Skip to main content

Oh no, I’m not going to follow you and get shot. If I was half-shot, I’d follow you

Love Happy 
(1949)

(SPOILERS) And so the Marx Brothers’ (collective) screen career ends with a decrepit whimper. It’s very obvious that Love Happy was initially developed as solo project for Harpo – he falls in love! – since he gets the lion’s share of the scenes. More surprising is that Groucho wasn’t in fact a late-stage addition; he provides the narration, but only really intrudes on the proceedings at the very end. And Chico? He mentions tootsie-frutsie ice cream.

Female Client: Some men are following me.
Grunion: Really? I can’t understand why.

There’s enough plot to be getting on with, some of it quite promising, since it revolves around the theft of the Royal Romanoff diamonds, hidden in a tin of sardines and unknowingly swiped by Harpo, who is feeding a cast of cash-strapped theatrical types attempting to put on the titular musical revue. Chico is Faustino the Great, professing to be a mind reader, while Groucho is private detective Sam Grunion, employed to find said diamonds and eye up Marilyn Monroe in her very brief film debut.

Grunion: For three days Maggie ate Harpo’s presents – smoked chicken, canned turkey, tuna fish. If only she’d developed a taste for sardines, the show would’ve been saved.

Groucho, then. He looks different – real moustache and eyebrows – and engages in some passable introductory mockery. Of lead Mike Johnston (Paul Valentine): “Interesting dance, isn’t it? He learnt it fighting off bill collectors”. And Maggie (Vera-Allen, sometime Danny Kaye co-star): “She’s a dancer too. But it’s hard to tell when she’s sitting down”. But he’s in it so little – three-ish scenes, pretty much – and his lines aren’t exactly zingers. Ilona Massey as villain Madame Egelichi ought to be the inspiration for a slew of great Groucho gags, but he’s limited to the so-so likes of “Oh no, I’m not going to follow you and get shot. If I was half-shot, I’d follow you”.

Grunion: I am the same Sam Grunion who solved the international uranium-mining swindle. Scotland Yard was baffled, the FBI was baffled. They sent for me and the case was solved immediately: I confessed.

Groucho gets one proper scene with each of Harpo and Chico (the latter not even sharing a shot). Chico naturally has a piano interlude. He also has a Hat erection gag. Groucho used to say the movie was made as a means to pay Chico’s gambling debts, although Harpo’s initiation of the project makes that seem less likely (but it’s nevertheless a good story, particularly since the movie is rubbish). He does get to play cards with a dog, however.

Mike Johnson: Could you love a heel that’s been repaired?

Accordingly, most of the proceedings hang on Harpo, and early on, the bushy-haired shoplifter has a couple of moments. The best of which is easily a protracted sequence in which Massey’s thugs (including Raymond “Perry Mason” Burr) empty his voluminous pockets, producing such choice items as several legs of a shop dummy, a welcome mat, a barber’s pole, a block of ice, a sled and a live dog. He is subsequently tortured, forced to smoke rope, put on a rack, subjected to food and water torture and has an apple placed on the top of his head to be shot at – which he eats, having snatched the gun and put it to his own head. Harpo also has a pet penguin. He is, however, at his furthest distance from the randy animal of the early films, a hapless unrequited romantic in love with Maggie (who despite a falling out with Mike, a bit of a dick, ends up with him).

Faustino: You want I should read your mind again? All right, start thinking... You’re thinking the same thing you thought about yesterday. And the day before… That’s the only thought-a you got, huh? You’re in love.

With regard to his fate, Groucho informs us that Harpo disappears with the diamonds, not realising their value (thinking they’re the fakes). And appropriately, we learn Groucho’s Grunion has got hitched to Madame Egelichi. Love Happy feels like a botch, despite Frank Tashlin’s presence as a writer (Harpo gets a story credit), and serves as an illustration of how just one element of the trio being off does for the whole thing. Chico probably serves his take-or-leave-him function most seamlessly here, but Harpo isn’t a lead, and Groucho needs his fake moustache to fly.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…

Supposing I help you fix the bishop?

The Avengers 3.20: The Little Wonders
More memorable for Steed (undercover, naturally) planting a smoocher on a surprised Mrs Gale than its plot of Mafia-esque “clergymen” electing their new leader. This isn’t bad, and Macnee’s having a lot of fun as the Vicar of M’boti, but you can’t help feel it should have been a lot more lunatic.

Beardmore: What if he’s a phoney, and doesn’t know Harbottle was playing a double game?
The mob organisation is known as Bibliotek, and Steed is replacing the deceased Reverend Harbottle who, we learn, has been involved with another group led by Sister Johnson (Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, who strikes a very Bond-esque image at one point, blazing away with a machine gun in a nurse’s uniform). She’s posing as the carer of the Bishop (David Bauer), the head of Bibliotek, while attempting to bring about his demise with Dr Beardmore (Tony Steedman of Citizen Smith). Complicating matters in a way that fails to really elicit interest is a German doll containing mi…