Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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Hi Everyone,


 


The sixth Daily Dose of Doozy will arrive in your email inboxes Tuesday, September 13, 2016. 


 


The second week of Doozies will focus on four clips from the "talkies" of the 1930s and 1940s.


 


If you didn't receive this Daily Dose, it will be archived starting at noon Mountain time on September 13, 2016, here at the Canvas course site: https://learn.canvas...y-dose-of-doozy


 


You will need to be enrolled in the Painfully Funny course to view the archive link. 


 


Begin your discussions!


 


Thanks! 


 


Dr. Rich Edwards


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Probably, The Marx Brothers are the apotheosis of Dale’s—and anyone else’s—definition of verbal slapstick. But, first, we should note that when Prof. Edward’s mentions “vaudeville and stage” he is indicating more than Broadway theater. This form of comedy dates all the way back, in terms of its roots, to Greek comedy. This verbal back and forth is certainly exaggerated and ritualistic in its nature; it retains elements of violence in that threat of violence is inherent in some of the statements, facial expressions and body movements, usually; some physicality often accompanies the remarks in order to dramatize them, although this is never required; and the concept of “make believe” always hovers over the scene in that one can only imagine such a conversation taking place. One of the “conventions” or “characteristics” of the Marx’s is the apparent improvisation of, in this instance, the difference in the length of the contract.

In the event the proper link hasn’t yet been fixed…

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/224507/Night-at-the-Opera-A-Movie-Clip-Party-of-the-First-Part.html

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1.       Alan Dale’s definition of “verbal slapstick” seems designed to fit the Marx Brothers’ style of rapid wordplay that approximates the comic energy of a good slapstick routine. Groucho and Chico are in complete rhythm with each other, even if the editing from close-up to two-shot isn’t. It has the classic “button” on the scene with the “Sanity Clause” joke at the end.

2.       Among the gags that often show up in Marx Brothers movies are the tangents Groucho and Chico go off on when discussing this document. As in many Marx Brothers films, this scene shows that winning the repartee is more important than achieving logic (e.g. Groucho responding to Chico’s objection to the “second party” by saying that he should have gone to the first party – they didn’t get home until 4 in the morning and he was blind for three days).

3.       Repetition (returns to “the part of the first part,” for example) has a lot to do with the verbal style of these two Marx Brothers. Other parts of the movie include physical and painful/violent slapstick elements, but not this scene. In terms of make believe, a business manager (Groucho) wouldn’t realistically rip off parts of a document, responding to “What do we have left?” with “I’ve got about a foot and a half.” It’s exaggerated mostly in terms of realistic interpreting of legal documents.

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Probably, The Marx Brothers are the apotheosis of Dale’s—and anyone else’s—definition of verbal slapstick. But, first, we should note that when Prof. Edward’s mentions “vaudeville and stage” he is indicating more than Broadway theater. This form of comedy dates all the way back, in terms of its roots, to Greek comedy. This verbal back and forth is certainly exaggerated and ritualistic in its nature; it retains elements of violence in that threat of violence is inherent in some of the statements, facial expressions and body movements, usually; some physicality often accompanies the remarks in order to dramatize them, although this is never required; and the concept of “make believe” always hovers over the scene in that one can only imagine such a conversation taking place. One of the “conventions” or “characteristics” of the Marx’s is the apparent improvisation of, in this instance, the difference in the length of the contract.

In the event the proper link hasn’t yet been fixed…

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/224507/Night-at-the-Opera-A-Movie-Clip-Party-of-the-First-Part.html

Oddly there's no sound on your link so the discussion of dialogue and sound goes out the window. This would ,however, allow us to think outside the box... I guess I'll wait for the fix but the WC Fields clip was hilarious and would love to comment on the violence and threat of violence in contrast to the Chase clip which lacked a threat and/pain factor.

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Som'a joke eh boss? I've had to wait a few minutes to write this because I was still laughing at this gag even after having seen it dozens of times before.

