Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Brief Observation on the Marx Brothers

When first discovering the Marx’s features, I was rather stunned by the density of the comedy content.  I had seen bits of “Horse Feathers” and “Monkey Business” before, but presumed the clips were from far more films than part of a single release.  For comparison, I remember sitting though a lot of padding when watching W. C. Fields Paramount releases, in order to get to the comedy - a minute here, a minute there, a reprise of a reprise of a vaudeville turn or a sequence from his two-reelers at Sennett, or wholesale remake of his silent features. 

The routines in the Marx Paramount films would, in the hands of other era comedians and their producers, be parsimoniously scattered among a multitude of features.  All that comedic material often crammed into 90 minutes or less was nothing short of amazing when it came to the Marxes.  A few films by others approached their anarchy, as detailed in Henry Jenkins “What Made Pistachio Nuts,” but they lacked the foundation of Marxian talent and personality (even Wheeler and Woolsey couldn’t find a consistency to their characters from film to film). 

Their final MGM films just showed the MGM was tone deaf to comedy - “At the Circus” and “Go West” are funny films, but they’re not funny Marx Brothers films.  Bob Hope could easily have slipped into Groucho’s part in “Go West.”  And Bob Gassel proved through his masterful editing that even those movies would barely run an hour if using a Paramount pace (and they’re the only way I can watch “At the Circus” or “The Big Store” since discovering his edits - although I do like “Sing While You Sell,” a musical piece that could easily foreshadow Abbott and Costello filmmaking tone). 

So while they only made 13 films, in the hands of other comedy teams or cinematic producers, that material would have served as basis for three times as many movies.  Over half of their output is finely distilled Courvoisier in a world of Bud Light.

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