Monday, August 20, 2007


Thirty years ago last Saturday, the 18th, Groucho Marx died.

I have been a fan of the Marx Brothers and Groucho in particular for as long as I can remember. I don't know if there are any comic actors today who can do what he did so well. He could double as both a straight man and the funny guy. He could be his own straight man as well with a pause or a leer or an eye roll, followed by a zinger. Could anyone do more just by raising his eyebrows?

The classic Marx Brothers' films- Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, A Night at the Opera- all feature a level of anarchy that you don't see in today's comedies. In each of those films the brothers lampoon science, government, universities and "high" art and through their antics show us the hypocrisy of those institutions and the people who run them.

Regular readers know I think cinema is first a visual medium, the pictures tell the story. But there are only two purely visual (and classic moments) I can think of in their films. The first is Groucho and Harpo in pajamas and night caps aping each other in the mirror- a gag copied with Harpo on I Love Lucy. The second (and repeated often) is everyone piling into a small room and when the door opens they come tumbling out from A Night at the Opera.

But in Marx Brothers' films it's really the dialog that is the important thing. So despite all of their genius I don't think film was the ideal medium for them, oddly I feel the frame was too limiting for them- they needed to burst out of the screen. It was when Groucho hosted "You Bet Your Life" on television that audiences really got to see Groucho at his best.

There has been enough of my words, I am going to end with Groucho doing his thing, from Horse Feathers the lyrics to his song, "Whatever It Is."


I don't know what they have to say,
it makes no difference anyway -
whatever it is, I'm against it!
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it!

Your proposition may be good,
but let's have one thing understood -
whatever it is, I'm against it!
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it!

I'm opposed to it.
On general principles I'm opposed to it.

For months before my son was born,
I used to yell from night to morn -
"Whatever it is, I'm against it!"
And I've kept yelling since I first commenced it,
"I'm against it!"

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