Monday, September 16, 2019

Episode 18: Marx Brothers: Unsolved



In our latest episode, we examine some unsolved Marx Brothers mysteries. Put on your deerstalker hat and join us on this journey into confusion.

Official description: "Marx Brothers scholar Stewart Tryster returns as we try to explain curious moments in the Marxes' films and career. Who was that in the dark in Animal Crackers? Did pressure from Italians result in the pigeons being cut from A Day at the Races? What edible substance made up Harpo’s A Night in Casablanca hair? We speculate, jump to conclusions, and ignore facts that go against our theories…so you know you’re getting the most solid info anywhere."

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Footnotes for this episode:

Here's the photo Stewart mentions, taken on the set of Monkey Business, and featuring Frenchie, Harpo, Chico, and possibly Zeppo?


And here's the photo Noah mentions, of the Six Mascots in 1910, featuring Groucho as Hans Pumpernickel, performing "Schnitzelbank":

17 comments:

  1. Another compelling podcast, Gentlemen. It compelled me to write this comment, anyway. Matthew. I will contest your idea of being the first to notice the doubles. When the film was re-premiered in Boston in 1974, my friends and I were there, and when that scene started, we all (3 of us) said "That's not Groucho!" I will give you that we didn't notice Chico and Harpo doubles - but the bogus Captain Spaulding did NOT go unnoticed by us. But since it was 1974, we couldn't do anything about researching it.

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    1. Well I was the second, then. That's just as good in a way. Anyways, prove it. See - you can't, can you. Officer - please escort this man of the premises. Some people. Tsk.

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  2. We can tell for sure that the cutaway to Harpo throwing books into the fire in Horse Feathers doesn't come from the excised original ending, because the gag is present in the shooting script, and it is in the exact same place as in the film as we have it.

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    1. It is? I'm not sure I've seen a shooting script. The only reason we decided it might have been cut in from later is that the winning trophy appears to be on the mantel.

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    2. It is, yes. I bought the shooting script online, it's very close to the finished film in many places, but there are quite a few small differences too. Also, I've found an editing continuity script, made from an early cut of the film (small pieces of it were posted in the Facebook group). When you're about to do your show on Horse Feathers, I can provide you with both the shooting and the editing script, in case you're interested.

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    3. Yes please! In fact, that might be enough to bump the HF show up in terms of priority!

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  3. R:E Animal Crackers
    1) Flit was an extremely popular insect control that was introduced in 1923. The hand pump that sprayed the poison was so popular that Flit became a common word to the public instead of a brand name. This is like asking for a Coke nowadays and accepting any cola product. So Flit became a generic name for the manual pump and explains why Chico calls is a flit when Harpo takes it out of his coat. I don't know the inside story of the scratched out label in selected scenes. BTW Flit must have been produced a long time because there is an episode in the television series MASH where the doctors are using a Flit and calling it a flit.

    2) This is my belief about the black out scene. You must remember that this is an extremely early talkie. I don't believe they were able to correct audio like they did (poorly) in Duck Soup (Believe me he's some smart dog). Also notice that the dialogue during this scene sounds like the actors are standing far away from the mic and there is a slight echo. Here is my theory -- in order to darken the set the engineers had to throw a switch to turn off the lights. I believe that that switch also provided power to the mics on the set. That's why all of the actors had to have doubles. The actors stood off stage performing their lines while the doubles acted in shadow. Notice that during the brief second blackout (Did you lose that fish again?) the same problems with sound quality occur. Who the doubles are I don't know.

    R/E Night at the Opera Because of the crudeness of the cuts I still think these were wartime cuts. If the cuts were to appease the Italians because that Italy was proud of their opera, wouldn't the finale and chase have been cut since they are destroying opera? No it seems like the hatchet job was probably a Hays office cut during WWII.

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    1. In the second blackout scene, there is no edit...it's done as one take.

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  4. Agreed it was known as a flit, just as cola is known as Coke and PA systems as tannoys, etc, but that doesn't stop their names being copyright protected. What we can get away with in normal speech we can't necessarily get away with on film...

    I like the point about the switch!

    Definitely not wartime cuts - we have the paper trail.

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  5. But hang on a minnow - Mags isn't doubled. So they didn't all have to be. And Harpo doesn't speak, so he didn't have to be...

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  6. Like I said, if they were off to the side by a mic, it would be much more in sync....you can tell this is a few seconds off at various points...and the second blackout scene is all done as one take, no edit at all.

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  7. The paper trail for the Italian cuts in A Night at the Opera is here (page 33):

    http://digitalcollections.oscars.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15759coll30/id/9990/rec/1?fbclid=IwAR1TRFQd3ZJhZsQErEDLRDg5iVlkiRSYmy-GAOX5ejNKX1s2bxRuRxu_vlI

    The territory is Italy, the deletions are specified as "cuts (...) made to remove any inference that the characters were Italian", and the date is August 3, 1938 – well before the start of World War II and shortly before the premiere of the film in Italy.

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  8. Re "Animal Crackers": I believe you're overthinking the blackout scene. The most likely explanation is that the faux brothers are their stand-ins. Stand-ins aren't hired because they're exact doubles, but because they're the same height/body type. I can certainly picture the real brothers telling the director to use the stand-ins for such a scene.

    For me, the real Marx Brothers mystery is that, unlike other stars of their day, they made only one movie a year from 1929 to 1941 (with time off between "Duck Soup" and "Opera"). In 1932, W.C. Fields made three movies for Paramount, while the following year he appeared in six! The Marx Brothers either believed they wouldn't wear well with audiences if they overdid it, or decided that after decades of grueling stage work, they were entitled to take things a little easier.

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    1. Well, we know that the Harpo and Chico doubles are their regular stand ins, and as for Groucho, we are just opening the door to the possibility that it could be Sheekman, and certainly not making any definitive claim (other than it's not Zeppo).

      As far as the one picture a year thing, both of your theories are exactly what the brothers said back in the day...so it's not really a mystery at all.

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  9. Well,it was a mystery to me anyway. They must have had the sweetest deal in movies.

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Episode 18: Marx Brothers: Unsolved

In our latest episode, we examine some unsolved Marx Brothers mysteries. Put on your deerstalker hat and join us on this journey into...