The Marx Brothers help young Broadway hopefuls while thwarting diamond thieves.
'Love Happy' would be the last hurrah for the famed Marx Brothers, marking the final time the legendary comic trio would headline a feature film. Though it's far from their best work (Groucho actually termed it "terrible" in an early 1960's interview on NBC's 'Today'), this typically madcap romp makes up in spirit what it lacks in direction, and ends up a breezy, painless, but ultimately forgettable farce. Today, it's better known as one of Marilyn Monroe's early movies, even though the actress is on screen for less than a minute and speaks only two brief lines. The choppy, scattered nature of 'Love Happy' ultimately derails it and makes us pine for the kind of classic Marx Brothers fare that first lofted this fraternal troupe into the top echelon of comic performers.
Based on a story by Harpo Marx, 'Love Happy' awkwardly combines elements of a let's-put-on-a-show backstage musical with those of a hard-boiled detective yarn...that's softened, of course, by its satirical and slapstick tone. The marriage doesn't really work, making 'Love Happy' seem like two separate movies rolled into one. Add a few disruptive dance numbers that showcase co-star Vera-Ellen's terpsichorean talent, and individual sequences spotlighting the virtuoso piano and harp skills of Chico and Harpo, respectively, as well as Monroe's isolated and unnecessary bit, and you've got a disjointed hodgepodge that lacks any cohesive flow. Just when we get involved in one story, we cut to the other, then the narrative gears grind to a halt for tangential musical interludes. This is ADD filmmaking at its best, and the lack of focus makes it tough for the audience to maintain its focus on the film.
The crux of the plot involves a coveted diamond necklace once owned by the Romanoffs that's ceaselessly sought after by both Detective Sam Grunion (Groucho Marx) and his arch nemesis (and former flame) Madame Egelichi (Ilona Massey). Hidden in a can of sardines that's not-so-innocently swiped by kleptomaniac extraordinaire Harpo in the hope of feeding a band of starving actors mounting an off-Broadway revue, the priceless jewels bounce around the theater, endlessly evading the clutches of Madame Egelichi's glowering yet hopelessly inept henchmen. (The motley group of thugs includes a young Raymond Burr.) The film climaxes with a gag-filled rooftop chase scene that's notable as one of the earliest examples of paid product placement in movies. Reportedly, 'Love Happy' began shooting in mid-1948, but the independent production soon ran out of money, forcing the film's producers (the most famous of whom was silent star Mary Pickford) to solicit advertising from various corporations, which resulted in billboards hawking Baby Ruth candy bars, Wheaties cereal, Mobil oil and gas, Kool cigarettes, and Bulova watches littering the scenario. Critics lambasted the move, but without it, the film never would have been completed. The delay also explains why the opening credits mistakenly herald the introduction of Marilyn Monroe, who had already appeared in a leading role in 'Ladies of the Chorus' by the time 'Love Happy' was released in late 1949.
Monroe's highly anticipated - yet ultimately anticlimactic - appearance doesn't occur until 68 minutes into the picture's 91-minute running time, and lasts a mere 40 seconds. The blonde bombshell slinks into Groucho's office and, in an obvious send-up of Mae West, purrs, "Mr. Grunion, I want you to help me." After he asks her what her trouble is, she responds with a suggestive roll of her eyes, "Some men are following me." Groucho raises his bushy brows and retorts, "Really? I can't understand why." It's hardly an auspicious bit, but it's still fun to see Marilyn and Groucho interact, however briefly. An odd coupling, indeed!
Even odder, the three Marx Brothers never share the screen together, and Groucho - who usually dominates their films - is marginalized. (He provides sporadic narration throughout the movie, but most of his scenes take place during the film's final third.) That's most likely because 'Love Happy' was originally envisioned as a solo vehicle for the mute Harpo, but reportedly Chico needed money to pay off his gambling debts, so he was added to the cast. Groucho's name also sweetened the pot (three Marx Brothers were surely a bigger draw than two), so when the producers threatened to pull the movie's plug if he didn't participate, he signed on as well. Still, despite some spirited work by his fraternal partners in crime, this is Harpo's show, and his sweet, inventive, and endlessly energetic pantomime performance carries the picture and makes us truly appreciate his comic genius.
'Love Happy' doesn't show off the Marx Brothers to their best advantage, but it's far from a disgrace. Pleasant moments abound and some clever special effects spice up the action, but David Miller's disjointed direction and the patchwork screenplay prevent the film from hitting its stride and finding any rhythm. Groucho, Chico, and, most importantly, Harpo give it their all, but even their considerable talents can't save this subpar comedy. Though it doesn't rival their early work, 'Love Happy' gives us one more example of the Marx Brothers' unique brand of lunacy and tight-knit chemistry, and for those reasons alone, it remains an interesting, if not wholly satisfying, curio.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Love Happy' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Olive Films provides a good-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that features fine clarity and contrast, as well as stellar gray scale variance. Evident grain provides a warm, film-like feel, and though some scenes look a bit softer than others, the overall appearance of 'Love Happy' is crisp and vibrant. Blacks are deep and rich, whites are solid, and the monochromatic shades in between boost depth and detail levels. Shadow delineation is quite good, crush is kept at bay, and background elements show up well. Close-ups nicely highlight facial features, especially Groucho's mustache (which, for the first time, is actually real and not painted on), and fabrics, such as Monroe's tight-fitting satin dress and Chico's tweeds, possess plenty of texture.
The major issue with this transfer is the preponderance of nicks and specks that dot the source material. While it's not a flurry by any means, a constant smattering of faint marks pop up on the print. Though it's easy for the eye to look past them most of the time, their presence is still annoying. On the plus side, no noise is visible, and no digital doctoring seems to have been applied. This may not be a perfect transfer, but without a doubt, this is the best 'Love Happy' has ever looked on home video, and Marx Brothers fans certainly will be pleased with this rendering.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track supplies relatively clean sound, though some mild distortion and a few errant pops occasionally creep into the mix. Any hiss or surface noise has been erased, leaving a well-modulated track that nicely balances dialogue, music, and the various zany audio effects that often accompany Harpo's shenanigans. Conversations are always clear and comprehendible, and the musical numbers sound full-bodied and bright. Though this track isn't anything special, it gets the job done, and the mild imperfections don't inhibit one's enjoyment of the movie.
There are no supplements whatsoever, not even a trailer.
'Love Happy' stands as the final official Marx Brothers film, and though the legendary comedic trio hardly goes out with a bang, they don't exit with a whimper either. A mildly amusing romp, most notable for a less-than-one-minute appearance by a rising blonde, buxom starlet named Marilyn Monroe, this awkward mash-up of backstage and detective yarns features some inventive shtick by Harpo Marx and a few witty one-liners, but fails to live up to the high Marx Brothers standards of yore. Olive Films' Blu-ray presentation features adequate video and audio (a bit more clean-up in both areas would have been appreciated), but absolutely zippo (not Zeppo) supplements. If you haven't seen any previous Marx Brothers movies, don't start with 'Love Happy,' but if you're already a big fan of these zany fraternal comedians, then you'll certainly want to consider picking up this disc. (P.S. Only Marilyn completists should bother investing in this release; her footage from the film is so brief, it doesn't merit the expenditure, and it's readily available for free viewing on YouTube.)