Monday, May 04, 2015

A Lifesaver

I've mentioned Matthew Coniam's book on the Marx Brothers before, but let me note once again how fine a piece of work it is.  The Annotated Marx Brothers is one of the best books available on the team, and that's saying a lot.

Chapter by chapter, Coniam goes through each movie, explaining what certain references are--items familiar then, but baffling today.  (Some are helpful to the British trying to understand Americana--Matthew is from across the pond. I wasn't aware that the whole English-speaking world didn't know what Fig Newtons or Lifesavers are.) He also comments on the significance of certain moments within the Marx canon, as well is discussing the comedic success or lack thereof of lines and routines.

Even better, each chapter begins with an essay on the film in question.  Coniam discusses the origins of the movie, its place in the Marx world and his judgment of its quality.  He has, among Marx fans, unorthodox opinions--he likes their stage-bound films best, rates Duck Soup significantly lower than most do, and rates Go West lowest of all.  But he's earned the right to these opinions with his wit and his deep knowledge of the team.

He also offers innovation--I never thought I'd view the team's career or routines differently, but he's convinced me there are still new ways to look at what they did.  Of the many examples, let me pick just one: he considers Room Service not just an RKO lark in-between the Thalberg MGM films and post-Thalberg MGM films, but an attempt by the Marx Brothers to move in a different direction. It failed, however, so they had to return to MGM, and not happily.

(I'd also point there are a few ideas in the book that I may have suggested to Matthew, but modesty prevents.)

The book is not a history of the team, but Coniam does such a good job you almost wish he'd write one so we could see what new material and insights he'd unearth.  In any case, if you're a fan of the Marx Brothers, or are even vaguely familiar and would like to know more about them, this should be on your bookshelf.


Blogger Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks hugely!
And yes - you did suggest quite a few ideas!
I'd never have time to write a complete history, sadly, and Robert Bader has something along those lines in the works apparently, but I am now hard at work on a book about Groucho's solo career from the end of The Big Store to his death, which hopefully will have a few surprises in it too...

2:20 AM, May 04, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Great. I look forward to your new book, as Groucho had quite a colorful career in later days. And as you point out, he probably felt at the time his stuff in the 50s was how he'd be remembered, yet lived long enough to see the revival of his older work.

8:53 AM, May 04, 2015  
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6:34 PM, July 15, 2015  

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