11a. Big Business (1929), dir. James W. Horne and Leo McCarey
It was a Laurel and Hardy number, and as I wasn't much bowled over by the L&H film we saw at the Cottage last year, I wasn't expecting much. But I enjoyed this one rather more than last year's. It is basically structured around an escalating absurdity gag. Laurel and Hardy are driving round a residential neighbourhood in their van, trying to sell Christmas trees. After a couple of (unsuccessful) attempts, they get drawn into a protracted row with one potential customer. It starts off with them annoying him accidentally, through incompetence rather than malice, but the gloves come off when he responds by chopping their Christmas tree in half with a pair of shears. After that, it is full-scale war on both sides, as they retaliate by ripping bits off his house while he does the same to their van. A crowd gathers to watch the fun, a police-man intervenes, and it all ends in classic fashion with the police-man chasing the two of them away up the road into the sunset. Lots of good laughs, plenty of shots of shocked and / or furious people, and generally a nice way to start the evening.
11b. A Night at the Opera (1935), dir. Sam Wood
This was the first time I'd really sat down and watched a Marx Brothers film properly. If you'd asked me whether I expected to like it, I'd probably have demurred politely, troubled by unsettling visions of goofy one-liners and slap-stick gags which are not really my scene. Sadly, the reality of the film didn't do much to change my mind. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood because I was worried about my Dad, but for me some of the jokes were overdone, and many of them just weren't that funny. Plus Groucho Marx's smart-alec style of delivery, where more or less every line was spoken with a distinct self-satisfied swagger about how funny it was didn't appeal to me at all.
That said, it was a film from the 1930s, which meant some very lovely outfits, especially on the leading lady. The three brothers also travel from what I suppose is Italy (it's never made very clear) to New York on an ocean liner during the film, so that there are some nice on-board-ship scenes, including a fun song-and-dance number on the third-class deck. And at least I have seen a Marx Brothers film properly now, so can tick off a major cultural landmark in my personal journey through this strange old world we live in. It's just that it is one which I have no particular desire to re-visit.
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