Mar 242008

I’ll keep this simple. Do you like the Marx Brothers? For extra credit, tell us why — or why not.

Mr. Moderator, I swear this is rock-relevant. I’ll explain why later.



  42 Responses to “Big BIG Choice Poll Question: the Marx Brothers”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    I have A LOT of trouble tuning into them. There’s some movie of their’s that I’ve seen that had impressive parts. I recall the mute guy with the curly blonde hair and a fourth Marx brother – a handsome, singing one – catching my eye. Maybe some day they’ll click with me, but to date they’ve given me the same pause I get whenever I watch The Addams Family. I’m a Three Stooges/Munsters guy.

  2. dbuskirk

    I love them in that completely sacred kind of way one feels about stuff that clicked with them as a kid and still connects. Their sneering attitude towards institutions and pompousness has always appealed on a political level with me and it is funny how it pops up in the details (example: in HORSE FEATHERS where Groucho is the new college President, they pan down a line of dignified old board members, all with facial hair like Rutherford B. Hayes. When they finally arrive at Groucho he’s shaving at the table.).

    I also like in MONKEY BUSINESS when the mobster hires Harpo and Chico as bodyguards and hands them two pistols. As soon as he turns around they look at the guns and shake their heads and throw them in a mop bucket.

    Sad to think M. Mod is missing out on this stuff, sad like hearing you have no taste buds.

    I’d ramble on about W.C. Fields just as easily (I love in NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK when he jumps out the plane window chasing a bottle of scotch). As antique as these films setting can be, there is always something about them that seems completely immediate.

    P.S. MUNSTERS over ADDAMS FAMILY? Ouch. THE MUNSTERS were weirdos wanting to be square where THE ADDAMS FAMILY were deranged for no good rhyme or reason.

  3. The Marx Brothers are most definitely Rock And Roll.

  4. I’m a Three Stooges/Munsters guy.

    Oh my. The rest of us here might need to hold an intervention…

  5. sammymaudlin

    I love The Marx Brothers. They make me laugh in that “I bet no one else gets this” kind of way. When I meet someone who loves them as well I have similar reaction as to when I meet someone who loves Syd Barrett- A mix of instant comraderie and suspicion.

    I’m with dbuskirk on WC Fields as well. You might have to have a bit more patience but when the moment comes its all worth it. “Carl LaFong” anyone?

  6. sammymaudlin

    As far as a rock ‘n roll tie-in, I’m looking forward to your POV. For me their anti-authority, anti-most everything is even more enriched by the era in which they made these. Pre-rock and roll and these guys were sticking it to the man left and right, while the man just sat back and laughed. Anarchy in Freedonia baby.

  7. Mr. Moderator

    db wrote:

    P.S. MUNSTERS over ADDAMS FAMILY? Ouch. THE MUNSTERS were weirdos wanting to be square where THE ADDAMS FAMILY were deranged for no good rhyme or reason.

    As much as you think this may say about me, your characterization of this dynamic says a lot about your own tolerant tastes. I have no problem standing by the “weirdos wanting to be square” dynamic in the arts. We’ll see if any of this factors into whatever Hrrundi’s got in mind.

  8. dbuskirk

    Favorite Fields line: “Water is unfit for human consumption. It rusts pipes and fish make love in it.”

  9. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought Groucho was at his best when he emceed “You Bet Your Life”. Maybe it’s just me, but I think he was an absolute riot on a lot of those shows.

    Remember channel 48? Out of Philadelphia? Central Pennsylvanians were lucky to catch their programming via cable, which was how I got turned on to a lot of that great old comedy. When I was in high school, 48 had Groucho and the Honeymooners on every evening from 10:00-11:00. They also had wrestling on Saturday mornings, and that was followed by Creature Double Feature from 12:00-3:00 or something like that. Why leave the house?

    Count me in with the WC Fields crowd as well. He’s always been a favorite on my Dad’s side of the family, along with H.L. Mencken.

    Now it’s time for Hrundi to take a stand.

    E. Pluribus

  10. BigSteve

    The subversiveness is rock & roll obviously. But also in the way that it’s hard to sustain past the 3 or 4 minute mark. I haven’t seen a Marx Bros. movie in a long time, but there are great bits which don’t cohere into a whole movie. Maybe there’s one movie that’s pretty good all the way through? I forget, but mostly I remember waiting for the good bits.

    In other words, a best-of would be very satisfying, but their albums have lots of filler.

