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Daily Dose of Doozy #6: There Ain't No Sanity Clause: the Marx Brothers


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#21 Pamelajf

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 07:45 PM

The Marx Brothers are my favorite comedians. I have seen all their films many times over. I do like verbal slapstick more than physical, because it make you think. You need to know a thing or two about grammer, puns, innuendo. The Marx Brothers were the best at it. I wish TCM showed "Animal Crackers", for this course, it has the best examples of verbal slapstick.


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#22 Hoosierwood

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 05:42 PM

I would like to bring up Stan Laurel as a master of Verbal Slapstick. His misuse of the English language is legendary. Oliver: To catch a Hardy they've got to get up very early in the morning.

Stan: What time?

Oliver: Oh about half past - "What time." Hmph.

 

Oliver: Where is she?

Stan: Maybe she went to the mountains.

Oliver: I'll bet she did. You know she makes me sick.

Stan: Well if she didn't go to the mountains, then Mohammad would have to come here.

 

Oliver: Now isn't this nice?

Stan: It sure is. We're just like two peas in a pot.


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#23 Emma D.

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 11:39 AM

The Marx Brothers!  The team that propelled me into the film and slapstick world!  

  1. Just as it was mentioned, you can invariably recall various scenes from the extensive career of the Marx Brothers that fit into each term that was mentioned in Dale's definition of "verbal slapstick."  The Brothers successfully mastered the use of the definition in their movies (the good ones and even the not-so-good ones).  
  2. The two usually tie in misinterpreted words/phrases along with sarcasm in their gags.  The looks Groucho gives Chico during this scene are priceless!  This simple yet extremely dedicated scene is just breaking through to the consistent inconsistency that the Marx Brothers thrive on engaging in.
  3. More than anything, I feel that exaggeration and/or repetition play a big part in movies based on verbal slapstick.  Since the other conditions associated with visual slapstick comedy can be utilized in other instances throughout a slapstick film, these two conditions have the potential to make a normal verbal exchange a hilarious and well-received scene.

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#24 Popcorn97

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 09:54 AM

1. How well does Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick fit the Marx Brothers?

He hits the nail on the marks brothers head! Comedy/ slapstick from all forms.

 

2. Can you identify specific "characteristic gags" that Groucho and Chico use in their on-screen performance of this extended verbal slapstick gag?

 

They keep on ripping the contract because its way too long. Each time they rip it they add a funny line to it...like i got home late last night and was blind for 3 days. Then at the end of the gag Groucho points out why is Chico's contact smaller then his? But in the end both of them had a contact.

 

 

3. Which of the five conditions we associated with visual slapstick comedy (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make believe, painful/violent) remain operative in the use of verbal slapstick in the movies?

 

​Repetitive/ritualistic and make believe.   This gag was almost like "Who's on first?"


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#25 Marianne

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 09:34 AM

Repetitive, ritualistic and surreal, best exemplified for me by the "sign here" exchange, "I forgot to tell you I can't write." "That's alright, there's no ink in the pen anyhow." Not so much a physical bit as depicted here, apart from the tearing of the paper, although it was preceded by some physical mayhem, I'd say it clicks solidly on four out of the five slapstick basics.

Although I've seen this many times, it always makes me laugh. Watch the reactions of the underrated Chico if you're so inclined.

 

Chico Marx isn't underrated in my opinion!!! I have watched his reactions in this clip, and at one point, it seems like he is trying not to laugh. And Groucho's asides almost seem to be daring Chico to laugh. So funny! I had the feeling that Chico and Groucho had a lot of fun doing this bit, probably every time they did it. This just makes me want to laugh all the more.

 

Aside here: I always laughed harder when Jimmy Fallon or Bill Hader couldn't keep a straight face on SNL.


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#26 Dave Lightfoot

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 12:12 AM

1. How well does Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick fit the Marx Brothers?

I believe the definition fits very well. Especially in the clip as both Groucho and Chico takes turns playing each other's straight man for every joke. Their banter has a quick back and forth motion that is rarely seen in comedies these days.

2. Can you identify specific "characteristic gags" that Groucho and Chico use in their on-screen performance of this extended verbal slapstick gag?

When Chico points out that he didn't like the 1st or 2nd party of the second part, and Groucho says "Well, you should've come to the first party. We didn't get home 'til around four in the morning... I was blind for three days!"
Another would be where Groucho points out the Sanity clause and Chico responds with "You can't fool me! There ain't no Sanity Clause!"

3. Which of the five conditions we associated with visual slapstick comedy (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make believe, painful/violent) remain operative in the use of verbal slapstick in the movies?

I would say all of the conditions can fit in verbal slapstick as well as visual. In our clip, we saw the contract being ripped multiple times and the "parties" mentioned would be a example of both physical and repetitive conditions. The back and forth banter could be both exaggerated and make believe. Maybe not in this clip, but in the movie there are multiple times where Groucho makes jokes that could be painful.
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#27 CHamby

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 10:16 PM

1. Dale's definition of "verbal slapstick" fits well with this classic scene between Groucho and Chico from The Marx Brothers' "A Night At The Opera" (1935)- hands down (with perfect pacing, timing and snappy dialogue). 

 

2. Characteristic "Gags' that were included in this scene from "A Night At The Opera:" A well-rounded mix of puns, one-line references, and chaotic metaphors.

 

3. For "verbal slapstick," four of the five conditions for slapstick comedy would be used to achieve this (in order to grab the audience's attention), including exaggeration, repetition, make-believe and pain.  


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#28 Whipsnade

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 08:38 PM

      Dale's definition of verbal slapstick is a good fit for the Marx Brothers.  In this clip, we see all the elements but breakneck speed of delivery and orotundity.  In working with Chico on a routine like this, Groucho would slow his delivery and change his tempo.  This was necessary to give Chico time to play his part.  Against less fraternally-connected adversaries, Groucho would steamroll them with rapidly fired verbiage.  That the fit would be so tight with the Marx Brothers is hardly surprising, since they were a stage act of long standing that had always included this kind of verbal jousting and absurdity.

 

      Specific characteristic gags:

 

                      Sarcastic asides & badinage at the start of reading the contract.  Turning words                                                 around & insipid verbosity regarding "the party of the first part."  Double entendre

                      about attending "the party of the first part."   Groucho's verbal intonation and

                      exaggerated facial gestures.  Chico's pseudo-Italian accent and frequent malaprops.

 

        Of the five conditions that we associate with visual slapstick, three are present in this clip -- exaggeration, ritual and make-believe.  The whole contract negotiation is make-believe.  Not only is it not a negotiation, it's not even a reading.  The removal of unwanted clauses by tearing them off defeats the whole purpose of having a contract.  The repetition of this tearing gag gives us an element of ritual.  And in the end, it's not even a contract -- it's a sanity clause.  The wordplay also builds on exaggeration. And Chico's accent is both exaggeration & ritual.  


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#29 drzhen

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:43 PM

Repetitive, ritualistic and surreal, best exemplified for me by the "sign here" exchange, "I forgot to tell you I can't write." "That's alright, there's no ink in the pen anyhow." Not so much a physical bit as depicted here, apart from the tearing of the paper, although it was preceded by some physical mayhem, I'd say it clicks solidly on four out of the five slapstick basics.

Although I've seen this many times, it always makes me laugh. Watch the reactions of the underrated Chico if you're so inclined.


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#30 Higgs5

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:10 PM

The verbal slapstick featured in this film fits Dale’s definition in all its forms.  The comedy bits were so bold and unceasing that a lot of the exchanges must have been unscripted. There were notable pauses in the exchanges…even so the wise cracks and innuendo were so fleeting that I could hardly retain them. The least appealing scenes for me were some of the not so funny song and dance sequences where the Marx Brothers weren’t in front of the camera…when things “slowed down” and deviated from the continuous/bizarre jabs and gags.

The film was a composite of wit and “riotous” physical comedy with a fair share of “violence”.  That the brother’s characters were operating completely out of their element (the opera crowd) alone is funny. The gags that were the most memorable for me and that best employed  the elements of visual slapstick comedy were:  the "contract" bit (“there aint no sanity clause”) between Chico and Groucho ; the crowded state room scene; Jones,  Harpo, and Chico heaping food on their plates at the buffet on the upper deck, Harpo and Chico charming the children with musical antics at the piano (with a more serious moment at the harp);  the hotel scene with Harpo serving himself breakfast and all the switching of furniture between suites to avoid capture by the Detective; Harpo crawling out of a porthole, hanging on to a rope, and falling into the ocean; Jones, Chico and Harpo in bearded disguises posing as celebrity aviators with Harpo repetitively drinking glasses of water to avoid “speaking”; and finally the gags during the opera performance where Chico and Harpo “play in the orchestra”, engage the director in a “baton fight”, and eventually destroy the sets during a series of acrobatics. 

The visual slapstick in this film was hardly “subdued” or supplanted by the verbal wit.  In fact Harpo’s character conforms to silent slapstick by not speaking.  The physical routines were daring, boisterous, and exaggerated.


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#31 moviequeen2

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 04:12 PM

It was repetitive and ritualistic in the way they had to keep repeating the same lines of the clause. I think that the Marx brothers and all the others who made verbal slapstick made the transition from silent films to talkies look extremely easy even though we all know the transition was the exact opposite.

#32 laurel stumpf

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:06 PM

I thought the definition was good.I loved the misenterpretation of the words.It was repetative make-believe with ritulistic thrown in. :)

#33 Ninnybit

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:48 AM

How many takes did it take before they got the paper to tear just right timed to the dialog, I wonder. I've always considered this one of the great comic bits any time, anywhere. I never pass up a chance to tell somebody there ain't no sanity clause. Was this in their vaudeville act, or did they write this for the movie?
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#34 Dubbed

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 01:08 AM

Now this is comedy!

Dale's definition is a perfect summation of the Marx Brothers style. They are undoubtedly Masters of the verbose, with mind boggling malapropisms. The dialogue from "A Night at the Opera" clip is an exemplification of artistic intelligence at its finest. The audience is presented with a snappy, mangled, swirling super storm of words.

In the world of film, it's widely known a writer must show, not tell, as dialogue is often times to remain concise, nearly even scarce. However, when filling a script's page, dialogue must flow in such a suggested manner that the writer effectively reverses this show don't tell "rule." Send in the Marx Brothers.

Their skilled technique is the definitive of witty verbal exchange. It's the type of dialogue that seems to be fillable of an open space, as though people are conversing to the amusement of their own voices. In a phrase, mindless chatter. And this conversation is on the brink of absurdity, which is the exact reason this style works to brilliance.

The characteristic gags engulf the dialogue in every possible facet. One Marx brother delivers a nonsensical phrase, only to be outdone by the opposing Brother. Each line poses a heightened level of each character's attempt to top the other.

The repetitive aspect is the very core of the dialogue, as it cements the Marx Brothers' tone and style. The physicality within this clip is transparent verbal sparring. Although scripted, the actors possess such natural inclination the riffing off of one another (in a back and forth type fashion) comes with such synched ease. It's likened to a verbal, high intensity fencing match. On guard! Let the deft pacing with dialogue and delivery.....begin!

The Marx Brothers still inspire comedic actors and writers several decades later. The following dialogue excerpts are from two of my favorite comedy shows, Friends and Will & Grace.

Friends
Episode: "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" (1999)
Written by Alexa Junge

PHOEBE: [TALKING ABOUT MONICA AND CHANDLER TO RACHEL AND JOEY] "They don't know that we know they know we know."

Will & Grace
Episode: "Leo Unwrapped" (2003)
Written by Sonja Warfield

GRACE: But you can't tell Will I found out. I mean, I know. But he doesn't know I know. And now that you know I know, you can't let Will know that you know I know, you know?
JACK: No... [TO KAREN] Do you know?
KAREN: I think I know. But I'm sure I don't care.

*These types of exchanges in between characters have always been my absolute favorite kind of comedic banter, such skillful writing with a Marx-like tone.
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#35 goingtopluto

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:20 AM

I agree with many of the toughts posted here. I would only add that watching The break neck pace at which at which Grouco and Chico delivered their lines made me think they needed as much mental agility as other comedians in slapstick needed physical
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#36 Marianne

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 10:50 PM

The Marx Brothers, with their gags, managed to return to the best of the splastick of the golden age, with its five characteristic elements, adding new elements provided by the sound and the evolution of the cinema. Groucho and Chico are master on the verbal splastick, and, this famous scene of a Night at the Opera, it show.  All dialogue between both is a clear example of that says Alan Dale. On the other hand, although not seen in this clip, remember that reading of the contract made it supported in the body of Lasparri (lying on the floor after a coup of Harpo). Movements, gestures, the break of the contract are also powerful visual elements too.

