28 January 2011

Monkey Business

Marx Brothers films are always so hard to write anything about. They only work because they're funny, with a kind of savage anarchic wit and seeming utter contempt for convention. The four just make such a well-rounded team, and for all of their seeming randomness their films are always intricately planned, choreographed, and put together. The truth is, as a story it barely makes any sense but as a series of gags (some sight, some puns, some slapstick, some romantic or musical) each segues into the next with a surprisingly natural fluidity. Maybe it's because the overarching story is so haphazard here (a ship ride and castaways somehow leads to getting mixed up with gangsters, making almost a two-part story with some crossover), but here the connecting elements really stood out to me as more worried over and planned out than later films like Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera, where (as I remember it) the seams between each setpiece were more invisible. But that's not all bad: it really makes me realize what consummate professionals these guys were, carefully orchestrating their chaos.

And just like Harpo's harp solo in Opera, Chico gets a piano bit here that's simply a joy to watch. The way his fingers move is like a funny dance. (Harpo also hits the harp again here, for the record.)

I don't have much else to add. Some of the bits were funny, but Duck Soup remains my favorite Marx Brothers film so far. An interesting palate-cleanser after Blue Valentine (though I'm not sure I needed one).

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