Sunday, April 24, 2011

Don't Make a Scene: Horse Feathers

The Story: Finishing up our comedy month for April is a scene I've wanted to put up for a long time: the opening of Horse Feathers, one of those "pure" Marx Brothers movies (you know, without the extemporaneous lovers and accompanying musical numbers—oh, it has music, performed by the Brothers Marx, but the music blends and doesn't stop the movie cold).

I've said before (I think) that the former CNN news anchor Aaron Brown once stated that Marx Brothers movies was a tonic for him when he was recovering from a heart attack.  I'm with him (although I've never had one, knock wood).  A Marx Bothers film cures whatever ails you and its sense of absurdity blasts away all the scar tissue that can inform and restrict a life.  There are no sacred cows and no oxe goes ungored.  They are a beaming upraised middle finger to all things stodgy, authoritarian, self-important, and dogmatic.  The Marx Brothers breathe fresh air into any stuffy situation.  Watching them is like experiencing freedom with no cares.

Anything else is Horse Feathers.

Take your seats and hold on to your hats.

The Set-Up: As I recall, this IS the set-up; the movie's just started!


RETIRING PROFESSOR: ...And so, in retiring as President of this College, it is indeed a painful task to bid you all good-bye. 

RETIRING PROFESSOR: ...And now, with the utmost pleasure, may I present to you the man who is to guide the destinies of this great institution.

RETIRING PROFESSOR:  Professor Quincey Adams Wagstaff.

RETIRING PROFESSOR:  Professor, it is indeed an honor to welcome you to Huxley College.
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Never mind that.  Hold this coat.

RETIRING PROFESSOR:  Eh, by the way, professor, there is no smoking.
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  That's what you say.

RETIRING PROFESSOR: It would please the faculty if you would throw your cigar away.
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  The faculty members might as well keep their seats. There'll be no diving for this cigar.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Members of the Faculty, Faculty members, students of Huxley, and Huxley students (I guess that covers everything): Well, I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech. And that reminds me of a story that's so dirty I'm ashamed to think of it myself.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: As I look out over your eager faces I can readily understand why this college is flat on its back. The last college I presided over, things were slightly different; I was flat on my back.  Things kept going from bad to worse, but we all put our shoulders to the wheel and it wasn't long before I was flat on my back again!

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Any questions?  Any answers?  Any rags, any bones (sings) any bottles today, any rags...(raps gavel) Let's have some action here.  Who'll say 76? Who'll say 1776. That's the spirit! 1776!

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: No doubt you would like to know why I am here.  I came into this college to get my son out of it. I remember the day he left to come here, a mere boy and a beardless youth.  I kissed them both good-bye.  By the way, where is my son?

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Young lady, would you mind getting up, so I can see the son rise?

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: So!  Doing your homework in school, eh?

FRANK: Hello, old-timer!

RETIRING PROFESSOR: My dear professor, I'm sure the students would appreciate a brief outline of your plans for the future!
RETIRING PROFESSOR: I said "the students would appreciate a brief outline of your plans for the future!"
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: You just said that!  That's the trouble around here—talk, talk, talk!

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Oh, sometimes I think I must go mad!  Where will it all end?  What is it getting you?

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Why don't you go home to your wife? I'll tell you what, I'll go home to your wife, and outside of the improvement she'll never know the difference.  Pull over to the side of the road there and let me see your marriage license.
RETIRING PROFESSOR: President Wagstaff, now that you have stepped into my shoes...

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Oh, is that what I stepped in.  I wondered what it was.  If these are your shoes the least you can do is have them cleaned.
RETIRING PROFESSOR: The trustees have a few suggestions...

RETIRING PROFESSOR: ...they would like to submit to you.
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: I think you know what the trustees can do with their suggestions.

I don't know what they have to say 
It makes no difference anyway 
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it! 

Your proposition may be good 
But let's have one thing understood: 
Whatever it is, I'm against it. 
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it!

