Scenes That I Love: The Mirror Scene From Duck Soup

Since today is May Day, how about a little Marx for today’s scene of the day?

Believe it or not, when Duck Soup was initially released in 1933, it was considered to be something of a failure.  Especially when compared to previous Marx Brothers films, it was seen as being a box office disappointment.  The critics didn’t care much for it, either.  They felt that the film’s political satire was preposterous and tasteless.  Much as how today’s critics attacked the Death Wish remake for being released at a time when gun control was trending on twitter, critics in 1933 attacked Duck Soup for being a cynical, anti-government satire released during the Great Depression.

(To be honest, you would think that the Great Depression would have made people better appreciate anything that made fun of the incompetence of government but maybe people were in too bad of a mood to see the joke.  Who knows?  1933 was a strange year.)

Of course, today, Duck Soup is justifiably viewed as being a classic comedy.  It’s certainly my favorite Marx Brothers film.  In the classic scene below, Harpo pretends to be Groucho’s reflection in a shattered mirror.  It’s a marvelous piece of physical humor so enjoy it!

(And the next time you see a film bragging about their Rotten Tomatoes score, consider that if Rotten Tomatoes had existed in 1933, it would have gotten a “rotten” rating.  The truth of the matter is that most critics are as clueless as Rufus T. Firefly looking into a broken mirror.)

Halloween Havoc! Extra: A Brief Interlude with Tor Johnson on His Birthday

cracked rear viewer


Ed Wood’s favorite ghoul, Tor Johnson was born on this date in 1903. The wrestler-turned-actor (long before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson!) began appearing in films in the 1930’s in bit parts before being cast as Bela Lugosi’s henchman Lobo in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, and becoming one of horror’s iconic characters (so iconic, a Halloween mask created by Don Post in Tor’s likeness became Post’s biggest seller ever!).

In 1959, Tor made an appearance on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE quiz show. The acerbic Groucho needled the former “Super Swedish Angel”, and as you can see in this clip, TOR NOT LIKE FUNNY LITTLE MAN!:

Happy birthday, Tor!!

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Insomnia File #1: The Story of Mankind (dir by Irwin Allen)

Story of Mankind

What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were suffering from insomnia at 3 in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1957 faux epic, The Story of Mankind.

I call The Story of Mankind a faux epic because it’s an outwardly big film that turns out to be remarkably small on closer inspection.  First off, it claims to the tell the story of Mankind but it only has a running time of 100 minutes so, as you can imagine, a lot of the story gets left out.  (I was annoyed that neither my favorite social reformer, Victoria C. Woodhull, nor my favorite president, Rutherford B. Hayes, made an appearance.)  It’s a film that follow Vincent Price and Ronald Colman as they stroll through history but it turns out that “history” is largely made up of stock footage taken from other movies.  The film’s cast is full of actors who will be familiar to lovers of classic cinema and yet, few of them really have more than a few minutes of screen time.  In fact, it only takes a little bit of research on the imdb to discover that most of the film’s cast was made up of performers who were on the verge of ending their careers.

The Story of Mankind opens with two angels noticing that mankind has apparently invented the “Super H-Bomb,” ten years ahead of schedule.  It appears that mankind is on the verge of destroying itself and soon, both Heaven and Hell will be full of new arrivals.  One of the angels exclaims that there’s already a housing shortage!

A celestial court, overseen by a stern judge (Cedric Hardwicke) is convened in outer space.  The court must decide whether to intervene and prevent mankind from destroying itself.  Speaking on behalf on humanity is the Spirit of Man.  The Spirit of Man is played by Ronald Colman.  This was Colman’s final film.  In his heyday, he was such a popular star that he was Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.  However, in The Story of Mankind, Colman comes across as being a bit bored with it all and you start to get worried that he might not be the best attorney that mankind could have hired.

Even more worrisome, as  far as the future of mankind is concerned, is that the prosecutor, Mr. Scratch, is being played by Vincent Price.  Making his case with his trademark theatrics and delivering every snaky line with a self-satisfied yet likable smirk on his face, Vincent Price is so much fun to watch that it was impossible not to agree with him.  Destroy mankind, Mr. Scratch?  Sure, why not?  Mankind had a good run, after all…

In order to make their cases, Mr. Scratch and the Spirit of Man take a tour through history.  Mr. Scratch reminds us of villains like the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Lorre, of course).  He shows how Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamarr) was burned at the stake.  The Spirit of Man argues that, despite all of that, man is still capable of doing good things, like inventing the printing press.

