Monday, November 1, 2010
Mama's serving up Turkey early this year with November's Star of the Month: Groucho Marx!!!
Groucho Marx: Overgrown Child and
Man of a Thousand Disgraces!
There are several distinct personalities that stand out in cinematic history. Bogey, Cagney, Chaplin, Ball... They were so much more than the characters they played, because they were characters themselves. One of the most outrageous members of this exclusive club was Groucho Marx, (though of course he wouldn't have wanted to be a member, right?). With his crew of brothers Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and the behind-the-scenes Gummo, Groucho would be catapulted to stardom. His face remains instantly recognizable because he wisely marketed himself to be remembered. The brothers created distinctive stage names, adapted from a comic strip about "Sherlock-o," which made them stand out from their contemporaries. In addition, Groucho's notorious grease mustache, glasses, cigar, and dancing eyebrows forced the audiences of his time to recognize him whether they wanted to or not! As such, he remains firmly entrenched in our collective consciousness today, continuing to inspire modern comedians and incite modern audiences to laughter.
The original onscreen foursome:
Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo, and Chico
But Grouch' was much, much more than a shtick. He was the center and anchor of his brothers' chaotic antics, driving the plot along while confusing it at the same time. His quick-as-a-whip mind was always ready with a string of one-liners to follow any comment, and the hilarious daggers he threw continue to be repeated to this day: "I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception." While Harpo frolicked like a merry elf, strumming his harp, and Chico sputtered out Italian nonsense while causing more, Groucho stood back with a look of disgust and annoyance on his face, batted his eyes at the pretty girls, and finally jumped into the comic fire with his bros, because what the Hell else was he gonna do? Their onscreen antics are uproarious, nonsensical, manic, and masterful. It is a wonder how their almost catastrophic imperfections came together so perfectly on the screen.
Making music and mayhem in Animal Crackers,
while Margaret Dumont (center) looks on.
The group started out as four: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo. Their first five films at Paramount were big successes. Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers were actually adaptations of the stage shows that they had created and performed in NY after years of struggling and hard work. The magic key to their success was "the insult," which they found after they discovered that people laughed harder when they simply pointed out man's most obvious absurdities. Embarrassment, or witnessing someone else's embarrassment, mysteriously created a slew of guffaws. So, Groucho, in his time, became the king of witty puns, stingers, and zingers, delivering razor sharp observations and thumbing his nose at society with style. A slap in the face from one of Groucho's one-liners was thus a greatly sought after souvenir. After Zeppo stepped out of the act to pursue his own multitudinous goals, Groucho, Chico, and Harpo remained to make more films and more chaos over at MGM, thanks to Irving Thalberg. With A Night at the Opera, their careers skyrocketed once more, and with more discernible plot lines they were able to win back a waning audience.
The remaining trio in A Day at the Races
Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.
Over the years, times changed and comedy did too, but no matter what else happened in the world, people could always depend on Groucho. He continued working in film without his brothers, appeared nightly in viewers' homes on NBC's "You Bet Your Life," (which helped to revolutionize the new phenomenon called Television), and performed in stage concerts and one man shows, being Grammy-nominated for a taped recording of his act "An Evening with Groucho." He too won an Oscar for his lifetime achievement in the film industry, and in his speech he made sure to thank his frequent co-star, the baffled and matronly Margaret Dumont, and his mother, Minnie, who had done so much to help all of her sons achieve their incredible success. Groucho passed away at the ripe old age of 86, still on top, still making people laugh, and still making goo-goo eyes at the dames. He truly was one of a kind, and the kind and decent man he was in his personal life-- though always cloaked behind his naughty persona-- only made him more deserving of the successes he was able to enjoy.
Laughter is the best medicine, they say, and with a Marx Brothers movie you always get more than one dose. It is impossible not to laugh, forget your worries, and get lost in the mayhem of such talented and good-hearted-- though miscreant-- men. Groucho stands alone as the ring-leader, lecher, bad dog, and mad child. One roll of the eyes and he's got you in the palm of his hand, then he says what most only wish they could say and somehow gets away with it. After all, someone has to do the dirty work!