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.