Oh, God. How to describe the impact the Marx Brothers have had on my psyche? You know that thing where my first reaction to everything you have to say is a wisecrack? You know how I’ve had three sons, and if they’re within five feet of me you have to keep telling me to stop rough-housing with them? You know how, every now and again, I tell you that it made sense to me? That it’s not my fault if people can’t keep up? That I’m only here to amuse myself, and everyone else is only watching?
The Marx Brothers were anarchy incarnate, yoked to an internal consistency and a set of logical rules apparent only to themselves. And we, as an audience, either kept up, or drowned. I first came across them in my late teens, during a late Friday night when the rest of the family had gone to bed. I was already an addicted Buster Keaton fan. I had already absorbed Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin. I would, soon, discover Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd.
Nothing could have prepared me for A Night at the Opera.
It was insanity. Insanity with a set of rules that were obviously clear to the Marxes and nobody else. Helter skelter insanity. Addictive insanity. I watched it in awe. And within a week, I had worked out how to connect my old VCR with the family’s newer model. And I had denuded the video store’s Marx collection, And I had recorded every one onto blank discs. I watched them over, and over, and over: Duck Soup; Monkey Business; A Day At The Races; At the Circus; Go West; Animal Crackers; The Cocoanuts… there was a time I could quote them all nearly verbatim. I bought books, I hunted down bootleg copies of live performances and TV appearances, I’ve been through several copies of Memoirs of a Mangy Lover and Harpo Speaks. I was more than a fan. I was an addict.
That love remains. The video cassettes have gone, and I’ve slowly built up DVDs where I could find them. There was nothing like The Marx Brothers, and there never will be. They were lightning in a bottle, never to be repeated. I can watch any of their movies, and marvel at their timing, their verbal brilliance, their choreography, their athleticism. They are unique, superb creatures, and we are lucky to have a record of their brilliance. And it all started with a Night at The Opera, that beautifully pitch perfect combination of anarchy, heart, and comic genius that rips apart the sanity clause.
There ain’t no Sanity Clause.