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American director, producer, writer. Studied law at UCLA before entering film in 1918; joined Hal Roach as gag-writer becoming vice-president and supervisor of comedy production at the Roach studios. Wrote much of early Laurel and Hardy films. Directed feature films in 1929 with hallmark frantic and undisciplined comedy routines for Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mae West, and Harold Lloyd. Academy Award in 1937 and 1944.
Performers and comedians on stage, film and TV. Extraodinarily inlfluential comedians in America (especially Groucho) with their physical and verbal onslaughts. More anarchic than the universally popular Chaplin; more cerebral than the popular low-brow Abbott and Costello. All brothers entered musical comedy at early age; first success revue "I'll Say she is" (1923-25); followed by "The Cocoanuts" (1925-28) and "Animal Crackers" (1928-29) on Broadway. Considerable financial success wipeout by Great Depression forcing the Bros into film to rebuild their fortunes. First signed with Paramount which was aggressively signing for new sound pictures - Coconuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930) - although technical limitations meant toning down their more boisterous scenes. Their screen personae were: "Groucho, always the leader of the bunch, wore a greasepaint moustache, carried a cigar, and portrayed a tactless social climber who sang and hurled puns, insults, and absurd non sequiturs at every interlocutor; the piano-playing Chico (pronounced "chick-o," after his womanizing) donned a pointy hat with mismatched clothes and spoke in an exaggerated Italian accent; Harpo, with red wig and prop-filled trenchcoat, was the childlike clown who never spoke on film but charmed with his harp solos; and Zeppo was the pitiable stooge of a straight man who only sometimes got the girl." (Cinemania '95) The following three films, although not as financially successful are regarded by critics and historians as the team's masterpieces of anarchic, witty comedy: Monkey Business (1931) about 4 stowaways who wreck a luxury cruise; Horse Feathers (1932) a brilliant farce about university life with Groucho as Prof. Wagstaff whose theme song is "Whatever it is, I'm against it"; Duck Soup (1933). Later films for MGM were more structured comedies in an attempt to be more popular, so less biting in their humour: A Night at the Opera (1935); A Day at the Races (1937). After WW2 the team went their independent ways with Groucho having the most success with a long-running TV show "You Bet Your Life" (1947-61) introducing the wise-cracking Marx Bros humour to the new TV generation.
In a classic Marx Bros film as anarchic as this one it is hard to describe the story line. The wealthy dowager Mrs Teasdale will donate $20 million (1933 dollars) to the near bankrupt central, eastern or Balkan European country of Freedonia ("Hail, Hail Freedonia, Land of the Brave and Free) on the condition that it appoint Rufus T. Firefly as dictator (whose slogan when president is "Just Wait 'Til I Get Through With It.") Firefly attempts to seduce Teasdale (probably for more money) when not insulting Ambassador Trentino, who in turn attempts to destabilise Freedonia by employing spies (Chicolini and Brownie) and wooing Teasdale himself (if he gets the woman behind the state he gets the state as well!). Unable to endure Firefly's insults, Ambassador Trentino is driven to declare war against Freedonia, a war which Freedonia wins.