Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Mirror, Mirror

I would hope that most people reading this blog would have gotten the new Marx Brothers DVD collection (hardly any extras and the films aren't in great condition, but Universal has done the best they can with some films that were never very well-preserved, and -- contrary to what some gossip columnist reported -- Duck Soup is uncut). Not much to say about their Paramount movies that hasn't already been said, but I will make one observation about the mirror routine in Duck Soup. It seems like every time this routine is imitated, it shows a character who literally thinks he or she is looking in a mirror, or at least is partly convinced of this. That's not what happens with Groucho and Harpo: Groucho signals all through the routine that he knows this isn't a mirror. Every gag involves him trying to trip Harpo up, to stop Harpo from doing exactly what Groucho does. They even walk around and switch places, and it doesn't matter because each guy knows what the other is up to. In most routines like this, the joke is that one character is too dumb to tell the difference between his reflection and another person in a costume. Here it's two guys playing a game with each other. So the gags are crazy, the movie is crazy -- but the behavior of the characters is logical; they're not idiots. That's one of the things that's appealing about the Marx Brothers, that unlike other "crazy" comics whose craziness seems indistinguishable from idiocy, the Brothers are crazy and smart. Okay, well, Xeppo doesn't usually come off onscreen as either crazy or smart. But why spoil such a short post with Zeppo-bashing?

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