forgets. Why, my ancestors would rise from their graves, and I'd only have to bury them again. Nothing doing. I'm going back and clean the crackers out of my bed; I'm expecting company.

Chicolini: Well, you remember you gave us a picture of this man and said, 'Follow him?'
Ambassador Trentino: Oh, yes.
Chicolini: Well, we get on-a the job right away and in the one hour - even-a less than one hour...
Ambassador Trentino: Yes?
Chicolini: We lose-a the picture. That's-a pretty quick work, eh?

Rufus T. Firefly: Go, and never darken my towels again!

A Night at the Opera

Director: Sam Wood
USA 1935
96 min

Rosa (Carlisle) takes care of poor Tomasso (Harpo).

Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) is employed, but is not very ambitious, to get widow millionaire Mrs. Claypool (surprisingly enough played by Margaret Dumont!) into society, but is more ambitious in charming her to get ahold of her money. When she expresses unsatisfaction with what he has (not) accomplished, Driftwood decides that the opera industry is the best for her. He soon gets involved with Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo), and the rising opera stars and love birds Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle) and Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones).
However, the head of the New York Opera Company, Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) and the evil opera pro Rodolfo Lasparri (Walter Woolf King) steps in their way, which demands extreme measures from the Marx Brothers to save their friends.

Scene: Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) and Fiorello (Chico) discusses the contract clauses.

As in all Marx Brothers films, the plot is not the important - it is just an excuse to let the brothers fool around. And they do just that, in a surprisingly controlled way with a very tasteful romantic sidestory, in A Night at the Opera. A lot of immortal scenes is found here: the contract scene, the crowded cabin scene, the Alone-duet, the aviator-impostor scene and last but not least the tearing of the whole Il Trovatore opera in the final scene.

The famous crowded cabin scene.


Otis B. Driftwood: You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.

Mrs. Claypool: I've been sitting right here since seven o'clock.
Otis B. Driftwood: Yes, with your back to me. When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay.

Otis B. Driftwood: Do they allow tipping on the boat?
Steward: Yes, sir.
Otis B. Driftwood: Have you got two fives?
Steward: Yes, sir!
Otis B. Driftwood: Well, then you won't need the ten cents I was gonna give you.

Mrs. Claypool: Get off that bed. What would people say?
Otis B. Driftwood: They'd probably say you're a very lucky woman.

Go West (1940)

Director: Edward Buzzell
USA 1940
80 min

The Marx Brothers as gold diggers in The Wild West.

Groucho plays the embezzler S. Quentin Quale, who is heading west to find his fortune. On the train station he meets two brothers, also embezzlers; Joe and Rusty Panello (Chico and Harpo). They trick Quale off his money, and soon they are situated in the Wild West. (Quale of course finds his own way there too, but not as convenient.)
Along the way, Joe and Rusty loans an old miner named Dan Wilson ten dollars so he can start anew, and for collateral he leaves them the deed to his property Dead Man's Gulch.
Unknowingly the son of his old time rival, Terry Turner (who also is in love with his daughter, Eva) has contacted the railroad to arrange for them to buy Dead Man's Gulch for their new railroad. That would make the old man rich, hopefully making him positive of Terry and letting him marry his granddaughter.
But of course, there's an evil man in the story, who also wants to get over the deed to Dead Man's Gulch. The villain is saloon owner Red Baxter (played by Robert Barrat), who succeeds in tricking Joe and Rusty out of the deed. The Marx Heroes has to make everything right again! In there own way, naturally.

Scene: Joe Panello (Chico) plays the piano in his fabulously unique style, even using an apple as an instrument!

The Marx Brothers feel obvious in the Wild West, with their ugly tricks, bizarre humour and clumsy fights. The only bad thing about this film is the above-all-expectations silly love story between Eva Wilson (Diana Lewis) and Terry Turner (John Carroll). If you don't want to fast-forward through them - keep a bucket close to you. You might want to puke. You really miss Margaret Dumont in this film.
On the funny side, however, the Marx Brothers are in their best element. I think there are more double entendres and sexual insinuations in this film than in the other Marx films together. Take for example when Quale walks in to a bar, sees a lady and exclaims:

- Lulubelle, it's you! I didn't recognize you standing up.

And the train ride in the end of the movie is unforgettable. - Timber!

Rusty Panello (Harpo) plays an improvised harp for the Indians.


S. Quentin Quale: You love your brother, don't you?
Joseph Panello: No, but I'm used to him.

[Chico suggests telephoning for help]
S. Quentin Quale: Telephone? This is 1870. Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet!

S. Quentin Quale: I give you my solemn word as an embezzler I'll be back in ten minutes.

S. Quentin Quale: Didn't we meet at Monte Carlo the night you blew your brains out?

Joseph Panello: My father-a shot the Indians in eighteen forty-two
S. Quentin Quale: Oh, he should-a shot the stork-a, when the stork-a brought-a you.

S. Quentin Quale: Time wounds all heels.

[Indicating a gag around the train engineer's mouth]
S. Quentin Quale: Didya know this is the best gag in the picture?


John said...

Excellent post! Always good to meet another Marxist! "Duck Soup"
is my favorite Marx Brothers film, just total anarchy!

If you ever listened to the recording of Groucho's Carnegie Hall Show he tells about Margaret Dumont and how she did not understand much of their humor.

Lolita said...

Oh, I am a Marxist, alright! Got Groucho tattooed on my upper left arm.
Yes, my absolute favourite too, totally sick and wonderful!

Oh, I've missed out on that one! However, I've read his biography "Groucho and Me" three times, and several interviews, so I've heard about her! Their pranks where they would hang out her underwear in the open for everyone to see, for example.
I love it when she had asked Groucho about that line "Remember that you're fighting for this womans dignity, which probably is more than she ever did!", she never understood that one...

Kate Gabrielle said...

Wonderful post! I'm a fellow marxist too :)

Have you seen You Bet Your Life? I am obsessed with that show-- when I had jury duty last year & had to name which television show I watch regularly, I said You Bet Your Life & everyone looked at me so weird!

My favorite Marx Bros. movie is Animal Crackers... I can't wait to see which one wins your poll!

Kate Gabrielle said...

By the way-- did you know there's a t-shirt that has a picture of the Marx Brothers with Karl Marx & it says "Sure, I'm a Marxist" - it's one of my favorite shirts :)

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Thanks a lot! I'm glad we gather here!

Oh yes, I have four episodes on DVD! Wonderful show.
I love the story of why You Bet Your Life stopped being broadcasted live. The woman with the many children, whom he asked why she wanted that many.
- I love my husband!
- Well, I love my cigarr too, but I take it out once in a while!

Yes, I'm quite tense about the polls too!

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Oh, it does?! I need to have it! Do ypu know where I can buy one...?

Kate Gabrielle said...

Wow... risque Groucho! The episodes I've seen are very family friendly... I got a collection with, I think, 18 episodes for like $5 on amazon. Tony Curtis' mom is on one! I thought that was nifty.

I got the shirt here I have one in big sleep t-shirt size and going out normal size, I love it so much :)

Michael said...

I love The Marx Brothers. Their humor never gets old.

In fact, I have a chapter about them in my book, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: From the Secret Files of Harry Pennypacker.

Lolita said...

I simply need to have that book!