Friday, June 9, 2017

Last of the red hot brothers

There was at least one Marx Brothers movie I hadn't seen up till now, and that's Love Happy. It's their last film together, and generally thought to be their weakest. Sad to say, this assessment isn't wrong.

The plot, which doesn't seem to be anyone's top priority, concerns a struggling stage musical whose director and male star hopes to take to Broadway. They have one of their circle (Harpo) shoplift food from them. He lifts a can of sardines from one of the countless delis which double as fences for hot jewelry. The can contains Romanov diamonds that a private investigator (Groucho) has been hired to find, and a femme fatale grabs up Harpo while an inept mentalist (Chico) holds off the play's creditors.

The main trouble is that this isn't really a Marx Brothers movie, not one where they're all together for much of the time. It's mainly Harpo's show, with Chico getting a few key scenes and Groucho mostly limited to narrator duty. I'm not sure that the idea of a Harpo-centric movie even works, since he was always best in short, intense doses. By 1950 he had lost some steps, too, with some of his physical humor achieved through undercranking and other special effects. Things do pick up at the end when Groucho can finally join Harpo in the action.

The cast of Love Happy the musical within the movie basically means that there's a coed army in the unfunny Zeppo role, except that where he was tied into their rhythms they're just kind of flailing on their own. The exception is Marion Hutton, nearly-as-manic sister of Betty Hutton, who has fun and gets a troubling but entertaining pro-child abuse song number.

As I said, when the three brothers are finally united there's more fun to be had. But they're off their game. Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera suddenly seem like a long time ago. Really I wish they'd kept making movies after this, but figured out a new way to use their strengths together.

Among those strengths: Groucho has a real mustache now, which is nice.


susan said...

I'm pretty sure this is one we've never seen and very likely won't either after reading your less than stellar review. Of course, the whole thing then as now was to keep on making versions of the same movie while hoping to continue making money before the audience refused to buy a ticket. There were a couple of interesting bits on wikipedia about Love Happy and among them was the fact it was Marilyn Monroe's first film role (a tiny one) and that, according to Groucho, the brothers agreed to make it in order to pay off Chico's gambling debts. Of course, that one might have been something Groucho made up.

We have all their early movies in two collections from The Cocoanuts (1929) to The Big Store(1941), but Love Happy and A Night in Casablanca were left out. The earliest ones are still the funniest but all of them have their moments and they're always fun to watch again.

The musical routine you posted of Marion Hutton singing to those dolls while whacking them really was disturbing.

Ben said...

Yeah, Marilyn does make her debut here. She makes a strong impression in two lines and a few wiggles, but then she disappears. I don't think her character even has a name. She apparently hit it off with Groucho, though.

It's a colorful story about paying off Chico's gambling debts. It could be an embellishment but could also be true. They were a close-knit family in their way. The idea makes me a little more sympathetic.

I agree that their early ones were best. While Zeppo hardly ever got a chance to be funny, leading to his departure from the act, he's an organic part of the Marx Brothers. Of course Night at the Opera just after he left is hilarious as well.

The Marion Hutton number is quite disturbing. At least it's not dull. But that's another thing. The show that the acting company is supposed to be putting on. I can tell it's a musical, but beyond that I have no idea what it's supposed to be about.