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OUCH! A Salute to Slapstick - Films of the 1930s


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#1 Marianne

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Posted 12 October 2016 - 08:40 AM

. . .

 

Wheeler & Woolsey's film was complete insanity . . . .

 

I've seen two Wheeler & Woolsey films now (Peach O'Reno and Girl Crazy) and "complete insanity" is pretty close to describing both of them! Each one is a complete variety show, with tap dancing and comedy bits and some romance and thin story lines. Girl Crazy takes place in the old West, with gunslingers and cowboys. The pace of both films is so fast that I'm sure I missed something. I don't think I would have appreciated all the elements if I hadn't taken Dr. Edwards's slapstick course.


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#2 Marianne

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Posted 11 October 2016 - 11:42 AM

. . .

 

Gold diggers in paris-the highlight was DEFINITELY the band :)

 

I enjoyed the band in Gold Diggers in Paris, too. In fact, the band members seemed like the true slapstick stars.


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#3 Whipsnade

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Posted 11 October 2016 - 04:41 AM

   The Charlie Chase shorts were filmed in the early years of the sound era and show the signs of some the difficulties of integrating sound into film.  The action is subdued and controlled to allow the primitive recording techniques to pick up the sound.  Charlie is his exasperated self, and Thelma Todd is stunning, as always.  Actually, I think Chase was funnier in his bit part in Laurel & Hardy’s “Sons of the Desert” (1933), and he is the only comedian in this course to demonstrate the proper use of an actual slapstick.  We can safely say that money on the floor gag fits the definition of slapstick, both literally and figuratively!  This movie is L&H at there best.  It is a simple story (unlike some of their other movies) that allows the comedy to flow effortlessly and shows the chemistry and affection between the two.  Stan intentionally eating the wax apple is great physical comedy that was done in silence, but the gag is made more humorous when Ollie’s wife (Mae Busch) says “So that’s where they have been going.”  Later, after the wives discover the boys lied to go to the convention, they make a bet between them about which one of the boys will confess the truth. Ollie sticks to the lie, but Stan cracks and confesses.  In the end, Ollie is in hot water and Stan is in clover. Just as “Sons of the Desert” is the best among their feature films, “The Music Box” (1932) is the best of their shorts.  It was so good, that Hal Roach allowed it to run three reels, rather than the standard two. Almost two thirds of the film is spent trying to get the player piano up the long stairs, but the potential monotony of the drawn out scene is avoided by breaks provided by people coming down the step.  The short has no “Hal Roach music” soundtrack, until the player piano is set up, then the music starts while the boys clean up.  In the process, they break into a humorous and charming dance -- at least until Professor von Schwartzenhoffer (Billy Gilbert) arrives home and destroys the piano.  Gilbert was famous for his drawn out sneeze, so much so that Walt Disney had him provide the voice of Sneezy in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937).  Gilbert provided comic relief in many movies: he was the bartender in “Destry Rides Again” (1939).

 

     Harold Lloyd, in ‘Movie Crazy” (1932), showed how effectively he made the transition to sound in this wonderful movie that spoofs Hollywood and the filmmaking process.  While he still shows his physical comedy prowess, he effectively uses his voice to make his naive character convincing.  It is interesting to contrast his voice with that of Buster Keaton.  Keaton’s voice is flat and slow in its delivery, in stark contrast to his silent screen persona, while Lloyd’s voice is light and evocative and seems a perfect fit for his silent screen persona.  Another great movie from this early sound era is “Elmer the Great” (1933), starring Joe E. Brown.  Brown made lots of pictures in this period and was very popular.  He was always the loud-mouth country bumpkin who somehow made good in the end.  His movies often had athletic themes that created numerous opportunities for visual slapstick.  With its baseball theme, this movie is no exception.  He did one more baseball comedy, “Alibi Ike” (1935).

 

     So much has been said about “A Night at the Opera” (1935) already; all I’ll add here is a word about Alan Jones (who played Ricardo).  He plays the role that had been played by Zeppo Marx in the Paramount movies and is involved in the romance with Rosa (Kitty Carlisle).   He was a great singer, who could fit in with the operatic theme. He could also handle popular music, as he showed in James Whale’s production of “Showboat” (1936).  He re-teamed with The Marx Brothers in their next film, “A Day at the Races” (1937).  His son, Jack Jones became a popular singer in the postwar period.  I have seen many Wheeler & Woolsey comedies, but not “Hips, Hips Hooray” (1934).  It was wild and wacky in the style of The Marx Brothers, but with more variety show elements added in.  Robert Woolsey does remind me of George Burns, but it is not George Burns in this era.  Woolsey, in the thirties, looked like George Burns would in the sixties and seventies -- especially with the round glasses.  Finally, slapstick music was represented in “Sweet Music” (1935) and “Gold Diggers in Paris” (1938), both starring crooner Rudy Vallee.  “Sweet Music” featured the Frank & Milt Britton Band, while “Gold Diggers” featured the Freddie “Schnicklefritz” Fisher Band.  As mentioned, these kinds of bands were the precursor to the 1940’s “Spike Jones and his City Slickers”  The musical antics of the slapstick bands provide the comic highlights in both of these movies.     


