05th Feb2012

Book Review: The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia

by Paul Metcalf

Written by Glenn Mitchell | Published by Titan Books

To some movies are very of the “now,” whether it’s the latest summer hit or the latest super hero movie that’s coming out soon, or the latest so-called horror movie that we complain is not bloody enough because it’s had its rating reduced to make more money – we all know we’ve complained about it. What we sometimes forget though is that the movie industry has a history that can be more interesting than any of the movies. It’s the history of how they came to be and where the inspiration for everything we find in the scenes we so love come from. When you look at the history of movies you see the Universal monsters that pulled monsters such as Dracula and the Wolf Man into the main stream, the actors who could do with one smile more than any book could. When the world was introduced to the power of movies we were introduced into a world of no other, a world of make believe where literally anything was possible.

One of the genres that gave so much to people was comedy. Whether it was Chaplin or Buster Keaton clowning around the screen for our entertainment or Abbot and Costello running around being chased by the famous screen monsters comedy was one of the first elements put onto the screen and will always be one of the most popular forms of entertainment that we watch, it easily fits into almost every other genre of movie even tragedy. When comedy is done right it can be added to the most tragic story just for that little moment where you feel you have to laugh even if it’s wrong. Comedy has the ability to make us smile; it’s one of the few things in the world that allows us to escape it.

As a movie fan I love the clowns such as Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton and of course the Marx Brothers so when I get the chance to read anything about them of course I jump at the chance, this is what I got when The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia arrived for me to review. Written by Glenn Mitchell this book features everything you would want to know about the Marx Brothers and probably a lot that would surprise you. Whether it was their liberal views at times when it could be a risk to their careers (read McCarthyism into that one and what happened to Chaplin) or the reasons behind their on screen characters there is a depth of information in the book that will have you reading for hours. I did find though that because it’s not in chronological order it’s quite hard to get a feel for the time when events happened in their lives, but that sort of thing is for biographies not an Encyclopedia where of course each item is in alphabetical order. Another weakness is the fact that there is strangely no index at the back of the book so when looking for certain items you will have to go through the book yourself to find it. These issues don’t hold it back of course for what it is meant to be.

The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia is a book where you’ll find out about their friendships with other comedians like Chaplin, the stories behind their famous movies such as A Night at the Opera and of course the secrets behind the characters that they created for their acts. My favourite is of course the legend of why Harpo hardly even spoke in his act, but I’ll let you read that for yourself without spoiling it. It’s fair to say the Marx Brothers were some of the most interesting characters in the history of comedy movies and you get an in-depth look into their lives in this book, and not just theirs but the other people who were a part of their career. A must have for fans of the Marx Brothers and a fans of movie history it will have you laughing at the on screen and off screen antics of these classic clowns of the silver screen.

The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia is out now from Titan Books.

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