Simon Louvish has followed his epic study of W.C.Fields with a book devoted
to Minnie's boys. Since Louvish is primarily a novelist (though originally
a film maker and teaches at the London International Film School) the style
is fresh, lively and - above all fun. He frequently illustrates bald
fact with script fragments from the stage and screen acts, extracts from
letters and interviews with the surviving family. The text is liberally
illustrated with rare photographs.
He is clearly devoted to his subjects and especially to Harpo:
"Harpo's face,ever on the brink of a Gookie, relaxes, and a look of pure concentration takes over, the eyes dreamily fixed on a point that only he can see, somewhere in another dimension, as his fingers flail the strings. While Chico always plays for others, Harpo plays for himself, for his own inner fulfilment. It is the closest to a spiritual moment that we get to in any comedy, a glimpse of both the absolute joy and the melancholy that lie beyond laughs."
This is certainly a warts-and-all portrait of a family which battled hard for success but is written with great affection. Louvish's painstaking research into the exact chronology of the Marx family's lives and careers is presented lightly but helps explains many anomalies. He clearly sets out the origin and growth of their vaudeville acts and how these were translated onto screen. Groucho, naturally, gets the most attention since his public career lasted well into the television age but even Zeppo, Gummo and possible half-sister Pauline are included as well as older family members, the brothers' children and essential additional personnel like Margaret Dumont. The process of film production in all its wonderful confusion is presented too.
There are remarkably few books devoted to the Marx Brothers when you discount those which are little more than collections of film stills. This one draws on almost all the English language sources, even FBI records (!) and notes indebtedness to enthusiasts such as Paul Wesolowski who publishes the intermittent fan magazine The Freedonia Gazette. It isa thorough, fascinating and entertaining read which will send you hurrying back to see the Marx Brothers' films in a new light ... and what higher success can any film book achieve?
- Dave Watterson
The 470 page paperback is published by Faber & Faber at GBP12.99 in the UK (check local bookshops in other countries.) Louvish's equally fascinating study of W.C. Fields is called Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W.C. Fields and is also published by Faber.