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#4 Marianne

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Posted 06 October 2016 - 02:01 PM

Peach O’Reno, starring Wheeler and Woolsey (1931)

 

Peach O’Reno wasn’t included in the TCM Ouch! festival, but I wanted to see a Wheeler and Woolsey film after learning about the two comedians in the course. I didn’t have a chance to see Hips, Hips, Hooray, which was part of the Ouch! festival.

 

I watched “Wes Gehring on Film Comedy, Episode 5: Saturation Comedy” again because the topics that he discussed apply to Peach O’Reno, too. Dr. Gehring talked mostly about the Marx Brothers and A Night at the Opera, and how people in the 1930s liked this Marx Brothers film because of the variety show format. Everything was thrown in to the narrative so that the film could provide something for everyone because everyone in the family went to the movies. Peach O’Reno has everything but the kitchen sink, although maybe it does have the kitchen sink and I missed it!

 

The variety show format adds to the exaggeration of the comedy in Peach O’Reno. The plot was threadbare, and every type of gag was thrown into a movie that was barely over an hour long:

  • The law firm run by Wattles and Swift turns into a casino after regular business hours.
  • Wattles, dressed in drag for a good part of the film, plays Joe Bruno’s date at the casino.
  • The dance numbers performed by Wheeler (dressed in drag) and Woolsey in the casino were funny because viewers, Woolsey, and of course Wheeler were the only ones in on the gag.
  • Wattles (Bert Wheeler) and Prudence Bruno sing and tap dance in the casino.
  • A carnival atmosphere prevailed in the courtroom for the divorce proceedings, with a food vendor selling peanuts, chewing gum, popcorn, and candy; a radio announcer from GIN (a nod to the Prohibition era?) radio covering the case; and jury members taking out instruments and playing the wedding march.

 

And there was plenty of verbal slapstick, with malapropisms and double entendres. I think I’ll have to see this one again, to make sure I didn’t miss anything!

 

An Aside: Was Robert Woolsey the inspiration for George Burns? He wears the round glasses with the black frames and chain-smokes a cigar throughout the film.


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#5 Katrina

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Posted 01 October 2016 - 10:22 PM

some of the early 30s pieces definitely showed their slapstick roots...one of the biggest thing I picked up on was the use of their real names instead of character names Dollar Dizzy  and The Pip From Pittsburg are excellent examples of this idea.

 

I think Elmer the great was the first in the ones that I watched where I noticed actual character names :)

 

Laurel & Hardy were new ones on me, I'd never seen  of their works.

 

Wheeler & Woolsey's film was complete insanity but I kinda loved it :) I definitely noted the precode elements...it had a lot of inuendo...but what I really picked up on was the opening sequence with the girls in the bathtubs...it was like okay well that happened. 

 

The articles I read about it And movie crazy was very interesting, I completely got the "autobiographical" elements which was neat...but I wondered about him being called the worst actor by the studio head...I kept wondering if that was just for laughs or if he had a bit of self deprecation. 

 

A Night at the opera had some very memorable quotes for me that I was jotting down as it was going :) "I don't remember packing you boys" was probably one of my favorites I really don't know why lol I also really loved the pseudo sword fight in the orchestra pit and the backdrops going up and down during the performance. 

 

Sweet Music-the band's antics were awesome! they had this great sequence where Skipp was doing foreign accents. At one point he pretended at being a detective and was talking about going to a nudist camp undercover and he says he'd be "a little bare outside" which was awesome...but the last sequence in the movie was a little chauvinist for me. Normally those things don't bother me but for some reason it did here. 

