Today is the 57th anniversary of the TV broadcast of the Marx Brothers’ final filmed appearance together. (Whew, that was a mouthful!) Harpo and Chico Marx appeared as Harry and Nick, two inept thieves who try to pull off a jewelry heist, in “The Incredible Jewel Robbery,” an episode of “General Electric Theater,” a CBS anthology series that was hosted by future U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
(From here on in, this blog entry is one big SPOILER, if you care.)
The episode is primarily noted for its cameo appearance by the stars’ brother Groucho at the end. The episode is played completely without dialogue until the final scene, where Groucho joins his brothers in a police line-up and says, “We don’t talk until we see our lawyer!”
CBS’ press release for the show stated, “If you watch the show you’ll see a familiar face equipped with mustache and leer. Because of his contract terms [Groucho was still doing ‘You Bet Your Life’ on NBC], his name can’t be mentioned, but he is not Jerry Colonna.”
I was 11 years old when I first read about this TV episode, and I felt as though I’d have given anything to see it. Now it is readily available for viewing on YouTube — it’s embedded below, in two parts — and it couldn’t be more disappointing.
First, the entire premise is played out at such a literal level that even a kindergartener would be rolling his eyes at it. At one point, Harpo is trying to paint a police-car logo onto his car to make it look like a cop car. The logo is circular, so Harpo gets a spare tire, holds it up to the car, and traces the outside of it with his paintbrush in order to paint a circle. Haw-haw.
Second, the silent-movie conceit would be a lot more enjoyable if the show was truly silent. The episode’s musical score is loud and intrusive, and worse, there’s a laugh track all the way through the show to tell us when we’re supposed to guffaw. Since when do the Marx Brothers need a laugh track to tell us they’re funny?
Sadly, this is a show for comedy completists who feel as though they have to see everything their heroes ever did, rather than having entertainment value on its own. Once you’ve viewed “The Incredible Jewel Robbery” one time, your curiosity will be more than satisfied.
Here’s Part 1:
And Part 2: