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Parent Issue
Day
4
Month
October
Year
1974
OCR Text

Directed by Victor Heerman, 1 930. Based on the musical by Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman, with screenplay by Ryskind. Starring Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo Marx, and Margaret Dumont and Lillian Roth. A Paramount Picture. , Commercial re-release of ANIMAL CRACKERS is cause for celebration and well worth a niglit of guaranteed guffaws. Film societies have been showing Marxian movies for years, but it is a special thrill to see ANIMAL CRACKERS in this larger 35-millimeter format. The print at the State is fairly good, with the clarity of the silver screen best appreciated from the balcony. The only thing more absurd than the Marx Brothers is a serious movie review of a Marx Brothers movie. Who could ever say what it all means, but it is a gas to figure out how in the world they managed to pull off such non-stop comedy . The jokes and routines speed by at a pace that leaves the audience in amazement, stunned with the impression that it was all impromptu. The film success of the Marx Brothers must be largely credited to the brilliance of their screenwriters. Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers and Night at the Opera were written by the unbeatably witty pair of Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman. Both were highly attuned to the Marx characters and wrote specifically for them. The best testimony to their writing skill is the fact that the Marx films appear so spontaneous. Morrie Ryskind explained the secret formula. "My sister read the script for ANIMAL CRACKERS the afternoon before it opened. She said that if she hadn't read it she would have sworn that Groucho was making up every word on stage. Which is, of course, the test of a great actor. When he performed you believed he was saying it and never suspected that Kaufman and I had anything to do with it." The Groucho, Chico and Harpo characters we all know from the screen were developed in the vaudeville and Broadway circuits of pre-Depression America. The Brothers had been doing theatre for ■ ty years before they broke into the i ies with the 1929 film adaptation of their Broadway hit, Cocoanuts. Not coincidentally, that was the same year that sound spread throughout all Hollywood productions. The Marx Brothers had reached the peak of theatrical fame, but their vaudeville humor demanded sound for the step into the film media. Harpo, though silent, mainly played tlie foil for his verbal brothers. The highly unique character styles were chipped out to perfection during those years on the boards and of course their completely goony off-stage lives added that extra punch of anarchy. C'raziness ran rampant througli the Marx family. The niglit the film Cocoanuts premiered, father Sam Marx sat in the second row of the theatre and bet S5 with the two guys in front of him that Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo were in fact brothers. The five brothers sprang up in the upper east side of Manhattan at the turn of the century, the ingenious children of Germán Jewish immigrants. Their father was, by Groucho's description, "the worst tailor in New York, including Chicago and L.A." Mother Minnie carne from an old line theatrical family, and her brother Al Shean was one of the major vaudeville entertainers of the time. She got the boys into show biz to boost the family budget, and as their vaudeville manager deserves the credit for getting them started. The fámily act began in 1909, when Minnie got together The Bold Nightingales, a song and dance act featuring Groucho, Gummo and a woman singer named Mabel O'Donnell. Harpo joined soon afterwards, following his arrest as house anist in a bordello. For variety and size mother Minnie and her sister Hannah joined the act and they all became The Six Mascots. Chico enlisted in 1 9 1 3 or so, after several years of playing piano at a music publishing house in Pittsburgh. Gummo slid out of the family act in 1 9 1 6, off to war as the Marx family contribution to World War I. In later years, he served as manager for Groucho, Harpo and Chico. Zeppo, the youngest brother, took Gummo's place and stayed with the act throughout the stage era and the first four films. Marx family and friends swear that Zeppo was hilarious offstage, but it is clear to anyone that in the movies he was at best a straight man. With Margaret Dumont's presence, Zeppo was hardly needed. This wonderful dowager, the "Marx sister" joined the Brothers in the stage show of Cocoanuts and stayed with them on screen in Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, Night at the Opera, Day at the Races, At the Circus and The Big Store. Margaret Dumont was absolutely essential to their routines. Groucho described her last year, "A wonderful dame and a great foil." Dumont was made fun of to no limits, but enjoyed her work enormously. Shortly before her death in 1965, she recollected her first few weeks as Groucho's foil. "He pushed me about, pulled chairs from under me, broiled steaks in the fireplace of my apartment. put frogs in my bath, and made my life miserable on the stage and off. But 1 don't regret a minute of it. I iust love those boys." The life details of Dumont and the Marx Brothers are available in a series of fantastically entertaining autobiographical books - Harpo Speaks, and Groucho's Groueho and Me and Memoirs of a Mangy Lover. Another wower is The Marx Brothers Scrapbook, a recently published collection of family photos and reminiscences by Groueho and Richard J. Anobile. MOVIES AROUND TOWN Michigan Theatre THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT The musical stars of the Golden Age of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are all here in TMAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, a commercial commemoration of MGM's fiftieth anniversary. This compilation of singing and dancing highlights from MGM's dozens of musicals is narrated by aging stars Liz Taylor, Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Donald O'Connor, etc. ENTERTAINMENT is more like a tv special than a movie, and it is irritating to see the film continuity so destroyed by these short cuts. But it's worth seeing for its fast thrills and opulence of sets. Campus Theatre FANTASIA This 1940 Disney animated spectacle has been shown often on televisión, and re-run in your local theatre about once a year. It is so good - as a display of color and animated characterization - that it's well worth seeing once again, particularly if you get high and go on a Saturday afternoon with all the kids. Fifth Forum THE GROOVE TUBE This Ken Shapiro series of originally video taped vignettes is holding out for weeks on end. Audiences seem to like it a lot,though the humor is, in a word, DUMB. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE ROLLING STONES will open as soon as the Forum completes its project of re -building the auditorium acoustics. The film's distributors will then install special equipment for quadrophonic sound. These technical efforts might take four weeks, but the film is worth the wait.