Tag Archives: Groucho Marx

Love Happy

Marx Brothers by Yousuf Karsh, 1948

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by David Miller
Produced by Mary Pickford
David Miller
Written by Mac Benoff
Frank Tashlin
Harpo Marx (story)
Starring Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Groucho Marx
Ilona Massey
Vera-Ellen
Marion Hutton
Marilyn Monroe

Music by Ann Ronell

Cinematography William Mellor

Editing by Basil Wrangell

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: October 12, 1949 (San Francisco Premiere)
March 3, 1950

This film 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 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

Directed by Edward Buzzell
Produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Written by Irving Brecher
Starring Groucho Marx
Chico Marx
Harpo Marx
Music by Harold Arlen
Cinematography Leonard M. Smith
Editing by William H. Terhune
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date October 20, 1939 (1939-10-20)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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

Directed by Sam Wood
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Written by Story: James Kevin McGuinness
Screenplay: George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind
Uncredited: Al Boasberg & Buster Keaton
Starring Groucho Marx
Chico Marx
Harpo Marx
Margaret Dumont
Music by Herbert Stothart
Editing by William LeVanway
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Nov. 15, 1935 (Los Angeles)
Dec. 6, 1935 (New York)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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 also 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.


Blockheads

Directed by John G. Blystone
Produced by Hal Roach Jr. & Hal Roach
Written by Felix Adler

Arnold Belgard

Harry Langdon
James Parrott
Charley Rogers
Starring Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
Patricia Ellis

Minna Gombell

Billy Gilbert
Jimmy Finlayson
Music by Marvin Hatley
Cinematography Art Lloyd
Editing by Bert Jordan
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date August 19, 1938
Running time 57 min.
Language English

Universal Australia has just released a lot of Laurel & Hardy dvds onto the market. These are from the British DVD set which have been remastered. These dvds aren’t even available in America. These are currently selling in Big W for $8.80. While all of the disc in the set contain some fine Laurel & Hardy films the ones that are essential for any comedy lover are Volume 14 – A Job To Do/Classic Shorts, which features The Music Box (the short film where they try to deliver a piano up a flight of stairs), Volume 13 – Sons Of The Desert/Related Shorts, Volume 3 – Way Out West/Related Shorts, Sons Of The Desert and Way Out West being Laurel & Hardy’s best known feature films. Volume 16 – Maritime Adventures/Classic Shorts features another one of the duos best short films, Towed In A Hole, which is the film where they go fishing. Still as I said earlier all of the dvds are worth owning.

Blockheads was released in 1938. This is the film where after WWI Stan has been left behind in the trenches for twenty years not knowing that the war has finished. When he finally finds out he goes back to America where he is reunited with Ollie and chaos occurs. There are quite a few laugh out loud moments which is quite rare when watching movies over 70 years old.

I was reading the other day about why Laurel & Hardy have such a great appeal even now. They aren’t known for any violent slapstick like The Three Stooges, or any smartass one liners like Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields. The author of the book I was reading (whose title escapes me right now) said that basically Stan and Ollie are big babies and that it is this child-like quality that appeals to fans, especially children. I’m not so sure about that but I do know that they were very funny together.


Monkey Business

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Written by S. J. Perelman & Will B. Johnstone
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Zeppo Marx
Thelma Todd
Music by John Leipold (uncredited)
Cinematography Arthur L. Todd
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date 19 September 1931
Running time 77 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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.


She Done Him Wrong

Directed by Lowell Sherman
Produced by William LeBaron
Written by Mae West (play Diamond Lil)
Harvey F. Thew & John Bright
Starring Mae West
Cary Grant
Owen Moore
Gilbert Roland
Noah Beery
Music by John Leipold (uncredited)
Cinematography Charles Lang
Editing by Alexander Hall
Studio Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date January 27, 1933
Running time 66 min
Country United States

I’ve always wanted to see this film for a couple of reasons. Firstly I do like Mae West’s double entendres and one liners and secondly we get to see a young Cary Grant. Here he is the one who is being lusted after by West, which is strange since in years to come it would be Grant who was the older man lusting after and getting the younger woman. It’s odd to see the roles reversed.

Whilst I admit that I enjoy West’s wit I must also admit that she is a bit of a one trick pony in that he sly one liners are the only things she can really do. Worse still she hogs the spotlight so that nothing of interest occurs when she is on the screen.

