UNDERSTANDING 'LOVE HAPPY'
Why was "Love Happy" (the Marx Brothers last movie sort of) made? The official story is that Chico had gambling debts and the brothers kicked in to help out. But if that's the case, why is Harpo the star? (He's the center of the 'plot', such as it is. Chico is sort of there and Groucho is the film's desperately needed older brother, there to explain and hold together and apologize for the incoherence). Groucho disliked the film intensely, even bad-mouthing it in the interview in which he remembers Marilyn Monroe's participation in the folly. But if you don't think much of a piece of work, you don't mention it, right? You drop the subject. Mentioning an inferiority and your shame at having participated in it only revives the memory of it. Yet Groucho took the opportunity on a number of occasions to loudly proclaim "Love Happy's" lousiness and his disgust with it. Why?
I think it has to do with a family dynamic sort of thing. I wonder about that Chico-gambling debt story. Why didn't the other four brothers--all of them rich and famously devoted to perfectionism--loan him some money, rather than doing a sub-standard piece of work that none of them wanted to participate in and which severely devalued their preciously preserved 'brand'? Only a decade earlier, they'd gone on tour with to clinically test the comedy routines for "A Day At The Races", carefully refining and revising the routines based on audiences responses. (Truthfully, they worked a little too hard on those routines--the scenes, as filmed, feel mechanical and joyless.) Nobody who works that hard decides, ten years later, to be equally as careless with their work.
No, the 'gambling-debts' story feels like a convenient excuse, designed to explain away something a little sadder. I wonder if the three brothers had multiple motives in trying to put together one last movie but no longer had the relationships with the people who'd helped make them great. There was no longer a Bert Kalmer-Harry Ruby to pull together the music, a George S. Kaufman-Morrie Ryskind to plot out a book/script for them to hang their routines on, an Irving Thalberg to theorize on how to best market the brothers singular humor. Although all of the above mentioned people (save Thalberg) were alive and well and working, they were somehow unavailable to aid the cause. Perhaps they no longer believed in the act. And perhaps that's what Groucho--who nobody ever accused of being anything but canny and trenchant in his assessment of others--understood and what caused his everlasting annoyance; the greatest comedy act the world had ever known was over--in fact had been abandoned--and somehow hadn't gone quietly. 'Love Happy' is an inglorious bow. They'd needed to get off the stage one or two acts earlier and somehow they'd overstayed their welcome. What was left of the act that had revolutionized comedy (beginning at the turn of the century!) was now just so much B Movie fodder and nobody cared. Yet if 'Love Happy' didn't exist, neither would Marilyn Monroe. So perhaps greatness doesn't really ever die. It just passes its contagion on...
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 4:49 AM