  11. general slocum

    I really enjoyed the first part of Harpo’s autobiography. It gets dull right about when they start making money. (!) Anyhow, their mother took them from the East Side tenement where they grew up, starting in about 1904, to go on little train tours around the country. They would pass the hat in a town square or a courtyard to do sketches like School Daze, during which time their characters started to gel. But that background is what seems to have grounded their humor, when much would have conspired to render them more tepid. Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, no filler. Over the years I have developed a bit of a litmus test with people. If they really don’t like the Marx Brothers, I worry about a friendship’s ultimate strength. I used to feel the same way about Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, but I’m more open-minded now in my dotage.

  12. dbuskirk

    For me the first half of MONKEY BUSINESS, while they’re on the steam ship, is my favorite, most-sustained work. But yeah, I’m in agreement that HORSE FEATHERS and DUCK SOUP are their most cohesive films.

    Their songs are great too! I still can’t meet someone named Lydia without hearing Groucho’s Tattooed Lady song.

    Another Groucho anecdote: after disembarking a plane plane on a U.S.O. tour Groucho found himself in a limo with Eleanor Roosevelt watching the rest of the performers exit. When a dancing girl appeared in the doorway of the plane she kicked a leg over her head to the cheers of the soldiers. Groucho reportedly turned on the First Lady and said, “You could do that if you took the time to practice”. It was opined that he might be the only person alive who could get away with saying such a thing to Ms Roosevelt.

  13. sammymaudlin

    The Parmount era are the best Marx Bros. They pretty much had free reign to do as they pleased which, although thinner on plot, were pretty darn close to wall-to-wall funny. MGM felt the need to put in all those musical numbers and blech leaving, what are now their most famous films, Night/Day both with large chunks of dull.

    If anyone is reading this that has yet to be turned on by The Marx Bros, I’d say avoid those MGM movies for now and start with Duck Soup and chase it with Horse Feathers.

    One of the happiest moments in recent history was watching Duck Soup with my 13 year old and hearing him howl in all the right places and then reciting lines the following day.

    Horse Feathers followed a few weeks later. Just yesterday I said “Thank You” to him for something and he didn’t hesitate with his return nasally “thank yoooow.”

  14. sammymaudlin

    Oh- Groucho anecdote I heard on Turner Clasic Movies. There is an actual town “Freedonia” somewhere in the eastern US. When Duck Soup came out the mayor sent a letter to Paramount demanding that they cease distribution as it was destroying the reputation of their town. When Groucho learned fo the letter he fired one off to the mayor demanding that they change the name of their town as it was destroying the reputation of their film.

  15. Count me in the pro-Marx faction as well. When I was very young, I went through a big old comedy phase: Marxes, Chaplin, Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields. I read books about them and everything. (I also went through a Dr. Who phase. You can’t say I didn’t try other nerdy obsessions before settling on rock.) Anyway, the Marx Brothers were the ones whose appeal remained for me as I got older. Monkey Business is my favorite; the one that pays the least attention to plot, which is just not what you go to the Marxes for. Pretty much every other Marx film has a few slow spots, even the widely loved Duck Soup.

    The disorganized chaos is definitely analogous to what we often like in rock. At some point, I came up with the theory that The Replacements were the Marx Brothers of rock. My rationale being that the line “The ones who love us the best/Are the ones we’ll lay to rest” was kinda similar to Groucho’s famous line, “I wouldn’t belong to a club that had someone like me for a member.”

    Also, I happen to think there’s a lot of great stories about the Marxes. Many of their films were indeed put together with a real crazed, anarchic spirt.

    Here’s a good real-life Groucho line. He wasn’t allowed into some exclusive club because he didn’t have a necktie on. Spotting a bald man inside, he yelled “You won’t let me in without a tie, but look, you let him in without any hair!”

  16. alexmagic

    I like Groucho more than the Marx Brothers overall, but I realize that it’s the whole package that made him work like he does, and I definitely enjoy several Marx Brothers movies. But I think I like Groucho the “celebrity” even more than the movies, if that makes sense.

    Definitely like W.C. Fields, at least partly attributable to my father, who is both a fan and had many friends who are decidedly Fieldsian.

    Hate Laurel and Hardy. I can’t even consider sitting down and watching them try to move more furniture or carry more ladders around while that damn Laurel and Hardy music plays. Christ. I wish the piano would have crushed them.

    While I consider myself of somewhat refined comedic tastes, I can still appreciate the Stooges, too. I think the key to truly appreciating the Stooges is to understand the Larry Factor. It’s all about Larry.

  17. general slocum

    Mr. Magic vents:
    Hate Laurel and Hardy.

