Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Grouch & Kraz 1: The King & The Chorus Girl
I am a notorious slave to thirties cinema - you can tell just by looking at me - and I can honestly say I have never seen a single film from that decade that I couldn't sit through, and remember only a tiny few that I did not enjoy.
Yet I have to admit, I just didn't get The King & The Chorus Girl, despite the obvious reason for interest that has landed it in this blog, and the acting presence of Joan Blondell and Edward Everett Horton, both on good form.
And it gets stranger. Because (apart from the relative unhelpfulness of its inexperienced lead) the source of the problem, so far as I am able to believe such a thing, lies squarely in the scenario and the screenplay.
And that's where the trouble starts for we gathered here. Because as you already know, this is the only screenplay credited to Groucho Marx, in collaboration with his friend and playwright Norman Krasna. (How did he and Krasna collaborate? My guess is that Kraz did the actual writing, while Groucho ad-libbed dialogue and bits of business as they occurred to him.)
The closest thing to it in feel is one of those sorta-Ruritanian Lubitsch and Lubitschesque films of the early thirties; a high comedy musical with Chevalier and/or Jeanette MacDonald. But there's no music here outside the opening stage show (of which we see more than sufficient anyway), and not much froth and energy either. In truth, I found it a curiously draining experience; airless, and sluggish: five minutes could easily be trimmed from every successive ten.
And I think it's fair to say that nobody unaware of the fact of Groucho's involvement would have the smallest chance of detecting his hand in the slow, pedantic and largely laugh-free script.
You realise very early on that Groucho - who wanted so much to be taken seriously as a writer, independently of his career as a performer - is not the kind of man to pepper his script with self-referencing in-jokes: there are no subsidiary characters called Spalding or Claypool here. (Though you do get a singing appearance by Kenny Baker, soon to be seen in more generous quantities at the circus, not knowing if it's a doughnut or a wedding ring. There's also a ready-made part for Margaret Dumont here, but Mary Nash bags it.) But you might still be reasonably expecting a good sprinkling of jokes with something of the great man's style and rhythm. But for me, at least, laughs of any sort come pretty thinly spread, and only Horton's absurd list of titles ("an ordinary Knight of the Bath, an average Knight of the Garter, an everyday Keeper of the Scrolls...") and one very mild exchange ("How did you find Belgium?" "I didn't look for it") even hint at Groucho's involvement.
His name - and it was played up in promotional materials: some of the posters went so far as to feature his face, above the legend "He Wrote It!" - can only have misled.
You can only wonder what Groucho's brothers made of it. (Which is to say I can only wonder. You may already know, or not care. In fact I'll lay odds on the latter.) Harpo, perhaps, would have fallen for the romance and rather enjoyed it, especially with his experience of high society company. Chico, I'll bet, left after fifteen minutes and went to a crap game. Zeppo's real name was Herbert.
Joan Blondell with the hiccups. Up Next: Grouch and Kraz have time for Elizabeth.