Today! Because I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty –
Monkey Business (1931)
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Starring Groucho Marx (x4), Harpo Marx (x4), Chico Marx (x4), Zeppo Marx (x2), Thelma Todd, Rockliffe Fellowes, Harry Woods, Ruth Hall, Tom Kennedy
The Marx Brothers third feature film, and the first not based on one of their Broadway shows, Monkey Business attempts to expand their very stagey banter into a real motion picture, with largely good results. There are clearly some growing pains in this move – while the scope of the movie broadens out a bit, the team’s bread and butter remains the same, with extended comic dialogues and paired off routines between Groucho & Chico, Chico & Harpo, and Groucho & Zeppo. It would be another year before they truly figured out how to break the routine for good, in Horse Feathers.
Today! Because I’ve got a waiting list of fifty people at that cemetery just dying to get in. But I like you and I’m gonna shove you in ahead of all of them –
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Directed by Robert Florey and Joseph Santley
Starring Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton, Cyril Ring, Kay Francis
The second oldest movie on this list, The Cocoanuts comes off as the worst, physically, due to the limitations of 1929 filmmaking. The advent of sound two years before afforded the Marx Brothers the chance to jump into motion pictures – too much of their comedy is wordplay to have functioned well in silents (And yet, their early lost silent short Humor Risk continues to fascinate with possibilities – if you’re harboring a copy, speak up!). However, the microphones in ’29 weren’t the greatest, so the movie does have an overall rickety feel that can be a bit distracting. Sopping wet papers are visible throughout the film, to dampen the crinkling being picked up by their super sensitive equipment, but that doesn’t help the other violent static and unintentional footstepping picked up. Also, technically, there is no known complete version of the film – what exists is a somewhat cobbled together assemblage of footage that runs fully seven minutes shorter than the purported original release.
There is still plenty of classic Marx Brothering going on