Sunday, February 05, 2006
Sunday Musings on Marx
The Siren celebrated her new television (actually an old television off Craigslist--long story) by watching The Cocoanuts, one of the few Marx Brothers movies she'd never seen. Groucho is running a Florida hotel in this one, and Chico and Harpo play two thieves. Zeppo is a clerk and he's barely in the movie at all. Poor Zeppo, he's such a cipher. We were almost at the credits before I even bothered to notice his lack of screen time. This movie is somewhat less hilarious than the brothers' greatest films, but still has some hysterically funny sequences.
Margaret Dumont is in The Cocoanuts, and even here was ready to accept her crown as The Greatest Straight Woman of All Time. (Straight woman in the vaudeville sense, got that?) Marx authorities ranging from Dick Cavett to Groucho himself all say Dumont genuinely didn't get the jokes, on or off screen, but the Siren finds this difficult to believe. For one thing, the woman had a long career as a comic foil. For another, Dumont is just too good.
For contrast, check out Kay Francis in this movie. She looks ravishing. She also looks absolutely befuddled. In one sequence where the brothers are running in and out of her hotel room, Francis seems to be playing the part of a woman forced to dodge across the Santa Monica Freeway in high heels. She can't play off the mayhem, she's too afraid of being run over. When Dumont enters later in the scene, she is resolutely, regally in character and the jokes become just that much funnier. It takes real skill to be in a scene with the Marx Brothers and not look like you've been hit over the head with Harpo's horn.
Every time I try to write about the Marx Brothers, I just wind up quoting Groucho, so why should this Sunday be any different:
Groucho: Wages? Do you want to be wage slaves? Answer me that!
Groucho: No, of course not. But what makes wage slaves? Wages!
Zeppo: Any luck with the 4:30?
Groucho: Yeah. It didn't hit me.
Groucho: Hello? Yes? Ice water in 318? Is that so? Where'd you get it? Oh, you want some.
Groucho: Why, it's the most exclusive residential district in Florida. Nobody lives there.
Groucho: (on phone) You want to know where you can get a hold of Mrs. Potter? I don't know, she's awfully ticklish.
Groucho: All along the river, those are all levees.
Chico: That's the Jewish neighborhood?
Groucho: Well, we'll passover that.
Groucho: (addressing Dumont, of course) I can see it now: you and the moon. Wear a necktie so I'll know you.
This is a real antique, made in 1929. So the camera work is static, to say the least, but you get some slight compensation in that the costumes mark the fabulous death throes of High Flapper Style.
The Siren adores the Marx Brothers. Her favorite is Duck Soup. You could spend hours deconstructing the world view of that one. Or you could take Groucho's word on the film's political significance: "What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh."
That makes for an abrupt transition to part two of my Sunday ramblings. If there is one movie argument that the Siren just doesn't want to have, it's the one about Hollywood's alleged monolithic liberalism. Of course, my main field of interest is the Golden Age. The minute someone tries to tell me the general tilt was to the left during that period is the minute I realize I'm talking to someone whose classic movie viewing is largely confined to renting Casablanca on Valentine's Day. For heaven's sake, just look at the Hays Code. It's about liberal as Pat Robertson on a bad day.
As for the current movie scene ... one of my all-time favorite posts from master blogger Lance Mannion was one where he tried to put political arguments about the Oscars out of their misery. But the "Hollywood Has a Sinister Marxist Agenda" theme just keeps coming back, like Rasputin or Freddie or Jason or Martin Lawrence. Back it came this year, spurred by the list of Oscar nominations for Best Picture. And the gentleman at the consistently hilarious Kung Fu Monkey blog has taken some time out to feed the myth some cyanide cookies, pump it full of silver bullets and drive a stake through its heart. Please check out his post, as the Siren is still laughing over it. Enjoy your Sunday.