 

1) When it comes to verbal slapstick the Marx Brothers rule! One can see where their years of vaudeville allow them a seamless transition into sound slapstick gags on film. It appears to me that Dale's definition of verbal slapstick was created based on watching all of the Marx Brothers movies!

 

2) Some "specific characteristic" gags we see in this clip include both Groucho and Chico are:

    Chico's foreign accent (Italian immigrant);  Chico giving sly looks to the audience;  Groucho giving "dagger" looks at Chico; plays on words with such things as "party", mispronounced words like "Sanity"... (Santa) mistaking "Clause" for "Claus";  use of vivid slang like Groucho saying he went blind for three days after attending a party a reference to "bootlegger" booze that often caused blindness in the 30's; the back and forth about "reading and "hearing"; and of course the "first part of the Party of the first part" bit. Grouchy and Chico could go on all day at this. "You can't fool me!"

 

3) Looking at the five conditions in this specific gag I do not think that we see any painful/ violent elements, I don't see anything overly physical, we do see exaggeration of the plays on words. Buster Keaton (the sainted Buster Keaton) remarked once in a 1964 interview with Penelope Gilliat that "The thing is not to be ridiculous. The one mistake the Marx Brothers ever make is that they're ridiculous..." and earlier in a 1958 interview with Christopher Bishop when asked by Bishop:" Did you like the Marx Brothers' films?" responded "Some of them -- when they didn't get too ridiculous". We see the repetitive/ ritualistic aspects as Groucho and Chico go at it over and over again about tearing the clauses out of the written contract and finally we see make believe in the gag even down to Groucho's painted mustache. :lol:  :lol:

 

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

 

I've known of the Marx brothers so can comment on their schtick and it definitely entails verbal slapstick. Unable to refer to the clip's context to compare/contrast.

 

Loved the bit! They exemplified verbal slapstick. Their gift of the gab within the letter routine

 

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

 

Not yet but I will...

 

Exaggerated movement, repetition and ritual, tearing the page could be a violent act but that's pushing it, make believe could be the whole bit, and they have a physical presence and reactions with their eyes and faces.

 

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 of them come to mind to some extent. If I had quotes I'd use them and examine the 5 elements

 

Not actually going to quote them but the "party" and blinded for 3 days was a hoot! Their play on words can be a great example of slapstick characteristics/conditions "there ain't no Santa Clause"

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1. Dale's definition of verbal slapstick fits the Marx Brothers style of humor very well like a glove, since their comedy in this clip meets the definition very well.

 

2. There was the use of sarcasm between Chico and Groucho in the sequence, Chico's foreign accent, the use of puns, i.e. party in the contract, getting names wrong, i.e, sanity clause mistaken for santa claus, Groucho's use of vivid slang, and the comeback that turns the first speaker's words around, i.e. Groucho asking Chico to read the next part of the contract, but in turn Chico tells him to read it, thereby tearing the next part out of the contract.

 

3. There was the use of exaggeration, when Groucho was trying to read the contract, but couldn't find the right angle to look at it, since the print was tiny or he wasn't putting it in the right position and Chico asking if there was the second part of the first party in the contract. Another use was the repetitive/ritualistic routine of taking out the party of the first part to the second part of the second party till they reached the end of the contract.

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1) Almost every aspect of Dale's definition fits this clip. From accented language to one-liners to puns to sarcasm, this bit always leaves me laughing.

 

2) As always, Chico's accent mangles the language and Groucho makes a crack about it. ​The double meaning of the word party. Slang (Groucho's referral to being "blind for three days") because bad bootleg booze could cause blindness and play on words (Sanity Claus) are also present.

 

3) Groucho not being able to read the contract at first is exaggeration. The tearing of the contract, sometimes in anticipation of what WILL be said, is repetition and physicality. Repetition is also present as they keep mentioning "party" and tearing out various clauses. Make believe is present as anyone watching this knows from the start that it will not go well and Chico will never understand anything legal. I don't see any pain in this, unless you count cringing at a few of the puns. 

 

Chico's final joke makes the routine even better, as he has basically been behind Groucho throughout most of the routine and he gets the "topper"!

