All Movie Talk, Episode 40

Posted in Episodes at 5:00 am by Sam

Show contents, with start times:

  • Top 6: Unknown Movies (1:24)
  • Trivia Question: The Five Marx Brothers (26:04)
  • Industry Trend: Ratings and Censorship, Part 2 (26:29)
  • Series Spotlight: The Marx Brothers (37:55)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (57:03)

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Show Notes:

Top 6: Unknown Movies

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Trivia Question: The Five Marx Brothers

There were five Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and this one, the only one of the five never to have appeared on film, as he retired from the act before the brothers made their transition from the stage to the screen.

Industry Trend: Ratings and Censorship, Part 2


Series Spotlight: The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers began as musicians and gradually shifted their act more towards comedy when they discovered they could be quite successful at it. Eventually they became the first ever comedy act to perform on Broadway. Their first feature film, The Cocoanuts (1929), provides glimpses of their unique comic style, despite being very rough around the edges. It feels, in fact, very much like a proof of concept film, as the Marx Brothers experimented with how to adapt their act to the screen, while technicians were still figuring out how to perfect sound film.

But with their second feature, Animal Crackers (1930), they made the first of many brilliant comedy gems. Nobody else ever made films quite like the Marx Brothers, whose filmography is a real paradox in film history. Their humor is, in many ways, timeless, thanks to their biting social satire, but the vaudevillesque format roots it in the times. So much of their humor is verbal, zingers that fly by so fast that sometimes it’s hard to catch them all. They were merciless at poking fun at respected institutions and got away with it at a time when doing so was a much greater taboo than it is today. Perhaps they got away with it because they were so gleefully reckless at who and what they aimed at, and they weren’t at all averse to making fun of themselves, either.

Music usually plays an important part in their films. All the brothers could sing and/or play multiple instruments. In particular, Harpo was a gifted harpist, and Chico was a gifted pianist. Their musical solos are often highlights of their films. Groucho could sing, but dialogue was his natural medium. He was brilliant at improvision and could think up one snappy one-liner after another if the situation required. In many Marx Brothers films, his character winds up hilariously flattering and insulting silly rich women at the same time. Actress Margaret Dumont was Groucho’s best comic foil, appearing in 7 of the 13 Marx Brothers films.

The best Marx Brothers films are Horsefeathers (1932), Duck Soup (1933), and A Night At the Opera (1935), all of which make good places to start, but only two — The Big Store (1941) and Love Happy (1949) — are ultimately unsatisfying.

The Marx Brothers’ Filmography:

You can find Sam’s ratings and reviews of all of these at At-A-Glance Film Reviews.

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