Courtesy: Olive Films
Love Happy, the last of the Marx Brothers’ big screen starring vehicles, has largely been panned by audiences and critics alike ever since its debut almost sixty-five years ago. The main reason for this is perhaps the story’s script, which was co-written by Frank Tashlin, Mac Benoff, Ben Hect, and Harpo Marx. Being that Harpo was one of the individuals behind this movie’s script, it should come as no surprise that he [Harpo] was at the center of the story while brothers Groucho and Chico played little more than bit parts. Now, having taken this into consideration, it becomes clear why the movie has remained one of the least favorite of critics and Marx Brothers fans alike. But a closer examination of the movie reveals why it deserves more credit than it has gotten over the sixty decades plus since it premiered. Harpo being placed in the lead role is actually a very important reason that audiences should give this movie a second look. His brothers may play bit parts in this film. But even in bit parts, they are still entertaining in their own right. That is another reason that the movie is more entertaining than some would have audiences believe. And last but not least, the movie’s musical numbers will entertain audiences—even the relatively unnecessary harp solo played in the park near the story’s end. It can be forgiven considering it exhibits once more Harpo’s talent. Anyone that takes all of these factors into consideration in watching the new re-issue of Love Happy from Olive Films will see that the film’s critics didn’t see the film for its true value.
The biggest complaint that critics and audiences alike have had about Love Happy over the years is that the movie takes away from The Marx Brothers’ legacy. They have argued that it does so because it focuses more on Harpo than on the Marx Brothers as a unit. Making for even more difficulty is that Harpo has always been considered more of a sidekick style character than leading man. That’s because his brand of comedy was more physical than verbal. It forced audiences to actually pay attention to his acting, rather than just hear anything. The age of the silent film had ended years before this movie. So, audiences had become quite acquainted and comfortable with movies with sound. That being the case, it becomes increasingly clear why audiences even today are less accepting of this movie. But if the same audiences were more willing to invest themselves in the movie more fully, they would see the true value in the story. Said audiences would see the level of physical comedy on the part of Harpo and just how entertaining said comedy makes the movie in the long run. It really was and is today an art form that has largely been lost. So to that extent, it makes Love Happy even more of a jewel of a re-issue for any true classic movie fan.
Harpo Marx’s own brand of physical comedy and mime is a wonderful foundation on which the script behind Love Happy Rests. It is however, not all that makes the movie truly worth watching. Even in bit parts, Harpo’s brothers Groucho and Chico were entertaining in their own right. Their screen time might not have been nearly as much as in past Marx Brothers movies. But even in more diminished roles, both continued to show their prowess. Groucho was still just as quick witted both as narrator and as the bit part detective Sam Grunion. His interaction with a then-unknown Marilyn Monroe as an unnamed client is just as hilarious as his interactions with other female cast members in previous works such as Night at the Opera and Duck Soup. On the other side of the coin, Chico had his own brand of comedy, too. Both brothers showed an understanding and a respect for their roles in their own way. Neither one tried to ham it up at all. Both men did what they had always done, therefore letting Harpo’s own brand of comedy take the limelight. That respect on the part of Chico and Groucho in relation to Harpo having the lead made for a fully entertaining story. And audiences that are open-minded enough to see this will agree with that sentiment, too.
The balance in the acting between Harpo, Groucho, and Chico is key to the success of the script behind Love Happy. That isn’t to say that the script doesn’t deserve some applause. It is just outrageous enough to be believable as both a crime story and a laugh-a-minute comedy. There is one more aspect of the movie’s script that makes the story in whole so enjoyable. That final aspect is the collective musical numbers included in the story. Musical numbers were still very prevalent in movies even at the start of the 1950s. That is one thing that thankfully hadn’t yet changed in the film industry at that point in time. One of the best of the movie’s musical numbers comes in the form of Harpo’s own harp solo late in the story. He is with Maggie (Vera-Ellen) in the park discussing her future, when out of nowhere he pulls out his harp in an attempt to cheer her up. Given it seems a bit out there that he just happened to have his harp right there at that moment. But his talent is unrivaled. That isn’t to take away from the talent of Vera-Ellen as she sings her own number or what may or may not have been Chico on the piano late in the movie. In an age when the majority of movie makers fill their stories with mostly sex and violence, these musical numbers prove that such substance is just as entertaining today as it was decades ago. And together with the equally impressive acting on the part of the Marx Brothers and a fun story, the musical numbers help to make Love Happy a movie that is more than deserving of a second look whether for the first time in a long time or for the first time ever.
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