 

The biggest laugh for me is when Groucho answers Chico's question as to why Groucho's contact is larger - "You must have been out on a tear last night."

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1.  This clip is not the best of the Marx Brothers verbal slapstick, but it does fulfill Alan Dale's definition. It carries the asides, the accents, the rapid pace, the twisting of meanings ... and it ends with a trademark pun by Chico. When you view some of the more outrageous Marx Brothers dialogue from "Duck Soup", "The Coconuts", and "Horsefeathers", you can truly see that Groucho and Chico were masters of verbal slapstick.

 

2.  Chico was best known for his Italian accent, which was omnipresent in his movies. Chico's laugh was a combination of humorous and mocking, and he was the perfect set-up for Groucho. Chico seemed to be unable to understand, but then he would deliver incredible mispronunciations, non sequiturs, one liners, and puns, always eliciting an appropriate response from Groucho. Groucho, on the other hand, had what I thought to be a Brooklyn accent, and always sounded like a wise guy. He was usually able to take a response by Chico and do one better. He was a master of the aside and, even though he seemed much smarter than Chico in a bombastic sort of way, he usually did not get the last word. Groucho and Chico were truly masterful.

 

3.  Using the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, and Abbott and Costello as examples, I believe all five elements remained with verbal slapstick.

 

Exaggerated -- Definitely ... think of Groucho's grease paint moustache or the Stooge's haircuts.

 

Physical -- Even though the verbal banter was the highlight, there were a variety of physical actions and reactions to the dialogue. 

 

Repetitive/Ritualistic -- all the characters had movements that became familiar to us and expected. 

 

Make Believe -- the dialogue was real but it was so outlandish that the scenes were farcical. 

 

Painful/Violent -- the Marx Brothers would occasionally have some mild violence, but verbal slapstick elicited and physical reply. For example, Moe smacking Curly or Larry, Abbott slapping Costello, Ollie hitting Stan and then Stan retaliates. Most often, the exasperation of a Charlie Chase or an Edgar Kennedy was an expression of pain.

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Previous commenters have done an excellent job of identifying the Marx Brothers' characteristic gags and describing how the five conditions of slapstick fit into this clip, so I would just like to say how much I love the term "verbal slapstick" for the Marx Brothers. I always feel a bit slapped around after I watch one of their films! Their jokes/gags are so witty, fast, and intricate, that it can be hard to keep up. I was thinking about Harpo (who we unfortunately did not see in this clip), and how he is sort of the personification of the "slapstick", or wooden paddle, that we talked about earlier in this course. The sound effects he makes with his voice heighten the effect of his gags and serve an an impetus for the audience to laugh. They also signify to the audience that any violence against Harpo is not real (as if the audience needed a reminder that the situations in a Marx Brothers film are make believe!)

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Som'a joke eh boss? I've had to wait a few minutes to write this because I was still laughing at this gag even after having seen it dozens of times before.

 

1) When it comes to verbal slapstick the Marx Brothers rule! One can see where their years of vaudeville allow them a seamless transition into sound slapstick gags on film. It appears to me that Dale's definition of verbal slapstick was created based on watching all of the Marx Brothers movies!

 

2) Some "specific characteristic" gags we see in this clip include both Groucho and Chico are:

    Chico's foreign accent (Italian immigrant);  Chico giving sly looks to the audience;  Groucho giving "dagger" looks at Chico; plays on words with such things as "party", mispronounced words like "Sanity"... (Santa) mistaking "Clause" for "Claus";  use of vivid slang like Groucho saying he went blind for three days after attending a party a reference to "bootlegger" booze that often caused blindness in the 30's; the back and forth about "reading and "hearing"; and of course the "first part of the Party of the first part" bit. Grouchy and Chico could go on all day at this. "You can't fool me!"

