Monkey Business Review

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by Simon Crust Oct 19, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    Monkey Business Review

    When one discusses the anarchy of comedy, it's normal to consider Monty Python as the father of it all. However, as we all know, there is very little original, everything is borrowed from somewhere else, or influenced, if you prefer. Monty Python themselves evolved over a series of collaborations, inspired by the Beyond the Fringe satirical show. Spike Milligan, of course, had been blazing his own trail over ten year before with The Goon Show, an inspiration himself to all that followed. But further back still, and often not discussed, which is an injustice, are the Marx Brothers. In the Early thirties, the beginning of sound in movies, in fact, a comedy team comprising of four brothers, each with their own talent, that when combined formed genius. Taking a combination of slapstick, mime, wit and definite edge, the Brothers burned a bright path sweeping all before it, their trail is still visible even to this day. Their blend of comedy, more especially Groucho's word play, was hard, biting and almost cruel, nothing had been seen like it before and there is a strong argument that the Brothers were the first 'alternative comedians'. They burned very bright, and for just under ten years they were unstoppable. But as is commonly known, those that burn brightest, burn fastest and even though they continued to work, the spark had gone, it wasn't the same. And for seventy years their like has yet to be seen again.

    Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has recently released an all new box set of the Marx Brothers greatest films, included are such classics as The Cocoanuts, Room Service, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup, along with, for the first time on DVD, duffers like A Girl in Every Port and Love Happy (AKA Kleptomaniacs) but omits stand out films such as A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Not off to such a good start then. Yet the winning formula should be enough to entice. Unfortunately, the only discs made available to review for this set are the 'new releases' i.e. A Girl in Every Port and Love Happy; leaving aside the fact that reviewing an eight disc set with only two discs is problematic at best, consider that these two films supplied were made long after the Brothers had lost their spark and, in the case of the former, actually only has Groucho in it........ I hope you can see where I am going with this......

    Love Happy, is rumoured to have been made to pay off Chico's gambling debts, but is officially labelled as the last Marx Brothers film. Originally it was to feature only Chico and Harpo, but MGM refused to back the venture unless it featured “the brothers”, forcing a hasty rewrite and scenes with Grouch that looked tacked on (he only appears as the narrator and in skits by himself except for the final scene). As a result the film looks messy, and even though the comedy works in places there is not enough of the general mayhem conducted by the Brothers together to form a cohesive comedy. This is not helped by the fact that everything has to stop for the musical numbers that were obliged to fill comedies of the time, however, thanks to the back story of a struggling broadway musical in rehearsals (inspired writing by Frank Tashlin) even though the pace was brought to a grinding halt, at least they felt like an organic part of the film. The story is largely forgettable, something about diamond smuggling, but it is of little consequence since the only thing worth watching are the antics of the Brothers. The film is also notable for being the first to feature Marilyn Monroe, but don't get too excited, it's a two minute walk on, still at least something good did came out of the film.

    A Girl in Every Port, as mentioned above, only stars Groucho and if it wasn't for his presence this film would have never been heard of. Groucho only agreed to participate as a favour to his friend, sci fi thriller producer Irwin Allen, showing that he was not quite so adept towards comedy. The story has two seamen buying a lame race horse, discovering it has a twin and trying to make an 'honest' buck out of it, but if you get that far then more fool you. The film is as lame as the horse; poor direction, duff script, idiotic pacing with only Groucho managing to not to stink. This is as far removed from a Marx Brothers film as Romeo and Juliet and sadly just as tragic, but for different reasons. Its inclusion in this set is a mystery and one could argue devalues it as a whole.

    Since these two discs are the only ones available there is little point in looking at the box set as a whole. Every other title in the set is already available and as such these two films are the only reason to upgrade, but why bother? Whilst Love Happy is not without some merit, it being a genuine Marx Brothers film, A Girl in Every Port is not even worth it as a coaster. Perhaps for a complete collection, or first time buyers, but other than that I'd steer clear.

    The Rundown

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