Thursday, September 6, 2012


(August 1932, U.S.)

One of the persistent elements of any film by the famous Marx Brothers (or any other famous comedy team of the Great Depression era) is that more often than not the comic routines don't change much. For the Marx Brothers, whether the story takes place at a big store, a hotel, the circus or the opera, you can always count on Groucho's quick snappy one-liners, Chico's silly antics in a fake Italian accent and Harpo always playing his big harp at some point. The Marx Brothers made a lot of films together and I can't say I've loved every one of them, but I seem to be drawn to the early features released by Paramount in the early 1930s.

HORSE FEATHERS revolves around college football and a game between the fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges. Groucho Marx plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley College, and Zeppo is his son Frank, who convinces his father to recruit professional football players to help Huxley's team. Baravelli (played by Chico) is an "iceman", who delivers ice and bootleg liquor from a local speakeasy. Pinky (played by Harpo) is also an "iceman", and a part-time dogcatcher. Through a series of zany misunderstandings, Baravelli and Pinky are recruited to play on Huxley's football team; this requires them to enroll as students at Huxley, which creates the predictable Marx Brothers chaos throughout the entire school. The climax of the movie (a whopping sixty-five minutes, I might add) is often referenced as one of the greatest football-related scenes in movie history. It includes the four brothers winning the game by taking the ball into the end zone in a horse-drawn garbage wagon that Pinky rides like a chariot.

Is any of this comedy likely to make today's movie generation, a generation raised on crap like THE HANGOVER-PART II and BRIDESMAIDS, laugh the way it did back in the day? Very unlikely, I'm afraid. Today's brand of multiplex moviegoers has neither the time, the patience, nor the intelligence, in my opinion, to open their minds and try to appreciate what used to make people laugh on screen during an era long since passed. But take a moment to consider the era of the Great Depression and how much people longed to laugh to forget their troubles, and the validity and importance of comedy from the Marx Brothers becomes clear. For myself, I've always laughed a lot more at funny dialogue rather than physical comedy, which is why a little time with the Brothers, particularly the wise-cracking Groucho, always puts a smile on my face.

I should also note that while I'm generally not fond of musical numbers, Groucho's conviction behind the song, "I'm Against It" is admittedly irresistable. Look up the lyrics.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Frank Wagstaff: "Anything further, Father?"
Quincy Adams Wagstaff: "Anything further farther? That can't be right! Isn't it 'anything farther further'? The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when YOU arrived!"

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