Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remember the good name of Phelps

So at last, Grover has got what he wanted.
Tommy Rogers is no more.

What this means for the future of the Phelps department store is uncertain, but I do know what it means for the list of surviving Marx Brothers male leads.
Tony Martin was the last one.

Martin had a bigger career outside of the Marxiverse than most of them, and a longer lasting one too. This is reflected by his sharing above the title billing with them.
Unfortunately, though, he doesn't make much of an impression in The Big Store, and for many fans is among the least cherishable of all the smoothie support turns.
Even more unfortunately, I've just used the word 'Marxiverse'.
I'm very sorry and I'll try not to any more.

The chief bone of contention is the 'Tenement Symphony'.
Most of you, if you are to be believed, hate it with grand operatic fervour. But I've spoken to enough fans on the sly to know that it has a certain underground following.
It's certainly got its share of lyrical bathos, and some rhymes so contrived they make your brain sting. (The opening couplet about Schubert and Gershwin rivals Groucho's own "and this birdie goes with Verdi").
But personally, I can't help liking it and Martin both.
I like the way Tommy is Chico's mate, and that he warms to Flywheel from the first time they meet (leading to that weird sequence where they come close to sexually flirting with each other). I love the way the shop has got that machine that enables him to make a unique recording of his song If It's You for that dear old lady. ("If it's you, then I'll rush across the floor.")
And in the Symphony, I just love the bit where Chico and Harpo come in.

The Campbells come tumbling down the stairs.
Doodely-ah, Doodely-ah, Doodely-ah...

My friend Richard had a lovely idea once. Like the way At the Circus ends with that splendid shot of the orchestra drifting out to sea, The Big Store should close by cutting to the old lady that bought Tommy's record, whom we have not seen or thought about since, putting it on the gramophone in her parlour, only to find it is unplayable. The music sounds tinny and distant, it slurs, and all is distorted by crackle and ambient noise. Then either she should pluck it from the machine and smash it in disgust (cue jolly fade out music) or perhaps the camera should simply close in on the gramophone, and The End should be superimposed over the shot, still to the accompaniment of the record making this godawful noise.

Anyway, I'm wandering from the point, which is farewell to Tony Martin.
So farewell to Tony Martin.


LAGuy said...

In honor of the man I'll watch The Big Store today. For a Marx Brothers film I admit I don't revisit it that often.

My favorite couplet in "Sing While You Sell" is "they'll by no pan/without Chopin."

Matthew Coniam said...

Yes, that's a good one.

I always enjoy Big Store: it's not good but it doesn't tax my patience.

Look out for that odd bit where Groucho keeps fishing for compliments from Tommy ("Man, you're sensational!") and sort of rubbing himself against him at the same time.

Anonymous said...

I can not thank you adequately for the posts on your web site. I know you'd put a lot of time and effort into them and hope you know how much I appreciate it. I hope I'll do exactly the same for someone else at some point.

Matthew Coniam said...

Let me know when you do.

Daniel Kinske said...

Greetings across the pond. I ran into this website today and find it is one of the more entertaining, clever, and factual Marx Brothers websites. I am contracted to complete a book on "The Art of The Marx Brothers" (Fantagraphics, Summer 2014), which I am pleased to say will be about as verbose as Harpo. It really will be more like a colorful reference book for Marx and poster fans, who want to see what the various Marx Brothers film artwork looked like back in the 20s and 30s (and 40s.) Though the films were black and white, the posters and art are anything but. This will feature complete lobby card sets and posters not seen anywhere else--even the sites who sell reproductions, etc. I have images of people such as Kitty Carlisle, Tony Martin (Harpo asks for a moment of silence), Jerry Maren, Vivian Fay, and Charles Lane with the posters behind them for the films for which they were associated. Please contact me if you think you might have any image that I might not have found yet or any suggestions at all. I have been working closely with Bill Marx and his sister Minnie helped with a Marx Book for the first time on this one. Would love to get back into contact with Glenn Mitchell or Simon Lovuish is anyone has their contact information. Thank you so much.

Daniel Kinske
West Hollywood, CA
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/daniel-kinske/36/576/600

Anonymous said...

Hats off for Tony Martin.

First the lights go out, then Tommy go out.

Thanks for this fantastic site and the research.

I like your proposed ending. Perhaps someone might make a "fan edit" with that ending. However it would not be easy for her to smash the record. Early home recording equipment used aluminum disks with a lacquer coating as the recording medium. Not very easy to break.

I don't have a copy of The Big Store, but I did watch it at an outdoor screening not long ago, and I made it a point to get close and look during this scene. It appeared to me that when he handed the record to her, the record looked much thicker than then the vinyl records we are accustomed to.

Matthew Coniam said...

Great comment. Thank you!
As for smashing the record, you have to realise how angry she is. There's Tommy all smiles, making a nice record, then she takes it home and feels BETRAYED!

Thanks for your nice comments, do keep visiting!