 

Gold diggers in paris-the highlight was DEFINITELY the band :)



#6 savaney

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Posted 29 September 2016 - 10:23 AM

The only film I have seen in the group is A Night at the Opera, and besides Duck Soup, it is my favorite of the Marx Brothers. When you see this and their other films, you realize how much of an influence they really are for comedy now. There is something technically genius about the way each gag is setup, especially the famous stateroom scene. You have to wonder how it was designed and choreographed, because it seemed to be a very tricky moment to create. That is the brilliance of classic comedy, where everything was done with patience and hard work. Comedy was better than it is now where everything can be done digitally. Digital can ruin the fun of certain comedy jokes and gags.


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#7 D'Arcy

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Posted 18 September 2016 - 04:39 PM

Wheeler and Woosley are a double act I've never had the pleasure of watching. I liked it. Woosley reminds me of George Burns. I found they have lots of movies and will add these two to the bucket list. I loved the wake up scene and the innovative use of their digs.

I wasn't able to watch the films most of you discussed wasn't in town to set DVR so I have some catching up to do on these films. I did enjoy the Pip from Pittsburgh. Thelma Todd new what was going on the entire time and just let Chase continue to try and redeem his first impression.

The music box was phenomenal!! I had never seen it before and was at the edge of my seat every time the piano was about to dash down the stairs. The horses personality was great as well. There is something about animals being used in comedy which tickles me. I enjoy when they are portrayed as smarter than the chuckle head leading role.

Harpo is my favorite Marx Brother. I love he is the silent era in talkie films. Brilliant idea.
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#8 HEYMOE

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Posted 18 September 2016 - 12:06 PM

After watching Movie Crazy, I have to say that Harold Lloyd has won me over with this performance. It is definitely the best new film I have seen in the course thus far. The story is very creative as are all the gags. I now want to see all his films.

 

The running gag (or joke) in the film, more so than the ruining-the-hat bits, is Harold Hall always finding himself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with everything going wrong, at every turn. He almost never catches a break. We laugh and sympathize at nearly every gag.


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#9 HEYMOE

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 05:57 PM

Sons of the Desert (1933)

 

This is a favorite of mine. Laurel and Hardy's facial expressions when reacting to adverse situation made them unique in my opinion. The story and gags are well thought out; I could never grow tire of them or this film. Charlie Chase makes an appearance here as a highly-energized prankster. 

 

Could be that no one wails quite like Oliver Hardy. Maybe the Stooges. We'll see them soon.


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#10 ln040150

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 12:29 PM

The Music Box (1932)

 
This comedy short kept me laughing throughout. Even the supporting players get to be funny:
• Nanny (after getting kicked in the booty by Stan Laurel): “And not only that, he kicked me.”
• Police officer: “He kicked you?”
• Nanny: “Yes, officer. Right in the middle of my daily duties.”
 
Ollie goes down the full flight of stone stairs holding on to the piano in its box. It’s obviously a dummy going down the long flight, but that just made me laugh all the harder, for some reason.

I found the comedy bits about Laurel and Hardy’s bowler hats and the way they keep getting them mixed up really funny. It reminded me of the routine on The Dick Van Dyke show by Dick Van Dyke and Henry Calvin (http://www.dailymoti...m/video/x2z60xc). Dick Van Dyke was a great admirer of Stan Laurel. It also reminded me of Harold Lloyd’s running gag in Movie Crazy, although Lloyd’s running gag involved a straw boater.
 
Lots of borrowing and updating of gags about hats. I’m beginning to think that gags about hats are as important to comedians in the twentieth century as gags about banana peels.

There's a great point. Slapstick comedians do so much with clothing. What do contemporary comedians do when clothing styles change? You can't keep relying on hat tricks when no one wears hats. Men stop wearing suits and ties as regular daily attire as they had for decades into the 1960s. For a while in the 70s a lot of jokes were built around "the leisure suit" when men were moving towards wearing jeans as everyday style. Where has that gone? And talk about tasteless, sexist jokes! What about all those gags about beatnik turtlenecks and berets, miniskirts, Twiggy and hippie beads from the 1950s and 1960s? We'll be seeing a lot of that coming up in the next two weeks.
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#11 Marianne

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 10:28 AM

The Music Box (1932)

 

This comedy short kept me laughing throughout. Even the supporting players get to be funny:

• Nanny (after getting kicked in the booty by Stan Laurel): “And not only that, he kicked me.”

• Police officer: “He kicked you?”

• Nanny: “Yes, officer. Right in the middle of my daily duties.”

 

Ollie goes down the full flight of stone stairs holding on to the piano in its box. It’s obviously a dummy going down the long flight, but that just made me laugh all the harder, for some reason.