 

That's right: If the clip had been started earlier, we would see that Groucho and Chico each have a foot on Lasparri's body because he's been knocked out. So the comedy bit had violence in it, too. So I have to revise my answer to Discussion Question #3 to include violence, I guess!


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#37 Marianne

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 10:47 PM

1. How well does Alan Dale’s definition of verbal slapstick fit the Marx Brothers?

The Marx Brothers did verbal slapstick all along, and then someone comes along and gives it a name! I also feel a bit uncomfortable limiting the Marx Brothers to verbal slapstick. After watching A Night at the Opera, it seems to be that they were multitalented and could be funny doing just about anything they wanted.
2. Can you identify specific “characteristic gags” that Groucho and Chico use in their on-screen performance of this extended verbal slapstick gag?

The snappy one-liners, the misinterpretation of common words and phrases, but the one that I really think is at play is the more sophisticated con man (Driftwood) getting outwitted by another con man (Fiorello) who is assumed at first to be easily duped, to be an easy mark.
3. Which of the five conditions we associated with visual slapstick comedy (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make-believe, painful/violent) remain operative in the use of verbal slapstick in the movies?

There isn’t much physical humor and I don’t see any pain or violence in this “Party of the First Part” clip, but the exaggerated, repetitive/ritualistic, and make-believe elements are all there and make up for the lack of the other two elements. I kept thinking that Chico and Groucho could be talking about one of their own skits and not a contract: One of them offers jokes and the other (or maybe critics, or maybe other comedians) picks the jokes apart until there’s nothing funny left but the way the two of them interact. Then they apply the way they interact to something as verbose and ridiculous as a legal contract and voilà: They are right back where they started, that is, being funny again.


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#38 nattygann37

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 10:42 PM

Now here we go into some of the best verbal slapstick around, and I do believe the Marx brothers represent Alan Dale's definition quite well.  They were so ahead of their time - I honestly believe that a large majority of modern slapstick stylings can be traced back to these guys.  The repetition of the tearing of the contract and the back and forth of Groucho and Chico are, as someone else said here, a good bit like a verbal pie fight.  

I agree, David Letterman is a direct descendent of Groucho Marx, down to the cigar.



#39 Schlinged

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 10:17 PM

Questions: 
1. How well does Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick fit the Marx Brothers? To a T - it seems like he was describing them even before we watched the clip. But at the same time the Marx Bros incorporated Harpo - who didn't speak. Though he used his horn in place of verbal communication
 
2. Can you identify specific "characteristic gags" that Groucho and Chico use in their on-screen performance of this extended verbal slapstick gag? sarcasm, double entendre from a mispronunciation, the foreign accent (never heard Chico without one). The speed at which they do it and turning a phrase. Back and forth.
 
3. Which of the five conditions we associated with visual slapstick comedy (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, make believe, painful/violent) remain operative in the use of verbal slapstick in the movies? Its repetitive, particularly in response to the clause; exaggerated about nine clauses and tearing off the contract; make believe relating to signing the bottom of the contract that's been torn up; the physical aspect of tearing up the contract at the same time and in turn with the give and take between the two ("You won;t like this one"); no violence, unless you count tearing up the contract.

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#40 KGhidora

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 09:53 PM

The routine in this clip does meet Dale's definition of verbal slapstick.  Groucho and Chico go at a "breakneck clip" in their back-and-forth about the "party of the first part shall be known as the party of the first part...."  The words get twisted around at the end of the clip when Chico gets the name wrong.  "Everybody knows there ain't no Sanity Clause!"

 

Just about all of the visual slapstick condition exist in the verbal slapstick of the clip.  The situation is exaggerated with literal removing of the clauses from the contracts.  Groucho has a small physical bit in the clip when he rolls his eyes, making an exaggerated expression at Chico when he says "There ain't no Sanity Clause.".  The dialogue is repetitive throughout the bit including "The party of the first part shall be known as the party of the first part that shall be known..."  The silliness of the situation of the two tearing up the contracts as they go through them show the situation is make believe.  The only condition I don't see in this clip is the painful / violent condition.


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