Yes, the acting's terrible. Yes, Zeppo's a waste of oxygen. But if there are scenes funny enough to make you forget all that, then we're dealing with art.This movie flopped. Flopped HARD. It flopped so badly that Paramount dropped them from their contract, and they had to skulk off to MGM. (Never mind that their first MGM picture was their biggest hit and restarted their career. I'm trying to prove a point.) It would have been forgotten if it wasn't for a sudden resurgence in popularity, as it played in basically every college theatre in the 70's. And so, here we are, ready to revere this film as the masterwork that it is.
"A masterpiece. An absolute masterpiece."
The plot (and yes, there is one): Rufus T. Firefly is appointed head of Freedonia, a country on the verge of war with Sylvania. The head of Sylvania sends two spies into Freedonia to get information on Mr. Firefly. The plot to overthrow Rufus fails, and both countries are plunged into war. There is a romantic triangle, gripping battle scenes, and toe-tapping musical numbers. Sounds pretty exciting, don't it?
Most comedies from the 1930's lose something in the translation, so to speak. There's outdated, often politically incorrect language, and acting that comes from actors and actresses that still were growing used to speaking on film (Watch "Singin' in the Rain" for more evidence of this). Let's face it: Most comedies from the old days just aren't that funny. This one is.
I love the Marx Brothers. LOVE them. Not everyone does. I've shown this movie to people who've watched it in stone silence. But if you've never seen a Marx Brothers movie, THIS is the place to start. Do NOT watch "A Night at the Opera" first(the aforementioned biggest hit at MGM) - it makes these films seem too fast-paced. Don't watch the earlier ones (Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business) - they were still getting their rhythm. This is where they hit their peak, and if this was the only Marx Brothers film, it would still represent all that they were before this, and all they became after this.
It's easy to dismiss this film as stupid - it's very, very goofy, and has the kind of bad puns you find in old "Carry On" films. Plus, there's the bad acting (particularily the lady who plays Vera Marquel - she makes Salma Hayek seem like Bette Davis). And, to top it all off, there's Zeppo. More on him later. But look deeper, and you'll find one of the most densely layered film comedies in history. There is so much to see in this film, I'm still noticing new details after my 30th viewing - tiny things, like the gestures Harpo makes in his battles with the lemonade vendor. I couldn't take it all in my first viewing, and I must admit, I didn't think much of it. But after the second viewing, I got used to their style of comedy and began to roll with it.
This was the last film they made with Paramount, as I mentioned, and, as well, it was their last film with Zeppo, the fourth Marx Brother. Let's give a quick recap, for those unfamiliar with our friends.
Groucho, Chico, Harpo - Funny.
Zeppo - Not funny.
This is clearly defined by the characters' names. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly (funny name). Chico plays Chicolini the Peanut Vendor (funny name). Harpo plays Pinky the Spy. (funny name). Zeppo plays Bob Todd.
I beg you to watch this movie. If you hate it, take it back to the video store, and curse me silently. If you love it, rent the rest of the Paramount films. They're almost as good, although a little heavy on the musical numbers (this film manages to keep the musical interludes to a bare minimum). If you dare, rent the MGM movies after that. They're OK, but they're the cinematic equivalent of American beer.
This is one of the greatest comedies ever released, and it remains just as current today. I won't give away any of the jokes. I just won't. It's THAT good.They just CAN NOT make movies like this anymore. It's not possible. Just look at "Brain Donors" for further evidence of this.
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originally posted: 12/20/99 02:07:42