 

3) Looking at the five conditions in this specific gag I do not think that we see any painful/ violent elements, I don't see anything overly physical, we do see exaggeration of the plays on words. Buster Keaton (the sainted Buster Keaton) remarked once in a 1964 interview with Penelope Gilliat that "The thing is not to be ridiculous. The one mistake the Marx Brothers ever make is that they're ridiculous..." and earlier in a 1958 interview with Christopher Bishop when asked by Bishop:" Did you like the Marx Brothers' films?" responded "Some of them -- when they didn't get too ridiculous". We see the repetitive/ ritualistic aspects as Groucho and Chico go at it over and over again about tearing the clauses out of the written contract and finally we see make believe in the gag even down to Groucho's painted mustache. :lol:  :lol:

 

In reference to your third point about a lack of physical violence, although there isn't any in the clip, it is present in other areas of the film. The Marx Brothers always struck a nice balance between slapstick violence and other types of humor. They each have their own lane that distinguished them from each other yet they blend together seamlessly. Amazing.

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1. It would seem as if Alan Dale coined his definition of verbal slapstick after the Marx Bros. it fits them so well. They are certainly most known for the breakneck pace of the verbal comedy delivered like rounds from an assault rifle. They are always deprecating, often self-deprecating, and definitely tend toward the sarcastic. All of these elements make Marx Bros. skits still funny today. 

 

2. Some characteristic gags employed by Chico and Groucho Marx in this clip include their sarcasm toward each other, their careful sentence construction preventing either of them from giving the other too much information, and their clothes that are very reminiscent of their vaudeville upbringing. 

 

3. The two conditions of visual slapstick that remain in verbal slapstick include the exaggerated way in which the two deliver their lines, the repetitive/ritualistic way that the two banter back and forth, and the make-believe elements of the subject matter they are discussing. 

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Hi Everyone,

 

The sixth Daily Dose of Doozy will arrive in your email inboxes Tuesday, September 13, 2016. 

 

The second week of Doozies will focus on four clips from the "talkies" of the 1930s and 1940s.

 

If you didn't receive this Daily Dose, it will be archived starting at noon Mountain time on September 13, 2016, here at the Canvas course site: https://learn.canvas...y-dose-of-doozy

 

You will need to be enrolled in the Painfully Funny course to view the archive link. 

 

Begin your discussions!

 

Thanks! 

 

Dr. Rich Edwards

 

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.

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It is hard to tell which came first, the definition or the act. The Marx Brothers hit each of Dale's definition on the head. It is almost impossible to keep up with the gag because Chico and Groucho move at breakneck speed and each inputs their sarcastic remakes. They are masters of verbal slapstick.

 

They include all of the characteristic gags. The sarcastic remarks about the party of the first part being the party of the first part and so on. Chico quickly turns the first party around and asked why the party of the first part be known ast the party of the second party. Groucho tells him he should have come to the first party and that he was blind for 3 days. All the gags for the pay off being a play on words. "there ain't no sanity clause.:"

 

Amazingly they include all five conditions. Not seen in the clip was the singer getting hit on the head with a sandbag (painful/violent), the reading of the contract with the one liners and turning of words and tearing out each clause (exaggerated, physical, repetitive/ritualistic, and make believe).

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Dale's definition fits the Marx Brothers so well.  The sarcastic remarks, the puns, Chico's foreign accent, his misuse of  Sanity Clause for Santa Claus (malapropism), the way he looks at the camera etc., are all in evidence in the clip.

 

While there's exaggeration in the clip, such as with Groucho's attempts to bring the contract into focus so he can see it, and the way the pitch of his voice changes as he reads it,  the exaggeration isn't as outrageous as in other films I've seen.  The repetition is obvious in the way they repeatedly reject each clause  and then tear off pieces of the contract.  That's about as physical as the action gets.  No falling off chairs, no scenery falling down, etc.  Just two great comedians verbally sparring instead of physically sparring.  The whole clip has a make believe quality as neither of them deal with the contract in a realistic way.  And there's no violence to speak of.

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The Marx Brothers were masters at verbal slapstick and Alan dale defined them to a tee in his book. I think when Groucho has to extend his arm to read the contract that he wrote. They start tearing up the contract because they don't like it. I thinj that repetitive/ritualistic is the most prevalent condition that remains operative in verbal slapstick movies.

