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


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#41 drmichaelbowman

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 09:47 PM

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

 

I’m sure Dale’s comments include other performers but its as if he used the Marx Brothers to develop his profile of verbal slapstick.  “One-liners, puns, vivid slang, outrageous metaphors, double entrendres, nonsequiturs,

malapropisms, mispronunciations, getting names wrong, and foreign accents” pretty much summarize the Marx Brothers.

 

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

 

The props they use in this gag are very simple but contributed greatly to the humor.  For example, the paper contract allows the brothers to rip away repeatedly sections they don’t like. The pen that doesn’t have any ink summarizes the futility of the whole discussion about the contract. 

 

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?

 

The exaggeration comes from the absurdity of the Marx Bros. characters (for example, big black painted mustache and eyebrows on Groucho).  

 

Physical – While not as physical as Keaton’s dangerous stunts, the Marx Bros. have a similar absurd grace with Groucho’s stooping walk and Harpo’s facial expressions.  Likewise, Groucho’s cutting stares at Chico speak volumes.

 

The repetition is both verbal and physical.  The verbal comes from Groucho and Chico arguing about the “parties” in the contract.  The physical comes from the repeated “ripping” of the contract.

 

Make Believe -  Again, the humor of the Marx’s movies work because the brother’s navigate through a “normal” world with absurd behavior.  Some of the Marx’s earlier films like Duck Soup seem to be more make believe than Night at the Opera.

 

Painful/Violent -  Not the type of physical pain that Lloyd, Keaton, and Chaplin experienced but Groucho’s verbal dexterity can be as cutting and disabling as any physical gag.


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#42 Patti Zee

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 09:19 PM

The exquisite timing involved with this lighting fast exchange represents the same planning, practice and discipline so evident among the masters of the silent era. The Marx Brothers, to me anyway, represent the very best of verbal slapstick. We all watch to see who will win in this seesaw battle that seems to pit an ignorant Chico against a wiseguy Groucho, but they are really very evenly matched with Chico delivering the final twist to this gag.
The extremely long contract that seems only to identify parties to it is a lovey piece of exaggeration that also pokes fun at the legal establishment that we all are occasionally afflicted with and tearing parts of it away is a good physical bit as their eyes shift back and forth.The whole sequence strikes us as a make believe situation because contracts aren't really negotiated in that way (no matter how much we wish they were).
I know he wasn't in this clip but just a quick thought about the silent Harpo. He seems to be imbued with all of the over the top characteristics of silent slapstick.The exaggerated actions, the physical comedy moves with repetition (chasing girls, the leg set into someone's hand, etc), and most violent action, and except for the horn and harp, the silent pantomime. The silent era wasn't abandoned by the Marx Brothers, they Incorporated it quite successfully in their movies.
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#43 MarxBrosfan4

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 08:39 PM

I have to agree with everyone on what they said. Maybe I should leave it at that. I won't. With the slapstick there's the routine and exaggerated with Groucho and Chico back and forth with the contract and tearing it. Their one liners are fast and you have to listen to catch what they're saying.


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#44 johnseury

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 07:56 PM

1. Dale's definition fits this gag to a T, a textbook example of verbal slapstick.
2. There was always an encounter between Groucho & Chico in every Marx Brothers movie. Their experiences on Broadway and vaudeville had them reined their routines down to a science. Groucho the wise guy would try to pull one over Chico but it woken never work out quite that way. W.C. Fields said that he hated to follow the Marx Bros. in vaudeville because they would always bring ten house down. This scene shows them at the top of their game.
3. Every element of visual slapstick is present in this example of verbal slapstick: An exaggerated contract negotiation, physical interplay by tearing up the contract, ritualistic back and forth, a farcical & make believe situation and Chico doing violence to the English language.
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#45 ScottZepher

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 07:36 PM

DISCLAIMER:

Since I believe the Marx Brothers to be perfect, this may tend to skew any contributions I may make to discussions about their comedy, either now or in the future. 

Thank you.

 

1. According to Dale, "verbal slapstick:".  . . generally refers to dialogue performed at a breakneck clip."

This is about the only part of Dale's definitions that doesn't apply to the Marx Brothers comedy, at least to themselves specifically. The conversation between Groucho and Chico could have gone on for hours, and still would have been hilarious.  However, they had a very special way of leading others (Groucho's conversations with Sig Ruman during A Night in Casablanca comes immediately to mind), leading them, as it were to the hillside, and letting them fall over, snowballing as they go. 

 

The rest of the definition is practically an inventory of Marx specialties: characteristic gags (shake Harpo),  . . . the sarcastic aside ("I see figures... straaange figures... weeeird figures: Steel 186, Anaconda 74, American Can 138"), the comeback that turns the first speaker's words around (how Margaret Dumont put up with Groucho in seven movies), one-liners (every time they opened their mouths--even Harpo), vivid slang, outrageous metaphors ("This would be a better world for children, if the parents had to eat the spinach"), double entrendres, nonsequiturs, malapropisms (can you just hear Groucho saying "I beg your pardon?"), mispronunciations, getting names wrong (say it with me everybody: Hung-er-dung-er), and foreign accents.

 

2. The entire clip is a classic put-on, going back to their stage origins.  Groucho the "expert" seeks to enlighten Chico, who knows infinitely more than he lets on.  the interim one-liners differ with the movie, of course, but keep us laughing.

 

3. As others have pointed out, the ritualistic exchange of reading the contract is the most outstanding feature relating to the conditions. 

 


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#46 Heather Mary

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 07:28 PM

OTIS B. DRIFTWOOD. News to me. Love Groucho Marx! Well, to answer the first part of the second question prior to The first party of the third question… OK I cannot do it. Because it is brilliant verbal slapstick. Indeed that scene between Groucho and Chico is a perfect example of Alan what's his name's definition. I really should learn his name before the quiz. The gag is a wonderful verbal banter with quick timing and great delivery. Of course Chico has his accent, but every time Groucho would go into reading he would acquire an accent for the "first party of the second part etc."
This verbal gag uses no violence or great physical effort. Aside from ripping the paper. Pretty much repetitiveness was the gag. Ritualistic brilliant repetitiveness. Therefore I guess we could use the word exaggerated. Anyway loved it. Love the Marx brothers. Looking forward to watching the movie tonight.
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#47 MrZerep

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 07:23 PM

​Dale's definition is perfect in describing the verbal slapstick gag that is so Marx Brothers.  I found the timing to be in place and cringe at the bad puns and grew impatient with the shredding of the contract.  With the "talkies" not only sound effects but writers (or the comedians themselves) could write thing that would have the audience reacting hilariously and wanting more of such banter.

 

 

I myself got confused trying to figure out each party that was mentioned; loved the party that caused 3 day blindness!  The more the verbal slapstick goes on Chico's accent is noticeable.  The payoff is the "sanity clause" and its reference to Santa.

 

 

Exaggeration abounds in just attempting to read a legal document.  No real physical comedy unless you include the shredding of the contract.  Repetetive...the tearing of the paper and the puns, insults, verbal jokes.  Make-believe...definitely only in a movie would a legal document be a cause to tear it up.  Painful...I think the Marx Brothers tried to verbally out-pain each other.



#48 savaney

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 07:16 PM

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

 

It makes perfect sense, given the amount of fast-paced verbal slapstick, in which dialogue is delivered back and forth rapidly between Groucho and Chico. It wasn't just physical comedy with the Marx Brothers, they also had the ability to excel in verbal comedy, where they delivered their lines a mile a minute. You wondered how they were able to catch their breath, especially Groucho. I think it is safe to say that Dale's interpretation really justified their legendary comic gifts. They played off of each other extremely well. It continues to show today.

 

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

 

Obviously, you can identify the verbal wit, brilliant one-liners, and Chico's accent. In a way, I don't think silent films would have been able to capture the spirit of the Marx Brothers. Don't get me wrong, I love silent films, but the Marx Brothers fit perfectly in the sound era.

 

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 think that repetition and ritualism still exists because in certain comedies now, some gags can be used more than once, to the point that they become stale and overused. I really do miss the subtlety and attention to all five conditions that were used in the silent and sound films. That was the era that really cared about the timing, how certain gags worked, and if comedians were able to handle the more violent and physical areas of comedy.


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#49 luismminski

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 07:14 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.


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#50 Melanie1001

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:36 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.  


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#51 startspreading

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:28 PM

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

 

It’s a perfect fit: while reading the definition I could think of an example from a Marx brothers movie for each instance of verbal slapstick.

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

 

In the clip we can find malapropisms (in the famous closing line) and Chico’s foreign accent. The repetition of “the party of the first part” is important to make humor.

But now it’s time to digress: I think so much of verbal slapstick fun can be lost in translation! The first time I saw this movie, I thought Chico spoke like this in real life (not a gag) and it took me time to get the word game involving “sanity clause” and “Santa Claus”. It was lost in translation, and only repeated viewings made me aware of some jokes.

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?

 

Exaggeration in special. A bit of make believe and only in some cases we have ritualistic or repetitive.


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#52 JazzGuyy

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:22 PM

I look at a lot of these verbal exchanges between Groucho and Chico (and sometimes Groucho and some other character in the movie) to be the verbal equivalents of pie fights. Instead of throwing pies in each other's faces, we get insults, innuendos, puns, etc. thrown back and forth with each exchange of words being a little more intense or topping the previous one. Like a pie fight, it's a battle where no one gets hurt but the sheer pace, timing and cleverness of it all sets off laughter from the viewer.



#53 JazzGuyy

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:17 PM

The Marx brothers were so smooth in their delivery of verbal slapstick,notice the timing of a physical action only before or after the spoken word. In contrast the Ritz brothers never did seem to have the same smooth timing between word and physical action of a gag.Abott and Costello signaled the start and end of a verbal gag with over exagration of the face.

 

The Marx Brothers would go into a theater with a live audience and run through all the gag sequences from the movie they were ready to film. They would carefully gauge audience reactions and would rework a scene until they had perfected the timing and maximized the laughs. While a lot of their material may sound ad-libbed, it was generally very carefully rehearsed and tested.


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#54 redpaws

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:11 PM

Alan Dales definition of verbal slapstick perfectly fits the Marx brothers.Chicos repeating back to Grocho his own words but in a different order or with a slight accent move the verbal gags forward. The Marx brothers were so smooth in their delivery of verbal slapstick,notice the timing of a physical action only before or after the spoken word. In contrast the Ritz brothers never did seem to have the same smooth timing between word and physical action of a gag.Abott and Costello signaled the start and end of a verbal gag with over exagration of the face.


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#55 ameliajc

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 06:02 PM

In terms of the definitions of slapstick, admittedly it wasn't athletically physical or even particularly violent (no animals were harmed). But as a former legal secretary, I admit that I cringed when they blithely start tearing off parts of the contract. Ouch! You don't do that to a legal document! Without the physical use of the prop, this would have been nothing, and the violence done to the paper -- and to the words is definitely there.


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#56 RhondaWI

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 05:06 PM

1.  I would say that they could be the poster child or working definition of Dale's verbal slapstick. However, as I've looked at other replies on this topic I have to agree that Grant and Russell in "His Girl Friday" is also wonderful - my students in my film class are amazed at how fast they can talk and not goof up.  I also think if you want a TV show comparison - Gilmore Girls-fast dialogue with so many nuances and cultural references.

 

2. One that stands out in my mind is the idea that Chico should sign the contract and Groucho is shaking the pen and he says that it's okay that he can't write because the pen has no ink.  Also the Sanity Clause is nice as well.

 

3.  exaggerated.


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#57 ln040150

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 05:01 PM

With regard to Alan Dale's definition of verbal slapstick; would you consider the banter between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday verbal slapstick? It is brilliant and in my view, one of the best rapid fire exchanges of dialog in classic film.

We're talking about Ben Hecht's original "The Front Page," here, which was adapted into "His Girl Friday" with most of that snappy dialogue intact by Charles Lederer and, guess who, Morrie Ryskind, the same Morrie who contributed to the writing of "Night at the Opera." And Pat O'Brien, who had been the original movie Hildy Johnson in "The Front Page" of 1931 became the bones of another vehicle, "Boy Meets Girl," with the same type of rat-a-tat dialogue playing against Jimmy Cagney as two Hollywood screenwriters.
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#58 oregon1965

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 04:39 PM

the Marx brothers are the Masters of verbal slapstick you see it in their comedy they bounce things off each other like a verbal tennis match one will throw out a line  and the others feed off of that and throw it back but with a little twist you can see it in the clip its what made them masters.


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#59 Chris_Coombs

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 04:28 PM

The Marx Brothers scene does fit the definition of verbal slapstick:

-the comeback that turns the first speaker's words around, insipid verbosity that turns the speaker's own words against himself

(all  this talk of first party second party etc).

-one-liners (that's why I didn't say anything)

-puns (you should have been at the first party)

-outrageous metaphors (long arms = baboon)

-malapropisms (sanity clause / Santa Claus)

-foreign accents (Chico's exaggerated Italian accent).

 

there are some subtle characteristic gags, such as the double take, which Groucho uses. The double take is a common visual gag which adds an extra zing to the line it follows.

 

The exaggeration comes from the idea that 'legalese' is always verbose, overly complicated, and often incomprehensible.

I wouldn't say it is  physical at all - not enough to be 'slapstick'

It is ritualistic in the common idea that contract reading is confusing for everyone.

Because it is not physical or violent, there is no need for 'make believe' to assure the audience no one was really hurt.


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#60 riffraf

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 04:19 PM

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

 

The Marx Brothers go beyond fulfilling Alan Dale’s definition of verbal slapstick and who better than Harpo, Chico and Groucho use sound to maximize their already hilarious sight gags with synchronized sound! 

 

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

 

The perfect use of verbal use or better yet, abuse would be Groucho’s reading of the “contract” to Chico.  The facial expressions of  a  knowledgeable con-man, Groucho rolls his eyes & does double takes while trying to explain contract language to an unaffected Chico.  This type of  gag would never work in a silent picture with title cards but was just made for sight and sound.  How could you ever explain that Chico doesn’t believe in Sanity Clause on a title card?

 

   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?

 

All five conditions remain operative in verbal slapstick as keenly used and demonstrated by the Marx Brothers.  In A Night At The Opera, Harpo hits the male lead on the head with a large mallet which would have killed a normal person, so that scene alone covers the “exaggerated, physical, make believe, painful/violent” points while Groucho’s reading & tearing up the contract covers repetitive/ritualistic points.  The Marx Brothers were at the exact right place at the exact right time for the sound transition in film history and the progression of slapstick in the movies.  And we all benefit!       


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