Friday, October 19, 2018

Marx Brothers, Streamlined - ongoing project

Their last group picture - Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, Groucho, and Gummo

They're practically part of my DNA, these four brothers, but I'm enough of a fan to appreciate that some of their films are challenging, and in the case of two of the MGM productions, not at a level I can share in public venues due to their 1930's-level of "appreciative stereotyping."
So.  I am working with the former Sony Vegas software and mp4 versions of their 13 films to do the unpardonable - I'm editing down Marx Brothers movies.
Many of them.  Some remain perfection on celluloid, and some (such as "Horse Feathers") could go on for another hour as far as I'm concerned. 
So, trimming out and adjusting pacing have given me the following projection times:

1929 - The Cocoanuts - from 96 to 78 minutes - most of the cuts involved excision of the songs "When My Dreams Come True" and "Monkey Doodle Doo."  "Monkey Doodle Doo" has a lot of fun lyrics, but my ears cannot take the performance. 

1930 - Animal Crackers - 98 minutes?  Make it 398 minutes - recreate the DuBarry scene, in synthetic 2-strip technicolor, please!  And someone find Lillian Roth outtakes, too!

1931 - Monkey Business - 77 minutes, still 77 minutes.  Love the opening credits - would have loved the ending to be in the original warehouse for the bootleggers - then it could have ended with the four barrels full of Marxes ready for their next adventure.

1932 - Horse Feathers - 68 minutes - oh please, some archive find and restore the apartment scene with Thelma Todd, and the extended dog catcher sequence.

1933 - Duck Soup - 68 minutes to 67 and 1/2 minutes - to permit showing at my current venue, I had to excise "...and that's why darkies were born."  Nobody understands George White's Scandals anymore in academe.

1935 - A Night at the Opera - 92 untouchable minutes - unless someone finds the excised references to Italy that MGM carved from the ORIGINAL NEGATIVE.  MGM does NOT "get" comedy.

1937 - A Day at the Races - 109 minutes down to 90 minutes - that Gabriel scene had to go, along with some other unnecessary exposition - the MGM bricks were falling on the brothers.  Much of the water carnival went to the editing bin, too. 

1938 - Room Service - 78 to 72 minutes - just trimmed out dead air - it seems slightly perkier.  The background dialog between Groucho and Chico while Harpo mastered the layered look lost all the dead space, and with the miracle of compression, I kept everything Harpo did, but about 20% faster.  A second set of great opening credits that will be unscathed. Near the end, when everyone is being so solemn around the author's fake suicide, you really notice that this isn't the usual Groucho - there'd be one zinger after another if it had been "Animal Crackers."

1939 - At the Circus - 87 minutes to 63 minutes - Out with Swingali, of course, but my stomach could not take any rendition of "Two Blind Loves," and it was an opportunity to slice back on Groucho's scene with Goliath.  Still couldn't do much with the continuity gaffe where Groucho suddenly appears on the train after being completely blocked by Chico at the station.  Best scene is still Harpo and Chico with Goliath, and the ending with Jardinet's orchestra floating out to sea remains intact and satisfying.  Wouldn't this film have been better if "Lydia" had been sung in the excised courtroom scene with Groucho, have Groucho run to the train after Chico's telegram, dive into a cab with Margaret Dumont, and then have Chico do a version of "Lydia," and then have Harpo do a version as well...

1940 - Go West - 80 minutes to 68 minutes - the temptation to slice out all except the opening and closing was strong, but I wanted to test how to do internal edits, such as speeding up the closing gag of the railroad official sliding into a prepared hole after he gets clobbered.  I may do another version, cutting out the reservation scene and putting back in "Ridin' the Range" - it would be a nice thing to think of the Kalmar and Ruby script - with "Go West" at the beginning, and Chico and Harpo being a pair of spies sent out to help Mr. Beecher with his greasy plans, so there could be a "Duck Soup-ish" spy update scene.

1941 - The Big Store - 83 minutes to 60 minutes - that "Tenement Symphony" is toast, and the bed scene is distilled to a single joke.  At 60 minutes, it amounts to some adequate Groucho time, and lots of music by Chico and Harpo.  I actually like "Sing While You Sell," with the Marxes making a transition to the 1940s-style of musical comedy, and Groucho can dance.

1946 - A Night in Casablanca - pending - maybe an opportunity to play with the pacing.  But they prove they could do better than Mervyn LeRoy at producing a Marx Brothers comedy.

1950 - Love Happy - an earlier experiment took the 85 minutes down to 60, but I'm looking for better pre-edit material (the Marilyn Monroe sequence is far too dark in my work print).

This exercise is distraction is an extension of my experiments with the MGM Buster Keaton films.  With all the excellent raw material, even with Keaton's decline (horrifying in "What, No Beer!"), much better films could have emerged.  My video editing class showed that "Speak Easily" would have been a better, tighter film with the removal of about 6 minutes, and the consensus was that "Doughboys" (1930) would have been an ideal "part-talkie."  At class end, we had experimented with using "live" sound over a 20fps hand-crank conversion in various parts, and Keaton's traditional timing began to emerge.  MGM couldn't wrap its head around comedy.  Imagine how W. C. Fields would have fared under the umbrella of Leo beyond his "David Copperfield" appearance...