The Beatles of Movie Comedy
The Marx Brothers were a band of lunatic comedians turned the Beatles of movie madness back in the 1920s and 30s and 40s.
I met a few people this past week who had no idea who the Marx Brothers were. They had vaguely heard of them. And the name Groucho Marx rang some bell in their deep subconscious culture zone.
But no, they hadn’t seen a Marx Brothers film.
And I’m on a mission to change that.
I tried to find Marx Brothers streaming online but didn’t find much. I’ll keep looking.
The Marx Brothers to me were the Beatles of movie comedy. The Jimi Hendrix of visual and verbal insanity.
The Grateful Dead of vaudeville band of brothers turned preachers of a new form of comedy that was so outrageous and brilliant I’m still reeling from the first time
I saw The Cocoanuts, their first movie, on an old VHS tape rented from a Blockbuster movie store. It was on an afternoon during the week. I must’ve had the day off from working at the sprout farm health food store that I worked at for an eternity. I remember vividly putting that VHS black tape sucker into the VHS player and seeing the first scene where the Marx brothers all EXPLODED into that hotel lobby.
It was truly one of the most amazing movie experiences I’d ever had.
I’m not kidding.
Right up there with seeing Star Wars in 1976 for the first time.
Better. It was absolutely fucking hilarious. And spellbinding.
When people say, “My jaw dropped…” or “It was jaw-dropping…” This was true. My jaw literally dropped onto the floor and I had to bend down, pick it up and screw it back on (Phillips screwdriver).
At the same time, my head had popped open and all manner of weird things popped out of my skull and stuck to the ceiling like Velcro.
I had to pull them all off, stick them back in my head and close up my mind before my wife got home and we had chicken for dinner.
I had never seen a group of people be so in synch with each other and the comedic dialogue and the zany antics and Groucho, oh Groucho, o my god that man was magic with a mustache.
The most outrageous, cutting, sarcastic, verbose, witty, funny, stylish, spontaneous, funny man to grace the stage and screen since….well…since no one.
I’m not exaggerating. This is no writing for effect. I watched rented VHS copies of ALL their movies within the next month after that first viewing of The Cocoanuts.
Animal crackers is still my favorite. I tried to tell a few people (the beforementioned unlucky 2 who had never seen a Marx brother flick) about Animal Crackers, but after looking it up found you can’t stream it.
I’m sure you can. This is 2022. We can do anything. Even drive driverless cars into candy stores.
Without the Marx Brothers we probably wouldn’t have had Monty Python or Mad Magazine and maybe Saturday Night Live would’ve been a lot tamer than it was when it first came out.
Or many of the other great comics and troupes and mad movies that came after those Marx Brothers exploded through the screen and into our collective psyches.
Our absurd collective psyche.
It’s like what would the electric guitar be if there were no Hendrix?
What would rock music be like now if The Beatles hadn’t blown open the doors?
What would songs be like without Bob Dylan lifting the roof off the whole song joint and letting in the sky?
What would comedy be like, truly, without the Marx Brothers?
These are the questions I pose this morning at 4:26 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.
Masters of absurdity.
Brilliant vaudevillians turned movie stars.
Groucho and his giant eyebrows and mustache. The quintessential put-down artist.
He should’ve been at those old Dean Martin roasts. Maybe he was. I’m ‘a look it up.
I know he wasn’t at any of those really wild Comedy Central roasts with Jeff Ross.
That would’ve been a moment.
There’s Groucho. Sitting with the group off to the side of the podium.
Getting up and spewing his invective brilliance all over the unsuspecting audience.
Anyway, I can’t really tell you how amazing the Marx Brothers were. Or how forward-thinking and brilliant their movies were. Or how we’ll never see another group of brothers explode through the screen like they did.
But we can find out where to stream them. Or buy used DVDs from some cool store.
Somewhere on the corner of Captain and Spaulding.
I’ll be waiting there with the purple popcorn….
Wearing my finest Groucho mustache…
©2022 Bruce Palma. All rights reserved.