Comfortable and Furious

Memorable Movie Reflections: The Marx Brothers

Hooray for Captain Spaulding, The African explorer. He brought his name undying fame and that is why we say, Hooray, Hooray, Hooray.

Yes, hooray for Captain Spaulding upon his return from the last trip to Africa, complete with entourage (Yes my friends, an entourage is required, even for the terminal mediocrity of today. The intrepid travelers had little to say about the harrowing experience, except for the ever-loquacious Captain himself.

A reporter shouted, “How was Africa?”

With an eye towards political correctness the Captain replied:

“Africa is God’s country – and He can have it.”

That Cap! Always the jokester.

”Did you manage to do any hunting?” Asked another transom peeper.

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Okay, so I borrowed that from the Marx Brothers 1930 Broadway/Movie hit, Animal Crackers (in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess my favorite Marx Brothers movie is Duck Soup, where the nation of Freedonia is led by none other than Rufus T. Fireflym.

The is a good place to mention the Brothers won their stage names; Groucho, Chico, Harpo, in a poker game.

They emerged into movies at the time movies began to talk, a fact director like John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock were known to lament (the talking, not the Marx Brothers). Sound cost the world Clara Bow, the It Girl. It curtailed the careers of the Three Geniuses: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Those men were the biggest movie stars in the world circa 1920. No translation was necessary, they spoke the universal language of cinema. Everyone got the joke. Movie comedy with dialogue began just over 90 years ago. What has it evolved to, with a few exceptions?

Refuges from Saturday Night Live (a program that shined briefly with the presence of Eddie Murphy) flooded the movie screens. One player stands out in sharp contrast to the Marx Brothers. Will Farrell turned banality into an art form. A low art form. Those never introduced to real humor, that is humor that is actually funny, are mysteriously moved to laughter by his somnolence. Exposure to decades of Saturday Night Live and other snooze fests, combined with the vulgarity that acts as a stand-in for comedy peddled by stand-up “comics”, have left the audience confused, befuddled, and ignorant of the wit that acts as the basis of comedy and humor. Wit seemed to elude Farrell and it didn’t seem to bother him. He abandoned the effort, resigned from the chase.

A case in point was his Broadway show, An Evening with George Bush, purported to be a comic impersonation of George Bush, the easiest of targets. When the banality ran thin, Farrell sprinted to the vulgar like it was his long-lost brother. It didn’t matter, his audience, seemingly composed of handpicked Bush haters, would laugh at any vapid comment directed at the ex-president. They showed as much sophistication as a cluster of rubes at a taping of Hee Haw.

So, in less than a century we have seen comedy devolve from Captain Spaulding to Capt. Seconal. 



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