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On Wednesday I went to the Cottage Road Cinema with ms_siobhan, planet_andy and big_daz. As usual, the main feature was preceded by appropriate vintage shorts, and this time we had a special treat - a silent film with piano accompaniment.

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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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2013 01:49 pm (UTC)
Sorry you didn't like the Marx Brothers - they have a special place in my life! I was more or less raised on them. My Dad, my late paternal grandpa and I all share(d) the same sense of humour and the Marx Brothers were one of several comedy teams that we found hilarious, but that my Mum and my late grandma didn't get at all. Their bemusement just added to our sense of having something special to share together.

I like the sheer exuberant anarchy of the Marx Brothers, which is nothing unusual for comedy now, but was more rare in the context of the thirties and forties. It's less obvious in A Night at the Opera than in some of the other films, where Groucho has usually got himself appointed to some role of authority for which he is obviously both uninterested and unqualified (he is often a con man of some description).

Being Jewish, there is also for me the added thrill from the fact that the Marx Brothers are in many ways playing stock figures from Jewish humour, but transposed to a mainstream setting: the schnorrer (technically a beggar, but with a sense of semi-justified entitlement and pride in his schnorring) with perhaps a hint of the luftmentsch (the unpractical daydreamer with no visible means of support).
Sep. 15th, 2013 02:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can see Groucho working better as a proper con-man. He was a bit connish in this film, trying to get the new up-and-coming tenor signed up to the New York Opera in place of the established star, but it didn't involve much full-blown deception. I could see their style of comedy working better in the context a classic farce plot, but this film just wasn't that.
Sep. 15th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
I definately want to see more L+H on a big screen - I really enjoyed that one and the live piano accompaniment was icing on the cake :-)
Sep. 15th, 2013 09:39 pm (UTC)
Don't write the Marx Brothers off until you've seen Duck Soup.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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