The Marx Brothers in LOVE HAPPY (1949) – Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and somewhat Marilyn

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It’s not how you would have wished the Marx Brothers to exit the movies, but there really are far worse things on Earth than Love Happy — and if you’ve ever watched The Big Store, you know just what I mean.

First off, let’s get the Marilyn Monroe thing out of the way. Every ad, poster, or video box ever printed for this movie gives Marilyn fourth billing under the Marxes. Sad to say, she’s in the movie for only about a minute. Just the same, her appearance is one of the more wonderful non sequitors of later Marx Brothers movies. If ever there was a woman deserving of Groucho’s patented leer, it is surely Marilyn Monroe.

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Groucho follows behind Marilyn.

Now then. If the movie seems a mish-mash, it’s because it was initially intended as a Chaplinesque comedy starring a solo Harpo (who gets a story credit here). But the fewer the amount of Marx Brothers in the movie, the harder it was to sell. So eventually Chico and then Groucho were corralled for duty. (It’s a wonder they didn’t try to bring back Zeppo one more time — even in his late forties, he would have been a more plausible romantic lead than wooden Paul Valentine.)

The story involves a multi-married diva named Madame Egalichi (Ilona Massey), who has been searching for years for a string of rare diamonds that was hidden in a sardine can. Harpo, a vagabond who steals food to feed a starving theater troupe, unknowingly latches onto the diamond-sardine container and gets his life made miserable because of it.

As Marx Brothers scenarios go, this admittedly is less compelling than waiting for the leader of Fredonia to go to war. But it still yields a fair share of laughs. And Harpo carries most of the movie on personality alone. Scenes that ought to have been used to dress the cutting-room floor — an endless scene where Madame E.’s cronies (including a pre-“Perry Mason” Raymond Burr) search Harpo’s vast coat for the sardine can, and a chase climax involving blatant product placement — are carried off just because that silly top-hatted guy really believes in them.

And instead of an inane closing shot where the Marxes wave at the camera, Harpo’s final scene shows him merrily dancing away. If the scene had only included his brothers dancing with him, it would have rivalled the dance with Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal for cinema immortality.

The funniest thing about the movie isn’t in the movie. It’s the fact that Harpo’s 650-page autobiography says nothing about a movie that was initially intended to showcase him. There’s a “honk, honk” for you!

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