 

I found the comedy bits about Laurel and Hardy’s bowler hats and the way they keep getting them mixed up really funny. It reminded me of the routine on The Dick Van Dyke show by Dick Van Dyke and Henry Calvin (http://www.dailymoti...m/video/x2z60xc). Dick Van Dyke was a great admirer of Stan Laurel. It also reminded me of Harold Lloyd’s running gag in Movie Crazy, although Lloyd’s running gag involved a straw boater.

 

Lots of borrowing and updating of gags about hats. I’m beginning to think that gags about hats are as important to comedians in the twentieth century as gags about banana peels.


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#12 CynthiaV

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 07:23 PM

Unfortunately I could not watch all of these great films and my bad I have no DVR. But I've seen most with the exception of the last two.
I plan on seeking them out after reading about them and seeing everyone's comments.

One comment I would like to add is that I've been critical of Charley Chase's style of humor but thoroughly enjoyed watching the entire two reeler, "A Pip From Pittsburgh." I unabashedly admit that I was happily surprised that I laughed out loud after seeing the clip we watched in Daily Doozies in the context of the completed feature. But what really knocked me out was the scene where he and Thelma Todd are dancing and each time the lights go out he is seen taking back his suit from his friend until they have both traded off their entire wardrobes.

This is not I think an original Charley Chase gag but it is done so perfectly and is so comical with them sharing the jacket then the pants and all the muttering and gripping by both men that even though you know what is coming you can't help but laugh. So maybe Charley isn't my favorite slapstick comedian but I have gained a real appreciation for him and that's one reason why I enrolled. To not only gain a more in depth knowledge of Slapstick but to learn to see and appreciate this art form and its stars better. To understand the challenges that appear deceptively easy but instead are complicated, nuanced and often dangerous.
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#13 Marianne

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 06:39 PM

Movie Crazy (1932)

 

This film from Harold Lloyd (his third sound feature) opens with visual gags: Harold “hitches” a ride, holding on to a car while riding his bicycle so that he can listen to the radio; he picks up a delivered rolled magazine with his foot while he rides in the driveway of his home; and he rescues a duck in a hole by using water from a hose to lift the bird to the surface of the ground. The extended fight scene between Harold and Vance was a lot of fun. Harold (in character) kept insisting that he wasn’t acting, and it didn’t look staged. Even in this sound feature, Lloyd uses his physical comedy and relies on what he does best. The sound and the action are synchronized beautifully, but Harold Lloyd is still a master of physical comedy.

 

Spoiler (it would have been a spoiler for me!): Mary Sears meets Harold in the rain trying to put the top up on her convertible. But he actually meets her on set when she is playing the senorita who drops a rose and Vance, her costar, is supposed to pick it up. They’re the same actress, and I didn’t even notice it myself at first, not until her true identity was revealed in the film’s plot. This reveal really took me by surprise. I don’t know how many audience members were also taken by surprise, but I found that it added to the humor. Harold Hall fell for this case of mistaken identity and so did I!


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#14 Pjdamon

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 04:58 PM

I just couldn't get into Charlie Chase's films. I did watch them and for early sound it still had the elements of slapstick but I felt it wasn't to the same level of Laurel & Hardy or Lloyd. I've seen the Laurel & Hardy films many time and find them just as funny today as I did 50 years ago. The Music Box is better suited for sound because the sound bouncing down the steps was part of the gag. Night at the Opera is probably my favorite of the Marx Brothers. The delivery of both verbal and physicals are done well and don't detract from the story. My favorite scene is the one when Chico and Groucho are discussing the contract.

Unfortunately I didn't set my DVR for the rest of them.
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#15 ln040150

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 03:44 PM

They still used those undercranking techniques in the early sound era, but to nowhere near the same extent that they'd used it in the silent era. Look closely, and you'll see that some action-scenes (notably scenes of horses being ridden at full-speed in westerns or war films) and gags involving falls or people being catapulted through the air. These things would be shot silent and undercranked, and the sound effects and voices dubbed in, in post-production.

You can see examples of this in many Laurel & Hardy films, including "Helpmates" (when Ollie slips on the floor-sweeper and somersaults through the air, landing on his duff), and in "The Music Box" (for several of the piano's journeys down the steps, and when the fountain pen squirts Professor von Scwartzenhoffen in the face).

In "Sons of the Desert", the technique is used several times, including when Mae Bush falls into the tub of water. The undercranking is only for a second, but it adds a spurt of motion to her fall. Also, if you look closely at the parade scene, you can tell it was shot silent, at the slower frame-rate of silent-speed, and the sounds added later. The movements are slighly jerky and speeded-up.

