It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

Defer to Captain Spaulding, the Lord High Noggin Chopper

It's not very surprising that Groucho Marx, master of wordplay and turning convention on its ear, was an ardent Gilbert & Sullivan fan. In fact, he appeared in several versions of The Mikado, including one that was broadcast live on the April 29, 1960 episode of the Bell Telephone Hour. Here Groucho plays Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, and there's not a single person around who'd get more relish out of making a Little List as Groucho would.

There's a little cognitive dissonance when Groucho struts about reciting Mr. Gilbert's lines, as you expect him to ad lib at any moment or cut somebody with a truly sharp quip. Or maybe he can't insult the rest of the town until he insults himself first. The rules are hazy on that one. To be honest, though, it's to Groucho's credit. He respects the source material so much that he won't make a mockery of it. Too much.

(But honestly, couldn't you see one of Groucho's characters double-talking a village into accepting the executionary paradox just like Titipu did?)

Groucho's love of G&S influenced the early Marx Bros. films. Some of them, such as Duck Soup, Horsefeathers and most famously Animal Crackers open with a choral song heralding the arrival of Groucho's character. He enters to great pomp, presents himself with a little speech, badgers Margaret Dumont, and then sings a brilliant comic song that confounds everybody onscreen but cheers the rest of us up to no end. This convention may seem strange at first on film, but the Marx Bros' early material was either adapted directly from a stage show (The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers being the main examples there) or first tried out on the road. These entrances were perfect for a live audience. Two or three shows a day gave the boys the opportunity to really fine-tune the comic timing, measuring laughs in seconds and adjusting gags and jokes accordingly. (This is how the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera got to be so damn funny. On the road, they started cramming more and more people in as well as reducing the size of the set, just to get the longest laughs possible. And it's probably one of the best-known scenes from the film.)

Groucho started his career as a boy singer, and never got over his love of warbling a tune. You probably could tell that. He's very Groucho-nonsense but sweet when he sings Titwillow in this scene, and when he gets to "There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast" it's clear he's having a lot of fun. And why shouldn't he? Poor Katisha, on the rebound and all, she doesn't stand a chance.

There's also a different clip of Groucho singing the bellow blasty song on a different program with his daughter Melinda, who holds her own pretty darn well for a young kid. How neat!

Today is the first day I thought I'd try embedding the videos in and stuff. Hope it doesn't mess up yer friends list. If it does, I can go back to just linking or something.

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