Sunday, November 1, 2009

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others (Groucho Marx)

The Marx Brothers. Genius comedy.

1) You'll recall from my previous posts that dad loved the Marx Brothers. So do I. So does Keegan.

2) I was shocked, on the weekend, when (seeing me reading The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia) one of Jade's friends asked her, "Who are the Marx Brothers?". Jade's face was a picture as she said, "Are you serious?"

For those reasons, and because 3) I've been watching a lot of their DVDs over the last two weeks, here is a post on the famous five.

I'm going to pretend that I'm talking to Erica (Jade's Friend) and explain who they were and why we love them. The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia and the extras attached to the DVD's provide a lot of detail but nothing can beat the source material.

Anyway - The Marx Bros were five actor/comedians who worked under nicknames given to them early in their vaudeville careers for fairly obvious reasons - Chico chased woman or chicks etc. Iin chronological order: Chico (pronounced chick-o); Harpo; Groucho; Gummo and Zeppo. Gummo dropped out of the act early on, then Zeppo after Duck Soup. That left Chico, Harpo and Groucho to establish themselves as comic geniuses in a number of films of the 1930's and 1940's. Vaudeville, by the way, is the American version of music-hall and morphed into television variety. Groucho got his start in vaudeville at age 14!

Anyway, here are the movies starring the brothers from The Cocoanuts (their first proper film) onwards.

The Cocoanuts (1929)
Animal Crackers (1930)
Monkey Business (1931)
Horse Feathers (1932)
Duck Soup (1933)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
A Day at the Races (1937)
Room Service (1938)
At the Circus (1939)
Go West (1940)
The Big Store (1941)
A Night in Casablanca (1946)
Love Happy (1949)

What are the must sees? For me the top three are Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera. You'll know after any of those three whether you're a fan or not.

So, why do we love them? The type of humour is a combination of slapstick with an anarchic bent thanks to Harpo, vicious sarcasm and put downs from Groucho, and the playful frolics with language from both Chico and Groucho. Some of the routines are justly famous like Groucho's small room on the ship in Opera that gets filled with people, or the swordfish routine from Horse Feathers that I've mentioned before, or the rapid fire gags throughout Duck Soup. The British radio programme The Goon Show, Woody Allen and Monty Python's Flying Circus are all fans and plow the same comedic furrow. Seinfeld's Kramer would have had little to do without his Harpo like antics.

To finish - here's a clip of Harpo at his manic best in A Night at the Opera (fast-forward to about the 3.30 mark for the start of his zaniness).

1 comment:

Eirian said...

Comedy does not need to be new or alternative = just V funny. Laughed out loud at this - just what I needed on a grey English day.