When compared to other comedians of the 1930s West’s act isn’t as interesting. W. C. Fields, who West is often compared with, had some amazing one liners in his films too but he also was pretty good with the slapstick stuff and could share the spotlight with others who were funny too, while Groucho Marx had his brothers to play off, even if we had to endure a boring Harpo harp recital or Chico putting the audience to sleep with his piano playing. West too insists on showing off her non-comedic talent when she decides to sing… and it is excruciating. Unlike when Groucho sings West is serious and is not doing it for laughs so it makes it even more intolerable. I guess that Mae wanted to sing and no one had the guts to say no?!

The film is interesting and does feature Mae reciting he most well known line to Grant, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”, but the film could have been better in my opinion.


My Little Chickadee

Directed by Edward F. Cline
Produced by Lester Cowan
Written by Mae West & W.C.Fields
Starring Mae West
W.C.Fields
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography Joseph A. Valentine
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by Universal
Release date 15 March 1940
Running time 83 min
Country USA
Language English

W. C. Fields and Mae West were two of the sharpest tongues in Hollywood with only Groucho Marx rivalling them for delivering the best one liners and double entendres. Whilst they do get a few great zingers into My Chickadee and there are a few laugh out loud moments, this film feels a bit odd. I think it’s because of the lack of chemistry between Fields and West. Whilst there are rumours of both the stars not liking each other and that they let their egos run rampant, trying to one up each other with the best lines, I don’t think any of this has been truly confirmed. I did read that Mae was a bit unhappy with Fields’ unprofessionalism and how he lived his drunken gimmick, but she still admired his comic abilities.

The film isn’t Fields’ or West’s best but it’s still a damn sight better than most other comedies.
My Little Chickadee is a part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection with The Bank Dick, You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man, International House and It’s A Gift. This DVD box set is available from Amazon for $46.99. You can purchase it by clicking here…


Go West

Directed by Edward Buzzell
Produced by Jack Cummings
Written by Irving Brecher
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
John Carroll
Diana Lewis
Music by George Bassman (orchestrations)
Georgie Stoll (music direction)
Cinematography Leonard Smith
Editing by Blanche Sewell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) 1940
Running time 80 min.

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 Marxes 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.


The Great Dictator

Directed by Charlie Chaplin & Wheeler Dryden
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Paulette Goddard
Jack Oakie
Music by Charlie Chaplin & Meredith Willson
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) October 15, 1940
Running time 124 min.
Country United States
Language English
Mock-German

Chaplin speaks!

I explained the other day the trouble that I have been having in the last few days. Things have been a bit difficult and I have fallen a little behind on my schedule. I am endeavouring to catch up as quickly as possible. It should be three weeks before my roof is repaired after the damage that it received after being battered by last week’s storm. I’ve still been watching movies but not been blogging about the experience so I am a little behind. It will take me a little while to catch up.

The Great Dictator was the first ‘talking picture’ that Charlie Chaplin made, over a decade after the Jazz Singer. Chaplin was the last person to make an (almost) silent film with Modern Times in 1936 but by 1940 he knew that he had to have characters talking. I think the reason why Chaplin took so long to speak (legibly) on film was because he was afraid that his Tramp would lose his mystique and charm. Many people claim that this film is the first Chaplin comedy that doesn’t feature the little Tramp yet the Jewish barber character is really the Tramp even if he’s not wearing the baggy pants and bowler hat.

The real comedy character in this film is not the Jewish barber, as every scene he is in is much too sentimental and schmaltzy, but the character of the dictator, Hynkel, proves that Chaplin could do verbal comedy as well as anyone else at the time (Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields included), as well as his brilliant physical comedy. I especially like where the dictator is addressing the crowd in faux German and some nonsensical English comes out. Brilliant.

This is a very funny film for the most part though it does get a little bit bogged down with the sentimentality. The film feels as though it is about half an hour too long as well as it does seem to drag a little towards the end. The film parodies quite effectively the idiotic thinking of the Nazis and Hitler that they were racially superior and the Holocaust, although Chaplin said that if he knew the full extent of the horrors of the concentration camps he would not have made the movie at all. I am glad that he did because future generations need to see just what a fool Hitler and his moronic cronies were and to take this as a lesson so that these sorts of horrors never happen again.

One good thing is that just last week Chaplin’s feature films were rereleased onto DVD after being out of print for 5 years. These DVDs, including The Great Dictator, Modern Times and City Lights are available at Big W for $13 (or $30 for three DVDs).


A Night In Casablanca

Directed by Archie Mayo
Produced by David L. Loew
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Charles Drake
Music by Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby
Werner Janssen
Distributed by United Artists
Release date May 10, 1946 (U.S. release)
Running time 85 min
Language English

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.


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