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

 

Very well except the dialogue in this clip is not at a breakneck speed. A better example is Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in, "His Gal Friday." The humor of Abbott and Costello, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball and Danny Kaye are more of the breakneck speed dialogue variety. But on the whole I agree. The Marx Brothers excellently showcase every other verbal gag style of Dale's description. They are still so funny and their gags cast their shadow into the future as much as they shine a light into the past. Perfect timing, inflection, facial expressions, gestures, dialogue...siblime perfection.

 

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

 

Obviously, Chico's Italian name and accent, the one-liners, "You haven't got a baboon in your pocket have you?"

 

The sarcastic aside and the comeback...

 

Driftwood: "Can you hear?"

Fiorello: "I haven't heard anything yet. Did you say anything?"

Driftwood: "Well I haven't said anything worth hearing."

Fiorello: "That's why I didn't hear anything."

Driftwood: "Well that's why I didn't say anything."

 

Any response would have been sufficient to end the gag and get the laugh but in this way the Marx Brothers are similar to Keaton. Just when the audience thinks the gag is over they deliver more, and more until you're laughing so hard you miss the next line or two or more. No matter how many times you've heard them, they still deliver. They're still just as funny.

 

The verbal gags continue including insipid verbosity, "The first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract..." Non sequiturs, "Sounds a little better this time." Double entendres, gags, colorful slang, "Well you should have come to the first party... I was blind for three days." To the end of the clip with malapropism, mispronunciation, and getting names wrong: sanity clause/Santa Claus.

 

Throughout, the use of their individual characterizations, Driftwood, Fiorello and silent Tommaso (Harpo) the Marx Brothers ensured that should they succeed and continue in comedy films (much in doubt after Duck Soup's lukewarm reception) they would be easily recognizable as soon as they entered the frame.

 

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 with the exception of the extreme violence to the human body. There is still pain and violence but not to the same extent as that employed as say Keaton in, "Steamship Bill Jr." or the "General." There is much less risk to life and limb.

 

 

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We got the whole verbal slapstick ball of wax just in this scene from "Night at the Opera".  Love the Marx brothers!

 

We have insipid verbosity, one-liners, puns, foreign accent (Chico) and so much more!

 

Groucho sees himself as the "smart" one and looks askance at Chico (whose character holds his own in this scene)

 

At home we say "There's no such thing as Sanity Clause" a lot.

 

The scene also fits the bill for exaggeration, repetitiveness and make believe.

 

Sometimes, you've seen these movies so much and could repeat whole scenes in your sleep.  But to really have to listen, as if it were new to you, allows you to hear the scene fresh and appreciate not only the gags, but the language, the presentation, and makes you wonder how long it took and what all went into creating this one very funny moment.

 

Now I need a "life-saver".

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Everyone has answered the three questions so well, there's not much to add.  The only condition in this clip (not taking into account the whole film) there is no violence/pain.  Unless you consider the banter as verbal combat/verbal slapstick.  Great lines and it made me wonder if any was improv by one or both of them.  Marx brothers were so talented I would not be surprised to learn some of this scene was improvised, such as the line, "you don't have a baboon in there?"

 

Can't wait to see the whole film.

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

 

The elements of what Dale calls "verbal slapstick" fit the Marx brothers' shtick. We might simply say they are glib, or facile with language, the fact that the Marx brothers combine slapstick with verbal virtuosity confuses Dale's analysis. 

 

The Marx brothers are unique in that they use a combination of physical comedy, facility with language, and the silent component of films vis a vis the Harpo character. In this manner they really bring slapstick a sophistication and complexity that other good slapstick artists may lack. Another artist who understood he needed the silent component to enhance his physical humor was Chaplin. 

 

Specifically, in "The Great Dictator," Chaplin does speak, but he combines speech with pantomime to bring his film to the height of social parody. For example, his silent dance with the globe in which the audience understands that his loving looks and touch of the globe portrays the dictator's desire to treat earth as if he is the deus ex machina in ownership of the world. In his closing speech, as the dictator's imitator, he could never have conveyed his condemnation of the idea of dictatorship without the audience hearing his words.