I'm opposed to it
On general principles
I'm opposed to it!
(He's opposed to it)
(In fact, he says he's opposed to it!)

For months before my son was born
I used to yell from night till morn: 
Whatever it is, I'm against it! 
And I kept yelling since I first commenced it,
I'm against it.

Knowing Dad as I do,
I'd not advise you
to displease him
or tease him,
No, no.
Don't double-cross him
Or toss him around.
When dear old dad
once gets mad,
he's a hound!

My son is right, I'm quick to fight
I'm from a fighting clan.
When I'm abused or badly used,
I always get my man.

No matter if he's in Peru,
Paducah or Japan,
I go ahead, alive or dead,
I always get my man.

(Oh, what a whiz this fellow is,
A will like his is rare,
for he's a square

I soon dispose of all of those
who put me on the pan,
Like Shakespeare said to Nathan Hale,
"I always get my man!"

(He always gets his man!)
That's what I said!
(He always gets his man!)
That's what I mean!
(He always gets his man!)
You're telling me?
(He always gets his man!)
Oh, are you listening?

(He gets his man! He gets his man!)
I always get...
I always get...
I always get, I always get,
I always get, I always get
I always get my maaaaaaan!

Splendid, Professor.
Congratulations, Professor!
Wonderful, Professor!

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: Alright, scram, boys.  I'll meet you in the barbershop.

FRANK: Dad, let me congratulate you. I'm proud to be your son. PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: My boy, you took the words right out of my mouth. I'm ashamed to be your father. You're a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF: What's all this talk I hear about you fooling around with a college widow?  No wonder you can't get out of college!  Twelve years in one college.  I went to three colleges in twelve years and fooled around with three college widows.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  When I was your age, I went to bed right after supper.  Sometimes I went to bed before supper.  Sometimes I went without supper and didn't go to bed at all.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  A college widow stood for something in those days.  In fact, she stood for plenty.

FRANK: There's nothing wrong between me and the college widow.
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  There isn't huh?  Then you're crazy to fool around with her!
FRANK: Oh, but you don't know...
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  I don't want to talk to you about this again, you snob.  I'd horsewhip you if I had a horse!  You may go now!  Leave your name and address with the girl outside and if anything turns up, we'll get in touch with you.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  Where are you going?
FRANK: Well, you just told me to go.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  So that's what they taught you in college.  Just when I tell you to go, you leave me.  You know you can't leave a schoolroom without raising your hand, no matter where you're going.

FRANK:  Dad, this school has had a new president every year since 1888.
FRANK: And that's the year we won our last football game. Well, I like education as much as the next fellow...

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  Well, move over and I'll talk to the next fellow.
FRANK: But a college needs something else besides education.  And what this college needs is a good football team.  And you can't have a good football team unless you have good football players.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  My boy, I think you've got something there and I'll wait outside until you clean it up.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  I know it's dangerous, but I'm gonna ask you one more question.  Where do you get good football players?

FRANK: In the speakeasy down...
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  In a speakeasy?  Isn't that against the law, selling football players in a speakeasy?
FRANK:  Dad, two of the greatest football players in the country hang out in a speakeasy downtown.
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  Are you suggesting that I, the president of Huxley College, go into a speakeasy without even giving me the address?

FRANK: It's at 42 Elm Street.  But you can't go there, it's unethical!  It isn't right for a college to buy football players.

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  It isn't, eh?  Well, I'll nip that in the bud.  How about coming along and having a nip yourself?

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  Or better still, you wait here.

FRANK:  Anything further, Father?
PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  "Anything further, Father"...

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  That can't be right.  Isn't it "anything Father, further?"

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFF:  The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived.

And I kept yelling since I first commenced it,
I'm against it.


Horse Feathers

Words by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S.J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone and the Four Marx Brothers*

Pictures by Ray June and Norman Z. McLeod 

Horse Feathers is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.

* George S. Kaufman once said, while attending a Marx Brothers play he'd written: "I'm not sure, but I think I just heard something I wrote!"

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