- Paperback: 316 pages
- Publisher: McFarland (February 5, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 078649705X
- ISBN-13: 978-0786497058
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #447,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Annotated Marx Brothers: A Filmgoer's Guide to In-Jokes, Obscure References and Sly Details
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"Coniam has done a remarkable service for viewers of Marx Brothers films with this collection of answers to comedy ponderables...highly recommended" --Choice
"It's gold to a real Marx Brothers fan" --Communication Booknotes Quarterly
"Very interesting, entertaining, and enlightening...impressive...the quintessential look at the comedy team's films...indispensible" --Examiner
About the Author
Matthew Coniam/b> has contributed to numerous books, magazines, journals and websites in Britain and America. He lives in Bath, England.
Top customer reviews
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What makes this book unique among the plethora of books on the brothers is that it talks about the films themselves more so than the biographies of the players. You get both to some extent, but the lives have always gotten more discussion in books. Previous writers have failed to explore so many of the things that make them interesting on screen.
It helps to know going in that Coniam is firmly in the camp of fans and critics that prefer the anarchist brothers from the Paramount films over the nary-do-well misfits from the later years. He goes in depth to explain how much Groucho's persona shifts by the time they make At the Circus, for instance. He doesn't see Groucho Marx as a performer making acting choices but as a character having choices forced upon him through the writers and directors. Keaton and Chaplin wrote their own material during the silent era so they did have the power of consistency or evolution the Marx Brothers lacked directly, but the brothers had the writers they liked even if the directors were a mixed bag. I personally like the variety of characterization within the characters.
I really enjoyed was Coniam's appreciation of Chico Marx. Like Harpo and Groucho, there is no one else like Chico. I love Chico's con man word play as much as Groucho's puns and Harpo's antics. I can also appreciate that Chico made it possible for them to have a longer movie career with his connections and love of the work.
Another service Coniam provides here is that he debunks some long held stories like Dumont didn't understand that jokes or that the brothers roasted potatoes in Thalberg's fireplace. These have been repeated and said so many times by other authors Coniam was first I know who looked at the logic of these statements instead of just repeating them.
This book stands alone in several ways and it's essential reading if you plan to study the cinema of the Marx Brothers.
Coniam is a deft writer and, like his subjects, an able comic, but his rollicking humor does not distract from either readability or credibility. In fact, beyond its entertainment value, it serves a larger purpose of warding off critical and historical stagnation. He keeps his subject fresh, and proves that there is still, after all the years and all the ink spilled, plenty more to say about the Marx Brothers. In so doing, he surmounts daunting obstacles. Not only are the films themselves undeniably "old," but it has now been a solid couple of generations since the all-important Marx revival of the early 70’s, during which time the Brothers have been slowly metamorphosing from vibrantly "hot" to regally "classic." Moreover, much of the writing which issued from that revival era, as valuable as it was and is, has begun to seem unassailable, non-fluid and undeniably Establishment. With this in mind, the author cogently addresses not just the history and meaning of the films themselves, but their larger context within the politics of opinion of Marx fandom.
Coniam's remarks on two of the most traditionally accepted masterpieces of the Marx film canon serve to illustrate the book's welcome and cheerful boldness. Of DUCK SOUP, he observes, “in the late 1960s, the Marx Brothers were rediscovered by a new generation, who—with the boundless confidence of youth—fancied they saw something of their own impulsive iconoclasm in the team’s cultivated artistry. DUCK SOUP became a favorite because, as well as anti-establishment, it appeared explicitly anti-war…[but] I think it is the weakest rather than the best of their five Paramount films…[and] I do not think it is an anti-war satire.” He regards A NIGHT AT THE OPERA as "a kind of optical illusion…It’s a film that seemed to announce the rebirth of the Marx Brothers as a permanent fixture in the Hollywood firmament yet it contains all the seeds of the precipitous descent that was just around the corner.” On Irving Thalberg, producer of OPERA, he goes beyond the conventional polarized opinions—Thalberg Saved Them vs. Thalberg Ruined Them—to add another slant: “[Or] do we give his interventions far too much credit? After all, we have no ‘other’ 1935 Marx Brothers film, made under the familiar rules, with which to compare the box-office receipts. Now that we know the myth of DUCK SOUP’s commercial failure was just that, can we be sure that their return to the screen after a year away would not have been warmly received whether decked out with Thalberg frosting or not? Surely we can all agree that A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is indeed a beauty, but is it a beauty *because of* Thalberg’s tampering, or in spite of it?” It’s this sort of nuance which elevates the writing considerably above the average. This is truly the thinking (wo)man’s Marx Brothers text, layered and thought-provoking and still a lot of fun. (Other nuggets: Was Chico's character really an Italian, or just *playing* an Italian? Was Harpo's character unable to speak, or merely unwilling to? Chew on that.)
THE ANNOTATED MARX BROTHERS is the new gold standard, invaluable to both newcomers and established fans. Five stars with a bullet.