 

The Marx brothers' shotgun delivery of their lines makes it more difficult to count all of the social commentary contained in their work, but it is there. The idea of a shyster lawyer taking advantage of an illiterate immigrant, in which the immigrant turns tables on the lawyer by virtue of his innocence and ignorance says it all. This is especially true when Chico seals the scene shut with his comment about Santa Clause, an American icon. None of this is "verbal slapstick," it is sophisticated parody and social commentary.

 

Other filmmakers, who do not appear to be included in this course also combine physical comedy with fast paced humor, i.e. Preston Sturges and WS Van Dyke (The Thin Man films). No one would call the dialogue in these films "verbal slapstick," but the fast paced dialogue containing Dale's elements, as well as physical comedy are all there.   

 

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

 

The opening lines of the gag in which Groucho is parodying the legalese found in contracts of the period shows Chico's comebacks about Groucho reading, hearing and seeing turning Groucho's attempts to swindle him around to the point in which the shyster lawyer begins tearing out key terms of the employment contract.

 

Similarly Groucho's verbal insipidity in rattling off the first and second party language confuses even him such that he gets rid of the all of the terms of the contact. By the time he gets to the "Party of the Ninth Part" his insipid verbosity and Chico's comebacks have scotched any chance of a written agreement. 

 

The asides that Groucho makes, such as "I don't suppose you have a baboon in your pocket," when he is trying to adjust his vision distance,  and Groucho comments about the "party" he went to after which he was blind for three days, all fit that category of "verbal slapstick." Also included in the asides cited above are puns and one liners.  

 

Chico's Italian foreign accent, and his final malapropism are all part of Dale's thesis.

 

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?

 

It would be a gross generalization to answer this question based on the short clip shown, however, within the clip we see Groucho's exaggerated eyeball rolling, which is also repetitive and magnified by his eyeglasses, Chico's imitative movements of whatever Groucho is doing with his arms whilst trying to focus his poor vision on the contract, and the ritualistic tearing off portions of the contract all survive the sound era.

 

I suspect if we watched some clips from "Night at the Opera" featuring Harpo we would see all of the conditions we originally looked at from the silent era.
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So many people have beaten me to the punch about what I wanted to say. So I will summarize by saying that indeed it does fit Dale's definition of verbal slapstick with the playful banter between Groucho and Chico trying to one-up each other and the ritualistic tearing of the contract. The last line was a sweet play on words on Santa Claus.

 

All the characteristics appeared in this scene except for the violent portion, unless you count tearing up legal documents violent.

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The Marx Brothers were one of the best comedy acts altogether, but they were certainly No 1 when it comes to verbal slapstick. They started their film careers as soon as sound dominated Hollywood, and they were perhaps the first comedy act depending much more on verbal than on visual gags. That doesn't mean, of course, that their visual comedy was not funny, and the always silent but hilarious Harpo is a perfect example. Their dialogues are witty, fast-paced and full of idioms, metaphors and other language tricks, just as described by Alan Dale.

 

In this famous "contract" clip we enjoy this kind of dialogue to its full extent. Chico's foreign accent, a trademark of his, Groucho's fast and somewhat pompuous talk, double entendres (the word party means both a party of a contract and its usual meaning), sarcasm and repetitions dominate their efforts to arrange a business contract between them. The punch line is when Chico gets the term Sanity Clause wrong, thinking Groucho said Santa Claus. This dialogue is typical Marx Brothers at their best.

 

Verbal slapstick is not as usually physical or violent as its visual counterpart (although a kind of verbal violence is common), but it's as exaggerated and repetitive most times. The same lines appear again and again and often become trademarks and enter popular culture (It's another nice mess you've gotten me into, by Oliver Hardy, being a good example). The most common form of verbal slapstick is a normal conversation turned into a crazy, exaggerated dialogue which makes no sense, but it's still make-believe and fit with the plot.

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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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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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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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