BTW, I found several of Ben Model's demonstration videos of the technique, on YouTube. Just search for "undercranking: Keaton".

Wow! Thanks for this tip. I think I'd heard of this but it slipped through the cracks. This is such useful information. The idea that this was still used, and for such a long time after. The effect must have seemed so less natural to theater-goers after a while, yet, with more technological skills, has now become ever more natural again.
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#16 ln040150

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 03:41 PM

Yes.  I agree.  Breakneck dialogue is much more characteristic of Screwball Comedy.  Although there is crossover between the genres (e.g. "The Palm Beach Story" - screwball or slapstick?).

As I've said elsewhere, I think Palm Beach was not the best example of Sturges' "slapstick." This was much more in the "screwball" or perhaps verbal slapstick vein, especially when you think about "the weenie king."

#17 Larynxa

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 02:29 PM

Sons of the Desert: apple-eating scene (note how when the scene speeds up it is Laurel himself and not the hand-cranking this time as it was in the silents; thanks for this note to Larynxa)


They still used those undercranking techniques in the early sound era, but to nowhere near the same extent that they'd used it in the silent era. Look closely, and you'll see that some action-scenes (notably scenes of horses being ridden at full-speed in westerns or war films) and gags involving falls or people being catapulted through the air. These things would be shot silent and undercranked, and the sound effects and voices dubbed in, in post-production.

You can see examples of this in many Laurel & Hardy films, including "Helpmates" (when Ollie slips on the floor-sweeper and somersaults through the air, landing on his duff), and in "The Music Box" (for several of the piano's journeys down the steps, and when the fountain pen squirts Professor von Scwartzenhoffen in the face).

In "Sons of the Desert", the technique is used several times, including when Mae Bush falls into the tub of water. The undercranking is only for a second, but it adds a spurt of motion to her fall. Also, if you look closely at the parade scene, you can tell it was shot silent, at the slower frame-rate of silent-speed, and the sounds added later. The movements are slighly jerky and speeded-up.

BTW, I found several of Ben Model's demonstration videos of the technique, on YouTube. Just search for "undercranking: Keaton".
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#18 JaneNoir

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 09:49 AM

I admit that I had a hard time appreciating Charley Chase. Did anyone else feel that way? I was looking forward to his shorts, because they were new to me, but once I started DOLLAR DIZZY, I felt less engaged than I had with any of the other performers thus far. Maybe the topic was too dated for me  (gold digging females) and the gags too familiar. I did chuckle when Thelma Todd called the house detective and Charley answered the phone, though.

 

I love Laurel and Hardy, and The Music Box never fails to admuse me. I enjoyed seeing it again.


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#19 jkbrenna

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:42 PM

somehow I am woefully behind everyone else on keeping up with all the films.  I can't stay up all night to watch them and so I record them and watch when I can during the day.

 

I just finished Laurel & Hardy's "Sons of the Desert" which was extremely funny and has all the elements of slapstick, both verbal and physical.  Exaggeration - with the eating wax apples routine, and hiding in the attic with the spring bed that lightning strikes, the bit about bing on a ship that sunk, and so much more.  Physical - with them tripping over suitcases, boxes, the horn in the attic, the taxi driver who somersaults over the suitcase and the landing in the pot of hot water in Oliver's living room.  Ritualistic - repeating the landing in water outside the house when they slide down from the roof. Make believe - with scenes from the Convention, and violent when they slap with a "slapstick" the next person who bends over at the convention.

 

Simply the best! :D  Interesting, too, is that Sons of the Desert is really an international fraternal organization devoted to the appreciation of Laurel & Hardy.  Great film.


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#20 GeezerNoir

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:10 PM

I, too, wish to question Dale's definition in regard to the use of the word "breakneck," because often--and not only with the Marx Brothers--pausing for effect in dialogue is key to humor. Body language, facial expression, allowance for other actors in the scene, background action, etc., all have an opportunity to manifest while the dialogue is slowed down, somewhat. When the Marx Brothers intentionally slowed down the pace, allowing for what they knew would be laughter from the audience to subside so that this laughter would not interfere with the ensuing dialogue, you could no longer consider this "breakneck" dialogue. Nor could you in these other situations. I believe this is exemplified several times in the "party of the first part" clip, alone.

Yes.  I agree.  Breakneck dialogue is much more characteristic of Screwball Comedy.  Although there is crossover between the genres (e.g. "The Palm Beach Story" - screwball or slapstick?).


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