Sunday, October 16, 2005

Day 16: At the Circus

J. Cheever Loophole: I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.

This is a definitely a lesser entry in the films of the Marx Brothers. The jokes are pretty stale, the plot is excruciating to sit through, and there’s a reliance on old tricks that worked better in previous movies. And yet, after sitting through Dr. Goldfoot & the Bikini Machine, it was clear that even a lesser Marx Brothers movie is still worth watching. At the Circus relies on a lot of the same tricks that Goldfoot did; it contains plenty of the same kind of mugging to the camera and contains a similar style of slapstick. But where Goldfoot felt like Carrot Top was nudging you for an hour and half and begging you to laugh, At the Circus feels more like spending time with an aging relative who is genuinely funny, but tired.

Full disclosure time! I watched this movie in about 20 minute increments as I worked on various things that needed to be done in my non-blogging life. I was also extremely tired when I watched it. I think both of these factors contributed to my liking the movie a lot more than I would have otherwise. As a straight-through 90 minute experience, I think the movie would have dragged on a lot more than I felt it did. And the second rendition of the song “Two Blind Love”, sung by the very boring non-Marx male lead, would have driven me to fits of violence.

I’d describe the plot, but it’s a Marx Brothers movie. The plot of a Marx Brothers movie is as irrelevant as the outfit a stripper wears at the beginning of its routine. Yeah, it sets the context for everything, but what lies underneath it all is what we’re here for. What matters is whether or not the three have the material they need to shine. As said, here they don’t. But there’s enough to keep one’s interest (if only in 20 minute increments). Groucho has a wonderful number in Lydia, the Tattooed Lady. The song is written with plenty of wit and staged (somewhat cheaply) with an anarchic fervor; it’s reminiscent of the musical numbers in Duck Soup. There’s a scene where Chico and Harpo search the living quarters of a strongman while he’s sleeping in them that builds nicely. By the end of this scene, after the two spend several minutes trying to be quiet (so as not to disturb the strongman), feathers from a pillow are flying around the room and Harpo is pretending to be Santa while ringing a bell. Additionally, Margaret Dumont makes a welcome appearance toward the end of the film, giving Groucho the opportunity to flaunt the high-society dame (and all the decorum she stands for) yet again. Oh, and special mention must go to this joke: After Harpo balks at going into the strongman’s room, Chico calls Harpo a coward. Harpo nods, pulls a gun out of his coat, and points it at his head.

It was somewhat depressing to watch several lengthy bits not work. There’s a scene with Chico preventing Groucho from boarding the circus train that felt like it was made up of bits that were cut from a much funnier scene from A Day at the Races and is so illogical in its placement in the film, it made the whole scene uncomfortable to watch. Groucho narrating the climax of the film (which features a gorilla and trapeze) as a sports announcer is the same joke as the one used at the end of Monkey Business with nothing any funnier added to it. Too much of the movie is taken up in adherence to the dud of a plot. This movie also continues a trend in the later Marx Brothers movies (started with A Night at the Opera) giving Groucho a sort-of Mad Max character arc, where he begins the movie caring only about himself, but he eventually starts working to help the young couple win out over adversity. This diminishes Groucho’s anarchic appeal, giving him some characters he won’t blithely insult.

But, you know, I don’t’ really care that this movie isn’t really any good. I can honestly say that no matter my mood, if I watch just a snippet of one of their movies (well, the snippets that contain at least one of the brothers [and not Zeppo]; the actors they cast as the young couples in love are always so bland as to make me prone to fits of violence) I come away feeling better. Even at their worst (Love Happy). There’s a scene in Hannah and Her Sisters in which Woody Allen, depressed to the verge of suicide, decides that life is worth living in a world where there are Marx Brothers movies. This is a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly. I was tired while I watched this, cranky, and a little overwhelmed by the whole “movie a day” thing. I really watched this movie because I’d never seen it, it was already on my shelf, and it was short. By the end of the movie, when Margaret Dumont gets shot out of a cannon and a symphony orchestra floats out to sea, I was much happier. About pretty much everything. Take that for what you will.


Bel Stella / Bella Carrara said...

Your closing comments are the exact reason why I love all Marx Brothers movies. For another dose of grins, you should add a movie with Joe E. Brown in it...good memories for me with his films. :)

I can sympathize with how you feel about the post-a-day marathon...I'm running a blog on the only channel I receive and my random thoughts about the shows that I watch every evening. Keep up the good work on the posts!

Ring said...

Very interesting site, keep up the good work!!

Ash Karreau said...

Bah. I'll take Mae West for the word-play and Buster Keaton for the slapstick over the Marx Brothers any day. I haven't seen this one, however. Does it have Gummo in it?

David Wester said...

I think Gummo was being slowly tortured by a turtle while they shot this thing.

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Anonymous said...

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starbender said...

Just surfin around, and enjoyed reading your post. It's been awhile since I've seen this movie, and you have brought back memories. I luv the Marx Brothers! Thanks!