What The Heck Is Warren Zide Doing With The Marx Brothers'! And Just What Is AT THE MOVIES'!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Groucho paces and ponders at poolside, while the party carries on all around them.
Where do we start, boss?
I’ve got it! Get this down...
Chico is poised at the keys.
It’s a foggy night in the Old South...
Nope, at’sa no good.
Too foggy. You got anything with warmer weather?
It’s a bright, sunny day in the Old South...
Nope, at’sa no good.
Now, listen, you can’t review a movie before it’s been written.
Why not? It’ll save space in the newspaper.
Warren Zide’s crazy.
And I mean that in the good way. The Old Hollywood way. He’s one of those guys who frequently has to play crazy hunches and gut feelings and simply follow his own personal instincts. He’s a manager and a producer, and as a result, he sort of makes rules up as he goes.
Right now, he’s got something on his desk that is genuinely crazy, and I have to say... after reading the script that showed up on the doorstep of the Labs earlier this week, I’m rooting for him to pull off what may sound like absolute lunacy at first. He’s trying to put together his own personal FORGOTTEN SILVER, a film that pays incredibly loving tribute to a specific period in film. In Warren’s case, he’s a life-long Marx Brothers nut, and he’s stumbled across something that must seem like an impossible treasure to him: a long-lost Marx Brothers movie...
... sort of.
See, Robert Hegyes & Jerry Rannow wrote a script called A DAY AT THE MOVIES over a decade ago, and no one knew what to do with it when they shopped it around town. The premise was simple enough. There’s a prologue in which a film historian explains that in 1939, the Marx Bros. made a film for MGM that lampooned the studio system, and Louis B. Mayer was so offended by the picture that he buried it, literally locking up the negative so that no one would ever see it. Now, thanks to the Marx Bros. estate, the film has finally been rescued and restored, and is ready to be presented. After brief interviews with the few surviving cast and crew members, the script launches into a full-fledged no-shit Marx Bros. movie. It’s everything any fan of the boys could want, and somehow, incredibly, it’s just as funny as the real thing. The laughs come fast and furious, several per page in most cases. The characters are dead-on, the voices exact.
And, yeah, for those of you who think you maybe sorta might recognize the name of one of those writers, you do. It’s Epstein from WELCOME BACK KOTTER. I thought the guy only wrote notes from “Epstein’s Mother.” Who knew?
I know, some of you are already squawking about how remakes are the death of Hollywood, or you’re getting ready to bring up BRAIN DONORS, the film from the mid-‘90s that tried desperately to be a Marx Bros. movie without actually being a Marx Bros. movie. I felt the same way before I read this script. Now... now, I think it might work. It won’t be easy, certainly. You have to find the right three people before you can do anything else. I know the Farrelly Brothers are looking for their Three Stooges right now, and they’re considering stars as well as non-stars, meaning we may well see Michael Keaton as Larry Fine, something that’s actually been discussed.
In order for AT THE MOVIES (as it’s now being called, evidently) to work, the smartest thing to do would be cast complete unknowns. Go out and find The Marx Brothers. Find Groucho. Find Chico. Find Harpo. Accept no substitutes. Find genuinely funny people. And when you make this film (hopefully with MGM somehow involved so you can use all the specific iconography this script so beautifully lays out), make it faithful. Get Sam Raimi involved. No one shoots slapstick better. Get Robert Zemeckis involved. The technical challenge would get him hard, and he’s an avowed Marx-head himself. If you’re going to do this, go for it. Look at FORGOTTEN SILVER, Peter Jackson’s wonderful nod to the silent era. His SALOME is a thing of wonder, absolutely seamless.
I don’t really want to go into detail on the script... for one thing, the copy I have is covered with notes, and it looks like there’s going to be some work done on it. Music’s going to play a big part in the film, something that a casual Marx Brothers fan might not fully appreciate. For another thing, I’m not sure what stage of being set up this film is in right now. If there’s a studio involved, I want to find out about it. If there’s not, there should be.
Whatever happens with this project in the weeks and months ahead, it’s on our radar now, and it’s this sort of absolutely lunatic experiment that I love. This is a family film if made the way it’s written. Yeah, there’s plenty of Groucho’s non-sequiter innuendo, but it’s the sort of thing that is so clever and so well-done that it could slip right by a ratings board. A film like this would cost almost nothing if you did it right, and the returns on it could be huge. In the past, when we’ve seen things like that abysmal John Cherry Abbott & Costello thing from a few years ago, they make the mistake of trying to update these characters into a modern world, and that just won’t work. Embrace the joke. Play it up. This is a lost film from 1939. This was made by the Marx Brothers at the height of their creative energy. This is an artifact, something you found that you’re presenting to a modern audience. This script was crafted with obvious love and enormous affection, and with the sort of passion I hear Zide has for this thing, you can’t go wrong.
I hope I’m sitting in a darkened theater, eating popcorn and watching a film that can’t possibly exist sometime next year. It would be a wonderful, unexpected gift for fans of this comedy legacy, and it could only serve to polish the luster of a once-great studio like MGM as they acknowledge their history without ravaging it.