Sanity Clause by
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Prompted By Rewatchable Movies

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Lobby card from 1931

Movies that I watch multiple times tend to be classics, but I watch most of them casually. That is, if they happen to be on TV, and I happen to have a free couple of hours, I’ll have a look, rather than seeking them out. Movies such as The Wizard of Oz, The African Queen, Casablanca, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre tend to attract me. (Hmm … there’s a lot of Bogie in them.)

... so I picked up a tape of Night at the Opera and a large block of dark chocolate, and we all had a fun time that New Year's Eve.

However, the movies that I rewatch with an emotional component are those of the Marx brothers. When I’m feeling distressed, low, or in need of an emotional boost, there is nothing like Duck Soup or Night at the Opera to cheer me up. Likely it’s the anarchy and send up of any people or institutions in authority that give me a smile, and the amazing combination of verbal and physical humor.

My most notable rewatch was on New Year’s Eve of 1998/1999, when the man I’d been dating uncermoniously “disinvited” me to a party and took someone else. Fortunately, a few single friends were getting together informally, so I picked up a tape of Night at the Opera and a large block of dark chocolate, and we all had a fun time that New Year’s Eve.

In no particular order, here are some of my faves from different Marx brothers’ movies:

From Animal Crackers, with Groucho as captain Spaulding:

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don’t know.” Spaulding also sings a cute ditty, “Hello, I must be going.”

From Horse Feathers, with Groucho as professor Wagstaff, in the cute song, very apropos to sing to Republicans today:

“I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway;
Whatever it is, I’m against it!”

From Duck Soup, with Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly, who becomes president of Freedonia:

The satire on politics and dictators is wicked in this movie while being hilarious. There are many notable scenes, but for whatever reason, the one that strikes my funny bone most is a scene with a radio. Harpo mistakes a large radio for a safe, tries a combination on it, and the radio blares Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” despite all efforts to turn it off and even destroy it.

From Night at the Opera, with Groucho as Otis Driftwood:

While not as chaotic as some of the previous movies, there is plenty to laugh at, notably the famous stateroom scene on the cruise ship, in which 15 people are ultimately crammed into Driftwood’s tiny room. When poor Mrs. Claypool (played absolutely straight by Margaret Dumont) opens the door, they all tumble out. And, there is the “sanity clause” bit, which never fails to restore my sanity. Fiorello is played by Chico:

Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?
Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause that’s in every contract. That just says, it says, ‘if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified’.
Fiorello: Well, I don’t know…
Driftwood: It’s all right, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a sanity clause.
Fiorello: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You can’t fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause!

There are parts of the movies that now are disturbing–the sexist treatment of pretty women, and most seriously, the degrading portrayal of Africans and Black people. The Marx brothers were products of their time. That noted, the humor and the satire hold up incredibly for movies that are (gulp!) 90 years old. Definitely worth watching again from time to time.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx for the laughs, Marian. What WAS that elephant doing in those pajamas?

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I agree, Marian. Lough out loud lunacy. It can be increasingly difficult to look at old movies with modern eyes (just like our first presidents who were slave holders, they were complicated men of their era). But, if put in perspective, they are still very funny. I think would be a grave error to “cancel” everything as times chance.

    • Marian says:

      Agreed, Betsy. Some art expressions might need explanations of context, and some public statues should be moved, but this could serve as a valuable history lesson for younger generations.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Makes me want to rewatch one of their movies today, Marian. Thanks for this reminder of truly funny movies.

  4. Great treatment of the prompt, Mare! Makes me wonder about all the things we’ve cancelled that could have instead just included a caveat. Quite a long list…I’d actually prefer to be given credit for critical thinking.

    • Marian says:

      Right on, Barb. It’s a really bad reflection on our education system that people aren’t equipped to think critically. If they could, the cancel thing would become a non-problem.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    The Marx Brothers movies are the best, Marian. Indeed, if you just say “A Night at the Opera” to me, the stateroom scene comes indelibly to mind. I gather that it was, somehow, all filmed in one take.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John. Wikipedia indicates that at first the scene was scripted and, when the cast tried it, no one was happy with it. Then, the Marx brothers improvised a take and it was terrific–that’s the one we know today.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for including all the dialogue–made me smile. Groucho was a comic genius, almost enough to forgive the transgressions.

  7. Suzy says:

    Thanks for reminding me about the brilliant comedy of the Marx Brothers, Mare. Their movies always make me laugh out loud! I can forgive them any flaws because it’s so much fun to watch them!

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    Bogie in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre does one of the best depictions of someone losing their mind that I have ever seen.

  9. Marian obviously your taste and mine have some considerable overlap. The Marx Brothers are clearly in a class by themselves, and obviously they long predate the crop of sillies that I embrace. I’m more than a little impressed by your recall of dialogue. A true fan!

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