Friday, July 23, 2010

I'm going out and getting another prescription

You would think that if there was anywhere in the modern world I stood some chance of feeling like I belonged, it would be in a packed repertory cinema showing a Marx Brothers movie. And so, for the most part, I do.
But my enjoyment of A Night at the Opera is always compromised by the knowledge that in just a moment Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle are going to start singing Alone - and that it will get a big laugh from these people who really should know better.
. Like all laughter at old movies it is not genuine but faked, and for the same reason - on the honest assumption that it is the correct thing to do. It seems to be an article of faith among Marx Brothers fans that everything in the films other than the actual comedy sequences are impositions, to be mocked or endured. I suppose they think this attitude is in some way true to the iconoclastic spirit of the boys themselves, wrecking the opera and tearing the coat tails of snobs.
If so, they are very wrong. I think the Marx Brothers would have been appalled at such rudeness towards showbusiness professionals.
But it is not just the usual philistinism that rankles in this special case: it is that this performance of this song is so very beautiful. You have to be an utter barbarian not to be charmed by it - unless, I suppose, you refuse to see and hear it at all.

The Marxes never again, and never before, had a heroine quite as classy as Kitty Carlisle's Rosa. She is beautiful, quietly amused by the Brothers' destructive wit and horseplay without ever quite endorsing it or joining in, and her dignity is such that even they dare not attempt puncturing it. Groucho is clearly besotted with her, Harpo rests his head on her bosom for comfort after a beating. Even Chico is courteous in her presence (whatever he may be thinking).
Something of a theatrical legend, she only ever moonlighted at the movies, but it is as Rosa that we will remember her: provided we have the eyes to see her and the ears to hear.
(reposted from Movietone News)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Marx Mystery: Why the hell isn't “The Incredible Jewel Robbery” on DVD?

I mean, when you think that you can get just about everything else...
Statistics show that there are now more compilation DVDs called things like "The Best of the Marx Brothers", containing adverts for Creamy Prom, that weird unedited You Bet Your Life pilot where Groucho's got an open-necked shirt on and a crappy documentary with all the clips taken from public domain trailers, than there are people alive on the planet.
With a bit of ingenuity, you can even track down a rough assembly of Deputy Seraph.
But Jewel Robbery, which according to some sources isn't even all that bad, and is of enomrous, not to say enormous importance as the last starring vehicle featuring all three non-Zeppo or that other one Marx Brothers in the same place, at the same time, doing more or less the same thing and looking in roughly the same direction, remains trapped in the archives, probably in a big rusty tin labelled 'Absolutely No Value To Anyone'.
How wrong can you be?
The closest I've come to seeing it is this eight minute condensation issued as a home movie, unfortunately robbed not only of about two thirds of its length but also the original soundtrack where Groucho speaks at the end.
Come on, copyright holders, give us a proper release for this thing. Don't put any extras on it if you don't want to and charge us twenty quid.
We're idiots.
We will buy it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Marx Mysteries Solved While You Wait! Just ask the council...

The man I feared was destined to be known forever as Weirdo, the illusory sixth Marx Brother, has been identified, apprehended and charged.
If by any chance you've no idea what I'm talking about, you can either go back to here and start again, or if you'd rather, here's a quick update.
Earlier this week, my friend Richard alerted me to this CD, on the EMI label, which proudly offers the purchaser some Groucho Marx Madness and isn't joking, since it insanely opted to put a picture of someone done up like Groucho on the cover rather than the genuine article:
I was amused to see so prestigious an outfit as EMI making so elementary a gaffe, and was also keen to know just who it is under the greasepaint.
Since then, I've learned that the same mistake has been made many times, such as here:
... and even, recently, by Penguin Books, who have reissued their Essential Groucho anthology with the same pesky interloper front of house:
. Under the circumstances, a somewhat ironic choice of title.
Then, in what seemed like a couple of days, and not without reason, the answer arrived, courtesy of council member Tom, who wrote:

"Mystery solved! I know who this person is. He's Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. I bought a copy of the book Life goes to the Movies back in 1976. The picture is on page 222."

And he's right, even about the page number, which is the sort of thing I'd be just as likely to get wrong, figuring that it doesn't really matter and it's easier to just guess if you've already put the book back on the shelf in another room. (I should perhaps stop and explain here that I keep most of my books in a different room from the one the computer's in, hence the scenario outlined in the previous sentence.)
And as proof, if proof be needed, and I always think proof be welcome even if it not necessarily be needed as such, we have this. (Thanks to council member and fellow Marx blogger David for the link. And for the Manly Blogger Guy Award, but that's another story.)
Or if you prefer your proof a little more visual, techno-savvy and eerie in a way you find it difficult to fully put your finger on, here's a picture of Eisenstaedt taken accidentally when he mistook his mirror for Groucho pretending to be him without make up and raised his camera in an effort to burst the illusion, followed by council member Damian's ingeniously photo-shopped moustache-free version of the CD cover pic:

It makes you wonder if all men look like they're sucking an enormous gumball when you photoshop their moustache off or if there was something special about Alfred. Nonetheless, nasty swelling or no, the jury don't need to retire long before reaching their verdicts here.
So thanks to Tom, Damian, David, Richard and everyone else who helped to make this half-century-old puzzle such a Rider Haggard-style page-turner.
And I leave you with the news that Penguin books have finally selected the cover photo for their forthcoming re-issue of The Groucho Letters:
. Apparently it was taken during an ad break on You Bet Your Life.

(Hey, David! Does this entitle me to a second Manly Blogger Guy Award?)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Because a picture of Groucho would have been too obvious...

My friend Richard just alerted me to this.
I've heard of The Great Animal Crackers Doppelganger Mystery but this is ridiculous:
A nice new CD of Groucho radio extracts - always welcome, always nice. I like listening to them as I drift off to sleep at night.
But who - I say who - is the half-arsed would-be lookalike on the cover???:
We've all dressed up as Groucho at some point in our life, either for a party, to amuse our colleagues and loved ones, or to try and get free meals in hotels and restaurants.
But we don't end up on the front of official Groucho CD releases.
Which is ironic, because the chances are we look more like Groucho than this ding-dong does.
Let's see him again:
Now come on! This guy looks more like Groucho than he does:
And this guy looks a lot more like Groucho than he does:
Let's face it, even this guy looks more like Groucho than he does:
Somebody knows who he is. I wonder if David does, for instance. (I'm off to ask him as soon as I post this.)
It's not just someone dressed as Groucho for fun. My guess is it's someone who played him on tv or the stage once. He's obviously doing it professionally... which is more than EMI are, clearly.
Oh, okay. Just once more: