Hostage Week Episode One: An Introduction to the Marx Brothers

Good day all,

It’s nice to be free and have a chance to throw my two cents into the mix, and working through the P.T.S.D. from that Ang Lee movie she made me watch. I wondered why she would resort to a movie about the clash between traditional Chinese family values and homosexuality (with just a pinch of abortion chatter thrown in for good measure) and they have the idiopidity (new word, booyah!) to call it a comedy. It turns out the lady has gone on a little vacation. You see, she darted me, which is pretty standard, and when I woke up there was a 24-pack of pizza pops, three cases of beer, nudie mags, and there were some frozen green things in freezer. I’m thinking “trap” right, but no, she used zip ties to secure me, loosely (like I’m free as a guy  in an escape proof, underground bunker can be). I’m thinking, based on the numbers, I’ve got ten days, maybe two weeks, in control of the viewing and commentary (you will see the rules get broken when Ilsa the grammar Nazi is around to give “suggestions”). I’ve decided to let you all know what real comedy is, even better than Hot to Trot, and introduce those of you that don’t know to the Marx Brothers. They were a Vaudeville crew that nobody wanted to follow; the funniest of the circuit that brought Johnny Carson, George Burns, Buster Keaton and countless other gods of comedy that I am too drunk with freedom to remember. I’ll give you a brother by brother breakdown. Dig it.

Groucho: The most famous of the crew and perhaps the most unhappy in real life. Best known for a 50s game-show called You Bet Your Life, which was basically him using his improv gifts to talk shit to everyday folk with hilarious results and prizes. In the movies Groucho is always an incompetent individual that has conned his way into the most ridiculous position of power (like running a country or a university). He does this by hitting on wealthy women, awesomely. Basically he talks circles around his social and moral “betters” while solving the problem at hand. He talks shit to everybody, and they all fawn over him for it. For god’s sake they based Bugs f-ing Bunny on the guy. In real life he had troubles with women (stage-mom issues), but tried to be a loving father. He was ruined by the 1929 crash (and had the huge brass balls to mock it for a laugh in Animal Crackers) only to cash in later through films and Zeppo’s investment schemes. The key is that you have to listen to every word and try not to laugh so you can hear the next one.

Harpo: My favourite, and probably the happiest in real life. Harpo is mute, speaking only through horn-honks, gestures, whistles and props (think the exact opposite of Carrottop on the suck-meter). He lives in his own world, that world makes sense to him and only him and, somehow, he always finds a way to beat you. He’ll give you a battle or two, but by the end he will be silently enjoying your destruction at his hands. He will stop anything, anything, to chase a random woman he has never met. You may ask “hostage, how does he not get arrested for assault?” and I would respond “It’s like dogs and cars, I don’t think he would have any interest; he just likes seeing them run away and he’s into horses anyway.” You’d pause and say “Like beastiality?” and I would say “they make that suggestion on at least four different occasions.” But it isn’t weird or gross, it’s Harpo. Also, he’s a virtuoso on the harp (yeah, the big stringy thing angels play) and does a performance in almost every movie. In real life he was a husband, father, world-class croquet player, first comic to play Soviet Russia, had a Commie bigwig steal a bit and worked as a spy (all in one week). He is one of the most interesting human beings in the world and a true gentleman by all accounts, who got famous playing a maniac.

Chico: It’s pronounced Chick-o by his brothers and friends (I’ll explain why soon) but everyone in the world pronounces it Cheeko. His character in the movies is always a small-time con-artist with a bad Italian accent (they were all Jewish by the by) and is working his way into the big fish. He can talk his way around anyone (even Groucho once in A Day at the Races) and often works in tandem with Harpo. The best thing ever is Chico trying to keep Harpo quiet while pulling a caper; glorious! His loyalty is always for sale and he will try and steal your lady, but deep down there is a sentimental streak and he helps the young lovers (more on the young lovers, they suck and you should ignore them, and all music but the brothers). Chico is a virtuoso pianist and like Harpo, does a performance in almost every film. In real life he lived to the fullest. He was a gambling addict, a sex addict and, in the end, had to live on an allowance from his brothers before dying young. This guy banged everything, like to the extent that directors fired showgirls they caught him banging (and then he would threaten not to perform and save the girl’s job before moving to the next one).  His life is the life I hope to lead if I ever escape (sigh).

Zeppo: I feel sorry for Zeppo. He was a somewhat talented guy, his mom forced him to perform and he left after a few movies (and had to be talked into the last couple). Later in life he became a bajillionaire through a ton of different schemes and I didn’t think to do much more reading on him. He had a funny joke in Monkey Business.

Finally, there are two eras in the story. The early movies for Paramount are the best, and the first two MGM movies are great. They did some more movies later on, and there’s some great stuff, but they’re really sentimental and lack the edge that make the great ones great. Also, audiences in the 20s and 30s expected musical numbers and love stories so you should just fast forward through that stuff. The plots are there just so the brothers can con the squares. You haven’t seen funny until you’ve seen these guys, so dive in and enjoy.

Until I write again, which will be soon, enjoy those little bits of freedom in life (and Harpo’s entrance in Animal Crackers, the best ever),

The Hostage

~ by stew37 on March 23, 2011.

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