Monday, January 20, 2020

Episode 21: No Snow and No Ice

Oh, among the mangoes, where the monkey gang goes, you can hear them talking, and talking, and talking about the first Marx Brothers movie (except for Humor Risk), adapted from their first Broadway show (except for I'll Say She Is). It's the first time it's ever been mentioned down here, today. If you're too old to listen to this podcast, get yourself a monkey gland! And then let's go.

Official description: "After avoiding its 90th anniversary, Matthew pushes Noah and Bob into the pool for a deep dive into The Cocoanuts. Why did contemporary critics consider it their best? Why does Margaret Dumont get more laughs than Zeppo? Who the hell is Penelope? Noah connects a Groucho line to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bob brings up Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Matthew is certain one shot was cut for a 1984 British TV broadcast. It’s appointment podcasting!"

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  • You know me -- Prince of Wales:
  • Bob notes, "Harpo leans over, but his mouth doesn't really move":


  1. Groucho takes advantage of the bellhops by not paying them. I have a problem with that. We can't say Groucho is the hero as he is in "A Day at the Races" and "A Night in Casablanca". In "Duck Soup" he is a totalitarian and dangerous leader but "Duck Soup" is so well done and, as such, a lampoon on politics in general that I do not, so such, forgive Groucho but enjoy the film for being so great. With the except of "Duck Soup", when Groucho is not the hero, something is lacking. P.S. Joe Adamson be damned!!!! The three best marx brothers films are "Duck Soup", "A Day at the Races" and "A Night in Casablanca" and Joe, it is "A Day at the Races" that has the spit and polish, and not "A Night at the Opera"

    1. I think he says "all polish and no spit," meaning it's enjoyable and well-made, but might have benefited from the messier approach of the Paramounts.

      I like Night in Casablanca a lot, and some of Races is delightful, but I have a hard time seeing those as Groucho's archetypal roles, since they come so late in the Brothers' career. His character in Races, especially, seems like a departure from what he'd established on stage.

      Also, are you really confident that the bellhops in Night in Casablanca are being paid?

    2. The bellhops in "A Night in Casablanca" have to deal with all the chickens from people who ordered the one minute eggs but I think the kitchen wouldn't go that far. Groucho is the hero in "A Day at the Races", "Go West", "The Big Store", and "A Night in Casablanca" but I do not see him the hero in the film "A Night at the Opera". Only in the film "Duck Soup" is Groucho more of a villain than he is in "The Coconuts".

  2. Has anyone noticed how Groucho's hair changes throughout "Cocoanuts"? In the early scenes it sticks out on the sides like a Groucho caricature. But in the Why a Duck scene, it's slicked down.

    I've worked at the Astoria Studios as an extra, and I always wonder if I'm on the same soundstage where the Marxes filmed. The first time I worked there, I arrived early, just to soak up the history. I'm convinced Zeppo's ghost entered one of the doors ahead of me! Quite a jaunty, nattily dressed fellow.

    1. They must have wet Groucho's hair in some scenes because it was making too much noise.

  3. The Cocoanuts was the second Brothers movie I ever saw. During their revival a local station in Nashville would show either the Marxes, Mae West or WC Fields every Sunday. I saw The Bank Dick because I'm a big Three Stooges fan and saw the promo for Horse Feathers to be shown the following week. Several weeks later I saw they were going to show The Cocoanuts. What attracted me to it was not the Brothers per se but the fact that it was made in 1929. This was about the time that I discovered silent films through a college class and I was intrigued to watch an early talkie.

    Some observations that were not brought up in the excellent discussion --
    ---I'm always amazed by the guest who asks Chico about the train schedule and he never questions "Once a week, sometimes twice a day". He even thanks Chico for this nonsense statement. But how smart can you be if you can have your coat stolen while you're wearing it?
    ---When Harpo escapes from the jail cell it looks like he or his coat gets caught because he hops a few times with his leg still in the cell and then the scene fades.

    Is anyone here a historian on early talkies? I have a couple of questions --
    ---Had the boom mike been invented by the time this movie was made? I know that very early talkies had to hide microphones in plants or behind partitions and the actors had to gather in one spot in order to be heard on the mike. The Cocoanuts doesn't seem to be as static as movies that were made just a year or two earlier. However there are numerous places where it's easy to hear that the actors are far away from the mics. The early "runaround" scene is a prime example.
    ---Very early talkies would record some scenes (especially scenes that had no dialogue but only a background musical score) as silent scenes with a music track laid in later. A lot of late silent films adapted this method when they started including limited sound effects to their films. Was this technique employed in the Cocoanuts? I don't think it was in the dancing bellhops scene as it sounds like the orchestra was far off stage and off mic. But during the non-singing part of Monkey Doodle Doo the orchestra becomes much more prominent and clear. Was the Monkey dance segment filmed as a silent with music added later?

    1. I loved that train schedule was in my notes but didn't get around to mentioning it.

      Yes, it is very possible the music was just laid onto the non singing part of Monkey Doodle Doo. They had the ability to lay audio over picture, just not mix with live performers. It certainly is done for the opening credits.

  4. Groucho being the party crasher in high society in "Animal Crackers" is better then him being the employer in "The Coconuts" that doesn't pay his workers. So be it Groucho is not a hero in "Animal Crackers", we have sympathies towards Captain Spalding and wish to be like him taking on the phoniness of high society (one could argue that has a heroic dimension, especially during the great depression). As a side note, Harpo and Chico are involved in the plot of the film but Groucho and Zeppo are not, thus making them both white noise in terms of plot but Groucho is, however, the star of the film by way of sensibility.

  5. Here's A Little Bungalow:

  6. Emaciated Groucho....! Never thought of it that way but I bet he worked himself to the bones between the two shows.


Episode 50: The Gods Look Down and Laugh (Our Animal Crackers Deep Dive featuring Heidi Gassel)

Not every Marx Brothers fan would name  Animal Crackers  when asked which film is their favorite, but as it happens, all three of your hosts...