Tuesday, July 15, 2008

O brother, where art thou?

TCM showed the Marx Brothers' overrated A Night At the Opera last night. At least the Marx Brothers are A-grade material, having made some fine movies like Duck Soup. It could be worse; TCM could have shown a movie from the Z-grade comedy team the Ritz Brothers.

The Ritz Brothers didn't make too many movies, but when they did, they seemed to be trying to be like the Marx Brothers, but not succeeding. The appear alongside Adolphe Menjou and Sonja Henie in Fox's 1936 movie One In A Million, but do little besides constantly getting in everybody else's way. It's not available on DVD, but it has been showing up on the Fox Movie Channel recently.

A Ritz Brothers movie that you can get on DVD is The Goldwyn Follies. Adolphe Menjou stars again, this time as a producer who's trying to discover what the common person wants so that he can put it in his next big movie musical. The movie fails pretty badly from a plot angle, but it's a great historical record. A fair portion of it is in the style of a revue, with various acts doing their thing, notably Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. The music is derivative, with many comparing the male lead, Kenny Baker, to Dick Powell. However, the songs are by George Gershwin It's also in Technicolor.

However, what really made me think of the Ritz Brothers wasn't the fact that TCM showed a Marx Brothers movie; it was the short they showed after A Night At the Opera: WC Fields' 1932 two-reeler The Dentist. The "plot" of The Dentist involves dentist Fields not being happy with his daughter's choice of boyfriends, an "iceman" of the pre-refrigerator days. Much of the "humor" comes from Fields locking his daughter in the room above his dentist's practice, with her stomping around and knocking down plaster while Fields is trying to perform dentistry on his patients. Yikes. Fields was excellent in feature films like The Bank Dick, and even in his short appearance in Tales of Manhattan, but here, the slapstick is dreadful.

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