Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Unseen #55: Room Service

Why’d I Buy It?: Came included in the Marx Brother’s box set I purchased.

Why Haven’t I Watched It?: The post Night Of The Opera MGM Marx Brother’s films have a reputation set firmly between dire and dismal. Studio edicts forced the brothers off of the A List and into increasingly crummy B pictures into which inane subplots featuring “normal” leads were shoe horned in.

I unlike the MGM executives of yore have never been deranged enough to let the thought, “I’d like to see The Marx Brothers movie. Only I want the brothers to be toned down and not as funny as they can be. Also I’d like long stretches of the films dedicated to boring people I could care less about." enter my head

As there are enough of the Classic Marx Brothers films to rotate through while remaining fresh, it seemed to me that watching one of the lesser films would be a bit masochistic. Why eat baloney when one has Porter House, or rather Duck Soup, so readily available?

How Was It?: Easier to watch then I anticipated. The film isn’t perfect and has more in common with classic farce then The Brother’s usual brand of free range anarchy (One sublime moment involving an inconveniently alive turkey notwithstanding). The Brother’s play a troupe of Theater Impresarios trying to secure their funding while outwitting a hotel manager trying to thwart them.

There’s no denying that the focus is firmly on The Brothers. While a few drab “straight” leads do show up, they act not so much as focuses for the film as targets for the Brother’s madness.

Really what is missing isn’t the anarchy, but the scope. Even though The Brother’s films were always brisk, the range of action in them, particularly Duck Soup and Opera are borderline epic. With plenty of sets, locations, and extras to play along. Room Service on the other hand is made up of the two aforementioned extended set pieces. One in which the Brother’s attempt to keep from being thrown out of their hotel room, and one in which they attempt to escape it, glued together by a few scenes. It’s essentially one set, and hardly more then a half dozen actors. The Brothers are at this point in their career very much property of the B unit. The film has CHEAP stamped on its forehead.

There is no denying that the lack of freedom and more formalized script bound humor make for a lesser film then The Brother’s masterpieces. But it is impossible to place the Marx’s in an enclosed space and not have something funny happen and as mentioned before there are a few brushes with the old brilliance.

On the whole the experience has to be called “Less then painful.” If the likes of Room Service was all The Marx Brother’s had to show it’s highly doubtful they’d be remembered as the comic geniuses that they are. But taken in context with their work, it’s a low key pleasant exercise. Should all of The MGM films prove this painless I shall think them very underrated.

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