    I implore:
    Please, take a moment. Most soundtracks people put to silents bear little relation to the films, and would be well replaced (as we used to do) by Bartok’s Strings, Percussion, & Celesta, or by VU’s 1969 or whatever you have around. But Laurel and Hardy voice one of the crucial and most easily lost properties of the pathos of comedy. They were, as Vonnegut said in his tribute novel to them, “bargaining in good faith with their destinies.” The Marx brothers woke up looking for dada-ist wacky plot diversions, and set out to cause them. But Laurel and Hardy set out to actually move a piano, and were sure that with hard work and planning, all would go well. This is central to understanding why so many movies have “boring bits” between the comedy. The stooges had no need to ever put down their eyeball-poking, face-slapping selves, because there was nothing whatsoever behind them. The Marx Brothers, if you scratched their zany, nonsensical exterior, you’d find their zany, nonsensical interior. L&H, were just furniture movers, and were ever surprised at the amount of trouble that caused.

  18. mockcarr

    I love the Marx Brothers. While all the rest of you rock snobs were mourning Elvis in the summer of 77′, I was pissed off about Groucho dying. I looked upon the network broadcast of Animal Crackers after 50 years the same way you guys would upon the release of your favorite out of print album onto CD.

    The first five films are great leading up to Duck Soup which is relentless enough that if you watch it with a crowd they laugh over a good 20 percent of the lines. After those Paramount ones, MGM scaled back the comedy and added more music, and linking “story”, so you got less entertainingly goofy production numbers (except perhaps for Groucho doing Lydia) as the big studio professionals schmatzed it up, and the endearing fumbling about with what to do with sound was mostly gone. The best part about MGM Marx stuff is Sig Rumann. That guy was glue. Just a star as whatever German you needed, besides his spots in their films – great in Ninotchka, To Be Or Not To Be and Stalag 17 too.

    Everyone gives Zeppo a hard time somewhat like they do Ringo as the guy less talented or involved as the others, but it’s MUCH harder to take the stiffs they brought in as “love interests” to croon after he left the act. I can go on about for hours about this stuff, my experience is similar to Oats, although Chaplin’s bathos grates on me despite the obvious genius he has in set bits and as an idea guy. I think Keaton is the best of that silent bunch by far. Laurel and Hardy are only as good as their material, but it’s a little too pat and hokey for me. However, There’s still a lot of subtle things to like about them, and they are a great template for presevering a lot of vaudeville gags. W.C. Fields is guy I almost love, but probably took too long to get control to have the number of great films the others did.

    I like the Stooges a lot too, but they have a LOT of faith in the system, they are like dogs looking for work all the time, if only to screw it up and corrupt the system with their imbecility. The Munsters is cheese.

    When I was around ten, my parents used to let me set my alarm clock so I could get up in the wee small hours of the morning to watch Marx Brothers movies, since that was usually the only time you could see them in the pre-video era, unless you happened to luck into an afternoon marathon at some cinema or on the idiot box. Around this time I must have started sleepwalking, and the first time I was seen doing it was when my father was up late reading, and naturally assumed I was on my way to watch a Marx Brothers movie. Harpo gets to grope women in his sleep during A Night At The Opera. Well, maybe I did and just don’t remember.

    There are pages of great one-liners by Groucho.
    At a restricted club, “My son’s only half Jewish, can he go in the pool up to his waist?”

    I’ve perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

  19. Mr. Moderator

    Hrrundi, before we are subjected to German import versions of Groucho’s witticisms, will you grace us with your tie-in to rock ‘n roll? I’m sure I’m not the only one dying of curiosity. Thanks!

  20. I just remembered another aspect of my Replacements/Marx Brothers theory.

    Paramount films are to the Twin/Tone albums, just as the MGM films are to the Sire years.

  21. I’m amazed at what escaped the censors in those movies.

  22. alexmagic

    While I can appreciate the existential comedic hook of Laurel and Hardy, I remain frustrated by their incompetence as it relates to their comedy. I picture myself in the role of a potential employer to a Howard/Fine/Howard enterprise or Laurel & Hardy venture, and while I would be equally disappointed with the end results of their work, I would eventually be more satisfied by the experience of working with the Stooges not unlike how I am more satisfied by their comedy.

    Laurel and Hardy may have meant well, but when it came down it, they were terrible furniture movers, and as both an employer and viewer, I’d wonder why they couldn’t just move that goddamn piano already and why I shouldn’t just go find some other piano movers to watch and/or hire. The Stooges were not particularly adept at any occupation – though they could draw upon a wide variety of job experiences – but were often stymied by external forces, such as mad scientists, blustery dowagers, tigers or abandoned babies, and I view their tendency to poke eyeballs, slap faces and tear noses off with pliers as a desperate reaction to these external forces acting as an impediment to their desire to perform a job.

