Making the Grades
While the Mother's away, the children will play -- this I discovered when I came home to a kitchen full of dirty dishes one evening. Inquiries into how my four kids had spent their night at home alone with their father resulted in a wild chorus of responses.
One of my sons started walking like a duck, my youngest daughter launched into a long-winded monologue about a frog in a hat, between spurts of laughter my oldest son tried to explain something about watching one of Dad's "work" movies, while my other daughter suggested her siblings should all be quiet and let Mom see for herself.
Sheepishly, my husband confessed he had invited the kids to join him in screening an old black and white film. At first the youngest family members had balked at the "low-tech" production. But in short order they were giggling so loudly the older, more mature, teenagers came to see what the ruckus was all about.
So what had captured my family so completely that they forgot to put the food in the fridge? The Marx Brothers! Vaudeville veterans before my kids' grandfather was even born, these classic kings of comedy found immortality by turning show business into Monkey Business.
Leader of the pack is the wisecracking Groucho, whose glib-tongue fools people into believing he's about to say something intelligent... when in reality his clever Horse Feathers nonsense can't be taken any more seriously than his grease-painted moustache. Accompanying him are, Chico -- the Italian accented not-so-smart guy, Harpo - the mute clown who communicates all he needs to with horns, whistles and facial expressions, and Zeppo -- the good-looking comic foil to his family's foolish forays.
Just in time for Christmas 2004, Universal has packaged the five films featuring all four famous siblings into a six-disc compilation called The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. Fans can now fondly reminisce over every thing from Duck Soup to The Cocoanuts! (Although they will find only a scant few morsels presented in the Bonus Materials.) Parents who share this unique brand of Animal Crackers with they're youngsters should keep in mind Groucho's mild sexual innuendo and cigar smoking, as well as Harpo's inability not to chase anyone wearing a skirt.
If imitation is the finest form of flattery, then the Marx Brothers can consider themselves truly complemented, for their silly shenanigans have influenced many humorists who have come after them. My oldest son, who is fond of M*A*S*H reruns says, "That Groucho guy sounds just like Hawkeye." Go figure!
Working without the aid of a musical score or laugh track, the boys carry the show with their witty dialogue and slapstick action. Although they certainly had my family in stitches, I must confess when I watched them later by myself, I really didn't find them that hilarious. Perhaps this kind of comedy works best with a crowd. On the other hand, (and I have sometimes been accused of this) maybe I don't have much of a funny bone. Or is it possible the kids just noticed some similarities between the main character and my husband--who both have bushy eyebrows, prominent noses, glasses, quick one-liners--and a knack for doing anything but the task on hand.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.
You can find more information about this landmark family of comedians on the Internet. Try: http://www.marx-brothers.org/index.htm