Archive for Moving Pictures

Marx for Trying

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Painting, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2022 by dcairns

I was thinking of getting rid of my copy of Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg — “Will I ever read this?” — when I opened it at random — a fair test — and discovered that Schulberg had attempted to co-write a Marx Bros movie at Paramount in the thirties, where he was the boss’s son.

BUGHOUSE FABLES was the intended title, which I somewhat approve of, since it has the required animal reference. But is it a common phrase or saying like “monkey business,” “horse feathers,” “animal crackers,” and “duck soup”? (Two of these are by now UNcommon phrases or sayings but I’m prepared to believe that in pre-code days they were familiar to the American public.)

BUT I’m wrong — here’s proof, from 1922, that Schulberg’s title WAS extant.

It was supposed to be about the Marxes running an asylum. I’m unsure about this. The results could easily be tasteless, even for the 1930s, and Schulberg says that part of the impetus was to hit back at the censors who had been objecting to MONKEY BUSINESS. Also, surrounding the Bros with lunatics could easily diminish their powers. The possibilities for spot gags would be endless, but we can hardly have Groucho, Chico and Harpo seeming less crazy than everyone else. Presumably we would have a “lunatics taking over the asylum” scenario and there are strong possibilities for annoying headshrinkers (cue Sig Rumann) and wealthy patrons (Margaret Dumont). But I think the Marxes need a sane, generically-consistent story world to interact with, and be the craziest element of. When Groucho is placed in charge of a sanatorium in A DAY AT THE RACES, the most eccentric person he meets apart from his own brothers is rich hypochondriac Dumont.

Schulberg himself sounds pretty uncertain about whether his efforts to write funny were in fact hitting the mark or Marx (atsa some joke, huh boss?)

The same problem is multiplied by a thousand in Salvador Dali’s Marx scenario, GIRAFFES ON HORSEBACK SALAD. Two animals for the price of one. But not a common phrase or saying, except perhaps in the Dali household. It’s understandable that Dali, a Spaniard, may have misunderstood “horse feathers” and “animal crackers” as pieces of surreal word salad, which they sort of are, but they were also pre-existing expressions which the domestic audience understood.

But the title is merely a clue to the full-blown insanity of Dali’s vision. And while that may sound mouth-watering, most commentators have concluded that surrounding the Marx Bros with an UN CHIEN ANDALOU world already chaotic and surreal would render them redundant, with nothing left to disrupt.

This image derives from a graphic novel adaptation, and you can listen to a subsequently-produced audio version here, for money.

Much, much later, Billy Wilder contemplated A NIGHT AT THE UNITED NATIONS. The title here places the project in the later MGM tradition though I doubt Wilder would have filled the movie with songs. The concept of positioning the Brothers in the context of international politics does smack promisingly of DUCK SOUP though. It would be untrue to say that the gags would write themselves — but I believe Wilder could write them. I’d love to see Chico working as a simultaneous translator. And then Harpo taking over.

Wilder never made a film built around an actual movie clown — his comedies are built around thespians with comedic chops. He uses Marilyn Monroe a little bit like a clown, and Jimmy Cagney as an icon whose famous moments he can built jokes around, but mostly his characters are not totally dependent on casting choices. He did try to work with Peter Sellers, twice, but Sellers had neither persona nor, he claimed, personality.

Wilder did also want to make a film with Laurel & Hardy — he got as far as planning an opening showing them sleeping rough in the last two Os of the HOLLYWOOD sign. So clownwork was something he had an interest in. But I suspect the collaborations would have been fraught. Stan liked to be in charge, and Groucho eventually kicked Wilder out of his house after receiving one too many lectures on the right wine to serve with dinner. (This is all from Maurice Zolotow’s semi-reliable Wilder bio.) It would have been like Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd trying to collaborate, and finding their mutual respect could not overcome their need to be true to their individual comic muses.

Page Seventeen III: At World’s End

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2021 by dcairns

The lift was not working so I had to walk down all the stairs to the studio. They had Conversation after Midnight on Stage A, and on Stage B they were shooting the night-club sequence for Black and White Blues. Outside in the yard they were trying some extra scenes for Peep and Judy Show, the Inigo Ransom comedy which was long over schedule time. I met the continuity girl from the new studio and I asked her whether she had seen anything of Robertson lately. She was tired and said no she had not and asked me how I was getting on with the cutting of The Waning Moon. She was interested in it because she had been the floor secretary for the production.

“Let her go,” said Port to Tunner, whose face showed concern. “She’s worn out. The heat gets her down.”

But Porter was not only making his own films now, he was training new directors to work under him. The motion-picture audience and my mother’s middle were growing proportionately. My infancy, the infancy of Edison’s Kinetoscope, and Porter’s callow moving-picture shows, are intertwined.

As editor of IMP films, Jack Cohn provided an invaluable service to the economy-minded Laemmle. IMP directors were led to believe they were shooting one-reel films and hence were encouraged to be niggardly with film stock and production time. Through chicanery by the executives, the movies were actually released as two-reelers.

‘But how did you discover by means of our watches?’ asked Clinton.

“I tell you nothing. You can work it out for yourself.” Thunderpeck loved to lecture me. “You know the cost of these new anti-gravity units; it’s phenomenal. Only a very rich man could afford one. There are few of them in production as yet; they go only to heart cases. A ten-stone man can wear one of these units and adjust it so that he weighs only two stone. It saves the heart pump a lot of work. So we know our friend was rich and suffered from heart trouble. Right. Where do such people often live? On the coast, by the sea, for the good of their health. So he died walking along the front–people do, you know. An offshore breeze carried him out to us.”

In the Middle Ages there was a curious belief that everything in the air or on the earth had its double in the sea. So when a previously undiscovered fish was found washed up on the coast of Norway and described as having a close-shaven head and an ungracious face, it was straightaway called a monk-fish. Its shoulders were said to be covered with what appeared to be a monk’s hood with feathering fins for arms, and a long tail at the end of its body. The King of Poland took a particular interest in this odd fish, and asked for it to be sent to him to see.

Seven passages from the page seventeens of seven books from around here. The last-quoted is the only book I have left from my childhood, its sentimental value somewhat tarnished by the discovery that it’s substantially plagiarised from Borges’ own monster dictionary.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe; The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles; Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg; King Cohn by Bob Thomas; The Warder of the Door by Robert Eustace & L.T. Meade, from The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths edited by Mark Valentine; Earthworks by Brian W. Aldiss; A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts by Carey Miller.