Describing the Marx Brothers in their Paramount movies is like describing a hurricane and a car wreck combined. The brothers were in vaudeville from the early 1900s to 1924 where they finally made it to Broadway in a play called “She Say’s It Is”. Broadway audiences had never seen anything like them. They literally tore up the stage with being so energetic. The brothers’ names were Julius (Groucho), Adolph (Harpo), Leonard (Chick-o) and Herbert (Zeppo). They had another brother that was not in the act Milton (Gummo).
Groucho was always in a power position in the plays and movies. Harpo and Chico would be there to take him down a few notches. Zeppo would be the straight man. Harpo, of course, would play the harp in a musical part, Chico would play the piano and Groucho would sometimes play the guitar…but the comedy is what everyone came to see.
They started movies around 1928 and again no one had ever seen anything like them on screen. The five movies they made for Paramount were Coconuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. These movies were anarchist chaos. After 1933 they signed a deal with MGM and their movies were tamed down to have more of a storyline and some were good but never matched the wildness of the Paramount movies where they had no respect for authority and lived and talked by their own rules. Groucho would say things that we would love to say in real life but we could never get by with it…he would say them in real life…and get by with it.
They are hard to compare to anyone else. The Three Stooges were not the same comedy whatsoever. In the 1970s college students were drawn to the Marx Brothers and their popularity went up with college students standing in lines around the block to see Animal Crackers in a theater. Their movies are still relevant today and can be enjoyed by every generation…
Harpo is my favorite…who never said a word in any film. He was a master of prop comedy and he could have been a big star in silent comedy. He was also a really good harp player also. He wrote one of the best autobiographies (Harpo Speaks!) I’ve ever read. For fans it’s great and for the average person, it’s an interesting read. The book is what first got me into the Marx Brothers.