Archive for Marx Bros

The Sunday Intertitle: The Last Gun

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2017 by dcairns

Charley Chase (of all people) talks tough in SITTIN’ PRETTY, directed by Leo McCarey in 1924. A typically well-ordered yet lunatic farce plot, in which Charley impersonates a police officer (borrowing his prospective father-in-law’s uniform) in order to dispel a particularly shameless carjacker from his auto, then gets roped into police business — capturing a rampant lunatic (played by Charley’s brother, James Parrott).

This leads to the most famous bit, an early run of the mirror sequence from DUCK SOUP (1933, also McCarey). Charley confuses his prey by donning a false beard and impersonating his reflection.

Clearly, McCarey must have seen Max Linder’s rendition of this gag in 7 YEARS BAD LUCK (1921). Or some other version now lost to time.

While much shorter than Groucho and Harpo’s version, this sequence contains many of the same ideas, including business with hats, and the crazy man retreating to one side to formulate his next plan, slightly undercranked. It doesn’t play on a gradual escalation of mistakes by the reflection, which reach such lunatic heights in the Marxian routine — surely, we think, Groucho must have got wise by now… or by now…? In this version, Charley’s first ridiculous mistake causes his whole act to be rumbled.

Instead, the comedy comes from Charley’s supernatural adeptness at anticipating what the madman will do next, so that he appears in a derby, a top hat and a straw boater just as his opponent does. No explanation is possible as to how he manages this, so McCarey simply stays with the bamboozled loon for the duration.

Here too, we may see the 1933 refinement of the routine as a big improvement — rather than temporarily leaving his hero’s viewpoint, McCarey makes one hero (Groucho) the one who’s being tricked and another (Harpo), the trickster, so the comedy comes from the tension generated by Groucho’s failure to get smart and Harpo’s illusion-jeopardising blunders.

Nevertheless, the short (one-reel) SITTIN’ PRETTY is an uncommonly satisfying little comedy.

 

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Good Humor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 15, 2017 by dcairns

I have an article in the new Sight & Sound — for the Primal Screen column on silent film, I’ve contributed a piece on the Marx Bros’ only silent, the long-lost HUMOR RISK. Since the film doesn’t exist and nobody alive has seen it, I was forced to use my imagination…

The piece came out of a conversation with Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London at the Boone’s Hippodrome Silent Film Festival, and from my Marxian researches for my twin video essays which can be seen on the Arrow Academy release of THE 4 MARX BROS AT PARAMOUNT.

Sibling Revelry

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , on June 15, 2017 by dcairns

SIBLING REVELRY intro from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Extract from one of my Marx Bros pieces, with the kind permission of Arrow Academy. I was very pleased with this opening. Credit to Stephen C. Horne for cutting it together so nicely and for his lovely main title, which you just get a glimpse of before my clunky file-trimming programme hacks it off…

Still haven’t got a name for Manfred, the Marx Bro who was never part of the act. Stiffo doesn’t seem quite in the best taste.

I’ve now watched and read all the other extras on the box set — some fine essays and a great doc there!

More Marxian news soon! Well, I’ll mention it now — I have a little piece in the new Sight & Sound