    (That the Marx Brothers would have no interest in what happened to my piano in the first place is part what makes them more interesting than either of the above parties.)

    At the end of the day, I’m going to end up with a completely destroyed piano in front of my building, but with Laurel and Hardy’s effort, I’ll just be sure to never hire them again nor recommend them for future work. With the Stooges, there exists a possibility that I might see my own culpability in their failure, and maybe a fat lady will have been hit in the face with a pie.

  23. I think its fairly obvious why Iggy Pop named the band, The Stooges, rather than Laurel and Hardy.

  24. Mr. Moderator

    The longer we await Hrrundi’s unifying prose and the longer I’m threatened by the German import quotes the more I think about how much I prefer the early Our Gang shorts to any of these comedic troups and their rock equivalents.

  25. mockcarr

    It’s all gone downhill for you since the Keystone Kops actually put two syllable words in the intertitles, right Mod?

  26. mockcarr

    I don’t think we should get sidetracked on the Stooges issue, that is mainly one of gender and is far too easily tied to actual music. The same thing goes for Spanky and Our Gang. Well, if that WERE music.

  27. Mr. Moderator

    I agree, Mockcarr, but sidetracked we will get until HVB descends from his gilded throne to explain what any of this had to do with rock ‘n roll.

  28. Methinks this whole thing is actually a “spot the asshole” exercise. C’mon, Hrundi, fess up!

    E. Pluribus

  29. Mr. Moderator

    Again, as we await Hrrundi’s unifying words of wisdom, two thoughts come to mind, for which I probably deserve the coveted RTH non-prize:

    1) The Marx Brothers give off a Zappa vibe, don’t you think?

    2) Honestly, Hrrundi, are you “fishing for assholes?” Am I standing tall for being, so far, the only Townsperson to have taken a stand for the early talkie comedy troups that represent the kind of pre-hippie/pre-lab coat rock ‘n roll that you yourself, in fact, stand behind? In other words, if you’ve been looking for the One True Rocker among us, you’ve found him. I’m feeling a lot of pride about my answer to your question. Please validate these feelings.

  30. 1) The Marx Brothers give off a Zappa vibe, don’t you think?

    No. If anything Zappa could only hope to be Marx Brothers-esque. There is a shoot-from-the-hip, shambling element to the best Marx Bros. movies that Zappa could never reproduce, anal-retentive control freak that he was.

  31. fuckin right channel 48!

  32. alexmagic

    I think he’s waiting for someone to make the Fatty Arbuckle/Led Zeppelin comparison.

    Channel 48 was also the source for Bozo and The Flintstones. Philly 57 never had a chance to live up to that.

  33. Coming in late on this and I’ve had all day to think about it, so bear with me:

    I’ve loved the Marx Brothers for as long as I can remember. Even the Beatles didn’t click till I was about 10. Come to think of it, I probably liked the Monkees before I liked the Beatles, and for the same reasons I took to Groucho, et al. As for their contemporaries: the 3 Stooges scared me and I just didn’t have any exposure to most of the rest (my Mom seemed partial to the Ritz Brothers, and was put off by the Marx Brothers, so you can see which way that would go).

    Of course I loved the wackiness of the Marx Brothers as a kid, and learned to appreciate the satire later. But it isn’t all positive: I also began to feel that Groucho had a mean streak the other two (or three) didn’t have. Harpo (who also scared me as a kid the way clowns do) and Chico were more anarchic, but they didn’t really seem to target anyone; they were just trying to stay out of trouble. Plus they were amazing musicians.

    I think the Marx Brothers set me up for two later Comedic love affairs (as opposed to comedic Love Affairs), the Firesign Theater and Monty Python. Both of whom are “rock” acts in a sense, btw.

  34. mockcarr

    Hrrundi’s point is so clear even a four-year-old child could understand it.

    (I can’t make head or tail of this, perhaps one of you knows a four-year-old child to ask?)

  35. By the way, Mr. Mod, I think the Zappa/Marx comparison is based solely on a similarity of “looks”. Take away Frank’s flowing mane, and what have you got?…

  36. general slocum

    Mr. Magic posits:
    I think he’s waiting for someone to make the Fatty Arbuckle/Led Zeppelin comparison.

    I suggest:
    Now, boys. We could argue all day about who asphyxiated what underage girl in what show-biz party, but the point is, Hrrundie isn’t waiting for anything at all. He sends these grenades into the quiet pond of RTH from time to time, but in my period in the Halls, he has never once explained what he meant. His usual M.O. is to wait until folks get all het up over Shemp vs. Curly Joe, and then says the whole thing is so out of hand he’s staying out of it. C’mon, Hrrundie, if I was near a seat, and it had some books and things piled on it, I’d still think of being on the edge of it, so break your unfathomable silence on this critical topic!

    -One of the Unattractive Single Men Over By the Keg

  37. hrrundivbakshi

    Guys, guys, GUYS!

    Let me explain what’s going on here. I’m not playing a “spot the asshole” game, nor am I having a bit of Scuffy Shew fun at RTH’s expense. What I *will* cop to is the fact that I got a bit drunk, watched “Duck Soup” the other night, and dashed off my half-baked post before I really thought it through. I felt sure a whole bunch of RTH rock/Marx Brothers obsessives would connect the dots before I could sober up enough to do it on my own, and you didn’t let me down.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t have any thoughts on the matter! As I hoist my can of Natty Bo in E and Slokie’s direction, I say the following:

    1. The Marx Brothers do not rock. Or, rather, they rock in the same non-rocking way that my arch-enemy Bob Dylan does: by being extremely clever and making all us less clever people jealous of how cool they manage to make their cleverness sound.

    2. The Marx Brothers *are* incredibly cool. One glance at the cover of “Highway 61…” and you *know* who’s decided it’s time to open a 15-megaton can of kung-fu whup-ass on the music industry. That’s cool! Similarly, 30 seconds of Groucho making a horse’s ass out of Hermann Gottlieb, or Harpo burning the lemonade vendor’s hat, or Chico hoodwinking a cop makes you root, root, root for the home team. So they’re clever, for sure — and frequently funny.

    3. Like somebody else on this list, I find I often like the Marx Brothers *concept* better than the actual thing. Doled out in scenes, or one-liners, they can’t be topped. But — man — sitting through all of “Duck Soup” just to get to the scene where Harpo is wandering across a blody battlefield with a recruiting sandwich board that says “Join the Army and See the Navy!” on it just ain’t worth it. AND YET: I would feel betrayed by any effort to present a “best of” DVD or anything. There is a period flow to the Marx Brothers weirdness. So I’m not sure they’re a “singles band,” really. Their movies are sort of more like “Fun House” by the Stooges, or “Moving Pictures” by Rush — both extremely idiosyncratic, love ’em or hate ’em albums that do in fact have a few choice, crossover “hits” buried in the mud somewhere.

    4. There are a few Marx Brothers movies that I can enjoy from one end to the other: “A Night at the Opera,” “Horse Feathers,” and — my dark horse for the category — “Cocoanuts.” Now *that* movie rocks!

    5. W.C Fields made just one great movie, “It’s a Gift” — but that movie is so unbelievably, perfectly funny that it makes all his other movies worth watching because they remind you, if only a bit, of *that* one. “It’s a Gift” is a “rocker,” for sure. It may be the most hilarious celebration of hatred ever made. And if rock and roll isn’t about taking your anger at the Man, rolling it up into a painful little ball and shoving it up the world’s ass with a pool cue, I don’t know what is.

    Anyhow, thanks to all for your thoughts. I had a feeling there might be some interesting things to read on this topic, and I was correct. I appreciate your time.


  38. BigSteve

    Other ways the Marx Brothers are like rock —

    there are four of them;
    the handsome singer is the least interesting of the bunch;
    the two who can really play would rather go solo;
    the one who can’t really play an instrument at all is the smartest and most interesting of the bunch but the hardest to get along with;
    Margaret Dumont is their groupie.

  39. mockcarr

    Actually, Groucho wasn’t too bad at the guitar when Thelma Todd was around.

  40. 2000 Man

    By the way, Mr. Mod, I think the Zappa/Marx comparison is based solely on a similarity of “looks”. Take away Frank’s flowing mane, and what have you got?…

    A picture of a really skinny bald guy on a toilet?

  41. sammymaudlin

    Marx Bros = Zappa? Dude, watch your mailbox, a DVD of Duck Soup is on the way. Let me know if you need me to fly out, roll the bones and hold your hand thru it. It’s the least I could giving that’s what you did for me with too many albums to name here.

  42. Mr. Moderator

    Hrrundi, you ARE the man – and I stress “the man” using peaceful, groovy lower case letters. Mad Props for sharing your drunken thoughts, and Mad Props to our Townspeople for connecting the dots. What a team effort!

    Sammy, I look forward to checking out Duck Soup. I hope I have been clear: the main reason I do not like the Marx Brothers is because I’ve been so quickly turned off by their Zappa-esque smarter-than-thou approach that I’ve never given them a chance. I do like it when Woody Allen ends his last run of good films by quoting the wonders of some Marx Brothers movie. Very uplifting.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube