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

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

That’s what it’s all about. Interrupting someone’s life.

Following (1998) (SPOILERS) The Nolanverse begins here. And for someone now delivering the highest-powered movie juggernauts globally – that are not superhero or James Cameron movies – and ones intrinsically linked with the “art” of predictive programming, it’s interesting to note familiar themes of identity and limited perception of reality in this low-key, low-budget and low-running time (we won’t see much of the latter again) debut. And, naturally, non-linear storytelling. Oh, and that cool, impersonal – some might say clinical – approach to character, subject and story is also present and correct.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c