Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gems from the “Night at the Opera” Pressbook!

Look closely at this man on the left.
Think he's Groucho Marx? Well think again.
It's actually an usher made up like Groucho - just one of a thousand socko and surefire ways MGM have come up with to make you want to see their latest comedy release A Night at the Opera, starring this crazy bunch of goofs the Marx Brothers.

Pressbooks are always weird; their ballyhoo suggestions always peculiar in the extreme. But there's something especially revealing about these, since Opera was, after all, a prestige release from the ritziest studio on the block.
Given Thalberg's unease over the team's reputation for undisciplined zaniness, you might have thought they'd play down the madcap stuff and concentrate a little more on the production values, but these campaigns are, if anything, sillier than the Paramount ones.
The thanks for sending them my way go out to Damian, a Council regular (he's the man who solved the Abe Kabibble mystery). In his accompanying dispatch he notes the relentlessness with which the Brothers were associated with nuts, taken to extreme lengths here with a huge variety of peanut endorsement tie-ins and related nut-based tomfoolery.
It prompts the wider point that, while the Marx Brothers were regarded by their adherents as an oasis of comic sophistication in a roughhouse desert of pratfalls, they were always marketed as the most lowbrow comics imaginable, as a bunch of nuts, Tourette zanies almost to be pitied as much as enjoyed. An odd disjunction.

Anyway, time to let MGM work their magic.
Think you don't especially want to watch A Night at the Opera at the moment? You will after the hidden persuaders have gone to work on you with this lot:

MGM display the personal touch. Who, me?

Because the Marx Brothers are nuts themselves, see?

"Hey, honey, I've just seen three tramps on a tandem. Let's go to the movies tonight!"

Because the Marx Brothers are nuts themselves, see?

We've all heard the expression 'to laugh one's head off', but it takes the comic imagination of the MGM publicity department to see its true potential. Here we see a man distracting passers-by with a big coat and a small porcelain head.

Here they actually invent their own well-known expression out of thin air before converting it into comic promotional gold. But is it just me or does this person look like he's upside down in absolutely no way, shape or form?

More nut-related promotions, and a cuckoo clock one for variety. Because the Marx Brothers are cuckoo themselves, see? (No wonder Bernard Shaw and T.S. Eliot loved them so much.)

You loved them in Duck Soup!

Boy, that guy looks pleased to be there! MGM take no chances with their early or late Santa promotion. What's the betting they had a third sign made for Christmas Day screenings: "I came at exactly the right time to see A Night at the Opera"?
And what about that 'Press Idea'? Genius.

Michael Myers, the killer from the Halloween movies, stands in for Harpo at this Loew's Halloween midnight prevue event. The promotion presumably trades on the fact that the Marx Brothers are themselves nuts.

The only man who took up that 'want ad' offer was disqualified for laughing at the bit where Lasparri beats the crap out of Harpo.

A cigar ad. You can work out the connection for yourselves.

This idea was later revived for Go West, but by then it was: 'Hear for yourself Baltimore audiences chuckling every so often, a man at the back coughing, and the occasional sound of people heading for the exit'.

Or if you're really desperate:


Ginger Ingenue said...

Oh this is delightful! :)

I'm guessing the big peanut tie-in, is due to Chico's "Peanuts to you!" -- which, I quoted myself, in the last comment I left, before even reading this piece -- but I had no idea it was some big, on-going marketing plan (involving nuts, and cuckoo clocks no less)! How funny.

"Marx Bros. Nut Sundae; made with NEW Almond Krax Ice Cream."

What in the world is Almond Krax???

Ha. A Marx Bros. Nut Sundae sounds fairly appetizing -- except I'm lactose intolerant, so it'd have to be a Marx Bros. SOY Nut Sundae; and I'm allergic to almonds, so it'd have to be a Marx Bros. Almond-Free Soy Nut Sundae! ;)

But Krax??

I'll have to look that up in the dictionary later...if it's not there, I'll look under the table.


Funny, funny piece! I love your apt description for how the laugh-o-meter (or whatever that machine is, in the bottom picture) would respond to GO WEST.

Thanks for sharing all these interesting pictures! :)

patrik stash said...

wow...and i thought the only marx media i hadnt seen was chico's apperance in playhouse 90(no time at all)

these photos are wonderful and this is becoming the best marx brothers resource on the web...

well done and keep up the amazing work.

Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks! I hope you'll keep visiting!

Otis B Driftwood said...

Great! I've heard of some REALLY strange advertisement, but these ones beat them all.

Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks Otis!