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Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff has just been installed as the new president of Huxley College. His cavalier attitude toward education is not reserved for his son Frank, who is seeing the college widow, Connie Bailey. Frank influences Wagstaff to recruit two football players who hang out in a speakeasy, in order to beat rival school Darwin. Unfortunately, Wagstaff mistakenly hires the misfits Baravelli and Pinky. Finding out that Darwin has beaten him to the "real" players, Wagstaff enlists Baravelli and Pinky to kidnap them, which leads to an anarchic football finale. Written by
Rick Gregory <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I was challenged by a reader, because I wrote that a movie was funny. His belief was that the movie wasn't funny, that it couldn't be because the comedians were too old, and I wouldn't know in any case because I was also too old. So I turned to the good old Marx Brothers.
Fortunately, some other unhappy soul had deleted my comment for this movie, so I can write a replacement.
I think this is funny. It shouldn't really matter to me whether anyone else does, except insofar as they support the market forces that guarantee I can access it. But as it happens, lots of other people also think it funny and I wonder why.
"Horse Feathers," if you do not know, was the frontier term for split boards about two feet long that were nailed on barns in an overlapping fashion like shingles. These were primitive, but had the advantage of keeping your major investment, your horse, warm. They are themselves ad hoc, somewhat random with some order, and an effective container. Such a barn was wholly man-made, but clearly the mind finds it handy to make the joke that if the barn looked like a chicken, then its name should follow.
Lexicographers know that language often naturally grows from these jokes. The older the term gets, the deeper the joke: "horsefeathers" probably originated in the 1870-80's homesteading era, and gained popularity as farm boys from those areas were mixed into the WW I army, the term used as a substitute for one whose use would have been punished for insubordination. It subsequently entered the print world when used in Wilson's second presidential campaign.
A youngster with no knowledge of its origin would simply hear "nonsense." but a wizened farmer would recall the image of a building that looks ridiculous, like a chicken. He would have recalled chuckling when thinking what part of the chicken he would enter and exit each day when doing his chores. It would contribute to giving his life enough richness to keep going.
I believe that the best humor is humor like this. It combines small twists of language with implied bigger twists of incited images. And it gets warmer and deeper (and funnier) the more you live with it.
The first (language and image), is what the Marx brothers invented in cinema. These guys had honed a stage act based on clever language timing, twists, perspectives implied by stereotypes. Its all in the words. But they were able to bring it to us in a frantic, ad hoc visual manner, so that we could have a blizzard of images like the feathered barn, the images themselves feathered together in a sort of story.
Eye and mind played with, and played through practice. These masters were not kids. Groucho by the time this was made was 43. He got funnier every year after that in working with these sorts of ad libbed word images. His "secret word" bit in "You Bet your Life," was even a part of this.
These, I think, are basic to the both the notion of what makes cinema work (folded images and narrative) and what makes humor attractive (naming enriched by ambiguous image). If you want to know yourself, you navigate through your cupboard of these that you have collected. You go to school. You play the game. You can only do this and truly laugh if you are old enough (or young and aggressive enough in collecting) to have something to rumble around in.
Marx brothers: old school funny. At least to me.
This is one of their Paramount projects before being reinvented again by MGM. More random; more eggs.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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