And really, the whole point of the film is to see who is playing which historical figure.  The film features a huge cast of classic film actors.  If you watch TCM on a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize a good deal of the cast.  The fun comes from seeing who tried to give a memorable performance and who just showed up to collect a paycheck.  For instance, a very young Dennis Hopper gives a bizarre method interpretation of Napoleon and it’s one of those things that simply has to be seen.

And then the Marx Brothers show up!

They don’t share any scenes together, unfortunately.  But three of them are present!  (No, Zeppo does not make an appearance but I imagine that’s just because Jim Ameche was already cast in the role of Alexander Graham Bell.)  Chico is a monk who tells Christopher Columbus not to waste his time looking for a quicker way to reach India.  Harpo Marx is Sir Isaac Newton, who plays a harp and discovers gravity when a hundred apples smash down on his head.  And Groucho Marx plays Peter Miniut, tricking a Native American chief into selling Manhattan Island while leering at the chief’s daughter.

And the good thing about the Marx Brothers is that their presence makes a strong argument that humanity deserves another chance.  A world that produced the Marx Brothers can’t be all bad, right?

Anyway, Story of Mankind is one of those films that seems like it would be a good cure for insomnia but then you start watching it and it’s just such a weird movie that you simply have to watch it all the way to the end.  It’s not a good movie but it is flamboyantly bad and, as a result, everyone should see it at least once.




Oh dear…Dylan Dog: Dead of Night trailer

I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comic book reader and there’s really only been four comics that I’ve ever actively made it a point to track down and/or read.  One was Strangers in Paradise, which I was introduced to by my first college roommate, who told me that she was my Katchoo.    Secondly, there was an old comic book series from the 70s called Tomb of Dracula that Jeff loves.  The entire series has been collected in four trade paperbacks and, last Christmas, I ordered all four of them.  Of course, since I ordered them all in August (patience and impulse-control not being my strong suit), I had a lot of time to read through them before wrapping them up and giving them away.  (And, to my surprise, I enjoyed them in all of their platform shoed glory.)  Third, there’s The Walking Dead which Arleigh introduced me to.  And finally, there’s Dylan Dog.

I haven’t read a lot of Dylan Dog, largely because it’s an Italian comic and English translations aren’t easy to come across.  (And apparently, when an American company did try to reprint the series in English, they ended up getting sued by the estate of Groucho Marx.)  So, I can’t claim to be an expert on Dylan Dog because almost all of my information about this series comes second-hand.  Honestly, if you asked me to tell you about Dylan Dog, I could probably give you the Wikipedia equivalent of an answer (i.e., that Dylan Dog is a private investigator in London who deals with super natural cases.)

Why does Dylan Dog fascinate me?  Well, some of it is because of what I’ve heard about it from sources that I trust.  I hate that answer because it sounds so flakey and simple-minded but luckily, that’s not the only reason.  There’s also the fact that Dylan Dog’s investigative partner is a guy named Groucho who looks (and apparently acts) just like Groucho Marx.  The other is that Dylan Dog was created by the same author — Tiziano Scalvi — who is responsible for inspiring one of the greatest movies ever made, Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore.  In fact, Dellamorte Dellamore started off as an attempt to make a Dylan Dog film and the film’s main character had appeared — in a supporting role — in Dylan Dog.  From what I’ve heard, Dellamorte Dellamore — with its use of the paranormal as a metaphor for alienation and other deeper philosophical concerns — captured the sensibility of Dylan Dog

Finally, one of my favorite authors — Umberto Ecco — is on record as saying, “I can read the Bible, Homer, or Dylan Dog for several days without being bored.”

So, that’s why I raised an eyebrow when I came across the trailer for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night while looking up grindhouse movie trailers on youtube.

And then I watched the trailer and that eyebrow quickly went down.

Number one, no Groucho.  That already indicates that this is a compromised film.  Number two, I may not be able to “read” Dylan Dog but I can look at it well enough to know that Dylan Dog is not a firing-two-guns-at-once type of hero.  Number three — New Orleans?  Bleh.  I’m officially bored with movies that try to be “colorful” by filming in New Orleans.  Number four, Taye Diggs?  I’m sorry but any series that could inspire Dellamorte Dellamore deserves better than New Orleans and Taye Diggs.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on April 29th, 2011.