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

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#21 Mandroid51


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Posted 14 September 2016 - 09:37 AM

Life got in the way yesterday and forgot to set the recorder/Pvr to Tuesday's lineup :(

I'll read on...
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#22 ln040150


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Posted 14 September 2016 - 07:51 AM

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.
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#23 ln040150


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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:36 AM

Movie Crazy: Again Lloyd finds situations that allow him to place gags that open up an entire line of slapstick pratfalls, one after the other, rather than having a series of gags that interrupt the story line. The rainy day in LA that turns into a flooded convertible; the screen test that goes on forever based on a mistaken identity based on the old switcheroo; and the whole relationship with Mary which is based on mistaken identity; then the magician coat switcheroo which leads to a series of gags at the ball; and then the “boat” scene. These ideas of mistaken identity, or the accidental switch of one identical item for another, are some of the oldest story ideas in Western Civilization, both in comedy and tragedy.

Sweet Music: Certainly this type of slapstick music, really the only slapstick in this film, was already popularized enough in order to be on film, and it was even directly referenced as such by Vallee when he remarks to the band something to the effect of, "Let's give them the old vaudeville routine." But it was the forerunner of the ever more popular Spike Jones in the 1940s and 1950s.
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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:28 AM

If it were not for Harpo and the Marx Brothers films, I do not believe I would be familiar with the Harp.


A Night at the Opera comes with beautiful opera melodies, plenty of punch lines delivered by Grouch, and lots of funny gags. It is one of my favorite zany slapsticks and always a delight to watch.


Lassparri: Never in my life, have I received such treatment. They threw an apple at me!

Driftwood: Well, watermelons are out of season.


Groucho could be so vivid!


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#25 ln040150


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Posted 14 September 2016 - 06:27 AM

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); evolution of the simple hot-water gag; the oldest comedy routine in the books, getting caught in a lie, esp as result of a tragedy; we saw the cab door/tripping over the luggage routine many times before (ie, in “Speedy”); did Laurel steal Langdon’s act or was his exaggeration of the crying gag a new form of slapstick?

The Music Box: Does the addition of sound effects really make it funnier? Backing up into the pool…straight out of Chaplin; carrying the piano back down wasn’t slapstick, it was stupid; and this is where abject stupidity takes the place of simple accident in creating slapstick. This is not to say that the entire concept was stupid, because Larynxa was spot-on, I think, in capturing what Laurel, Hardy and Parrot were up to in terms of reproducing the ancient myth on a comedic level. I simply think it failed at this one point and "rose" to that level of ridiculousness Keaton referenced in regard to the Marx Brothers.
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#26 Rachel Bellwoar

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Posted 14 September 2016 - 12:37 AM

There are a lot of great scenes in Night at the Opera but a small one that stood out was when Harpo knocks the one guy out (watched the film last week, & forget the context). Harpo then tries to relieve him and Chico says he's "Sorry," but no, Harpo knocks the guy out a second time. This works so well because of the character Harpo establishes, of being a sweetheart who would never hurt anyone, and the innocent look he maintains afterwards.


Completely different note but one thing I appreciated about The Pip of Pittsburgh is the structure to it. Charlie Chase's character tries to sabotage his date by doing three things and then backtracks to fix these exact same three things when he realizes his date is the amazing Thelma Todd. It goes back to idea of knowing in advance what Charlie's going to do, so the surprise comes instead from not knowing how he will do it.

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#27 Marianne


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Posted 13 September 2016 - 10:59 PM

The “party of the first part” scene in A Night at the Opera is just wonderful. The “stateroom” scene is another favorite of mine. Both of these scenes got a Daily Dose and a Breakdown of a Gag treatment, respectively, and deservedly so.


And kudos to Kitty Carlisle: what a set of pipes! Leave it to the Marx Brothers to mix opera and slapstick. On the DVD version of the film, Kitty Carlisle says that she gets praise from her children and grandchildren for being in a Marx Brothers movie, not for her singing.

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#28 Larynxa


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Posted 13 September 2016 - 10:17 PM

The plot of "The Music Box" is like the myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned for all eternity to push a huge boulder up an impossibly high and steep hill, only to have the boulder roll all the way back down just as it reaches the top. This film has all that frustration, but it's funny.

The physical comedy is so strong that this film could work as a silent comedy, with the dialogue conveyed with title-cards. However, we'd lose the fabulous sound effects, which were done live, just out of shot. Even the player-piano's medley was actually played live by Marvin Hatley, just out of shot.

The crated piano is almost a character itself, with a malicious instinct. So is Susie the horse who pulls Stan & Ollie's moving-wagon.

Stan, Ollie, and every other character could exist in the real world. Their traits and behaviours are exaggerated, but they're rooted in reality...except one, who is a complete cartoon.

Billy Gilbert's "Professor Schwartzenhoffen" shows Billy's limitations as an actor. He played every character so far over the top that he was halfway down the other side. This worked well in earlier Mack Sennett-style slapstick films with their outrageous characters and gags, but feels out of place in later films with more realistic characters and situations. It's as if everyone else is playing through a range of "6" to "9", but Billy's turned up all the way to "11", all the way through.

I've seen him in a couple of "Taxi Boys" shorts on YouTube, and he's doing the same over-the-top blustery schtick as he did in "The Music Box" and "County Hospital" and every other film I've seen him in, except "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (as the voice of "Sneezy") and "Fun and Fancy Free" (as the voice of "Willie the Giant").
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#29 Dr. Rich Edwards

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Posted 13 September 2016 - 08:24 PM

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 features slapstick films from the 1930s.


Use this thread to discuss your thoughts about the following films:

  1. Dollar Dizzy
  2. The Pip from Pittsburgh
  3. Sons of the Desert
  4. The Music Box
  5. A Night at the Opera
  6. Hips, Hips, Hooray
  7. Elmer the Great
  8. Movie Crazy
  9. Sweet Music
  10. Gold Diggers of Paris

Enjoy the discussions - this is a great group of films that showcase how slapstick evolved after the silent film era. 

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Richard Edwards, PhD

Ball State University

Instructor: TCM Presents: The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock (2017)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies (2016)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (2015)



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