Sunday, April 1, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: Horse Feathers

The Set-Up: Aaron Brown, the newscaster, said that while recovering from an early heart attack, he used Marx Brothers movies as therapy. If laughter is the best medicine, the Marx Brothers are a miracle drug. Decades after their movies were produced, they are still shining examples of humor that communicates over the passage of time. The four Marx Brothers--Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo--made some of the funniest, if some of the most un-cinematic movies ever produced. You didn't need fancy camera set-ups. Just keep the boys in frame (if possible) and you had comedy gold. Their physical comedy and their crack timing with gags (unreproducible here, unfortunately) keep the routines laugh out loud funny. But they are also anarchic spirits in a corrupt world. Their heightened absurdity and tortured logic confuse the best-laid schemes of crooks and swindlers, while allowing the free passage of true love. That's how it worked in the movies, anyway. The Marxes were road-blocks to business-as-usual, and they could be counted on to disrupt any example of civilization known to man. Someday, I'll reproduce the first ten minutes of "Horse Feathers"*--my favorite Marx Brothers movie--but for now, the perfect zaniness of the "Swordfish" scene will suffice.

The Story: Huxley College is in dire financial trouble, so to guarantee its future success college president Professor Quincey Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) goes to the local speakeasy to recruit football players to play for the college, students or no. But first, he has to get by speakeasy employee Baravelli (Chico Marx) who won't let just anybody in. Action!

Nick: Hey, Bareveliii!
Baravelli: What do you want?
Nick: Watch the door for a few minutes and don’t let anyone in without the password.
Baravelli: Okay, what is it?
Nick: "Swordfish" is the password, do you understand?
Baravelli: Okay, I got it.
Nick: Well, what is it?
Baravelli: Password.
Nick: "Swordfish!" "Swordfish!"

Baravelli: Alright! "Swordfish!" "Swordfish!"
Nick: Ah! (Nick walks away in disgust)

Baravelli(under his breath):Biotsomoscowsindaroomfulafachdisipach!
(There's a knock at the door. Baravelli opens up a security door)
Baravelli: Who are you?

Professor Wagstaff: I’m fine, thanks. Who are you?
Baravelli: I’m fine, too, but you can’t come in unless you give the password!

Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?
Baravelli: Aw no, you gotta tell me! Hey, I tell what I do I give you three guesses. (Baravelli looks around to see if anyone's watching)

Baravelli: It’s the name of a fish.

Wagstaff: Is it Mary?

Baravelli: Ha! That’s a no fish.

Wagstaff: She isn’t? Well, she drinks like one! Let me see. Is it Sturgeon?
Baravelli: Hey, you crazy. A sturgeon, he’s a doctor, cut you open when you sick. Now, I give you more chance.

Wagstaff: I got it! Haddock!
Baravelli: That’s a funny! I got a haddock, too!
Wagstaff: What do you take for a haddock?

Baravelli: Well, sometimes I take a aspirin, and sometimes I take a calomel.
Wagstaff: Say, I’d walk a mile for a calomel.

Baravelli: You mean chocolate calomel, I like that, too, but you no guess it..
(Baravelli shuts the door on Wagstaff. Wagstaff knocks again)

Baravelli: ‘ey, whatsamatter, you don’t unnerstand English? You can’t come in here unless you say "Swordfish." Now I give you one more guess.

Wagstaff: "Swordfish"..."swordfish"...I think I got it…is it "Swordfish?"

Baravelli: Ha! That’s it! You guess it!

(Baravelli opens the door for Wagstaff)
Wagstaff: Pretty good, huh?
Baravelli: guess it…

(Wagstaff shakes his hand, runs inside and shuts the door. Baravelli knocks on the door. Wagstaff opens the security door)
Wagstaff: What do you want?
Baravelli: I want to come in.

Wagstaff: What’s the password?
Baravelli: Oh, you no fool me…"Swordfish."

Wagstaff: No, I got tired of that. I changed it. (Wagstaff slams the door. Baravelli knocks again.)

(Wagstaff opens the security door)

Baravelli: What’s the password now?

Wagstaff: Gee I forgot it, I better come outside with you…

(Wagstaff walks outside. The door slams shut. They're locked out. Both begin knocking on the door and kicking it.)

"Horse Feathers"

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

Pictures by Ray June and Norman Z. McLeod

"Horse Feathers" is available on DVD on NBC Universal Home Video.

* In one of the few promises I've kept on this blog, we actually did it here— And, btw, April Fool's.

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