Love Happy (1949)

“This is not the right can!”

Synopsis:
A detective (Groucho Marx) relates the story of a case he helped solve, in which a mute kleptomaniac clown (Harpo Marx) assisting a penniless theater troupe accidentally steals a can of sardines with valuable diamonds in them, and faces the wrath of the woman (Ilona Massey) who intends to possess them at any cost.

Genres:

Review:
Love Happy is primarily known as the Marx Brothers’ final (tepid) outing together. Originally intended as a solo vehicle for Harpo Marx (indeed, the bulk of the narrative centers around his pantomiming character), Groucho and Chico were reined in as well, and given ancillary roles that truly do feel tacked-on. With that said, Love Happy isn’t entirely disappointing: Ilona Massey (best known for her role as the Baroness Elsa Frankenstein in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) plays an enjoyably hiss-worthy villainess, and Vera-Ellen’s dancing is always a treat (it’s nice to see her here looking a little healthier and less gaunt); meanwhile, Harpo’s antics (scripted in part by Frank Tashlin) are occasionally amusing. If you check out the film’s poster (see above), you’ll note that Love Happy is also known for “featuring” Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest films — though her notoriety here is a bit of a joke, given that she literally waltzes into a room late in the story, says a few lines, then shimmies back out, all within the space of a minute or so. That’s it. She’s sexy, but is literally of no importance to the storyline at all: be forewarned.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ilona Massey as Madame Egelichi
  • Vera-Ellen’s dancing
  • Frank Tashlin’s uneven but occasionally enjoyable script

Must See?
No; this one is strictly must-see for Marx Brothers fans.

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5 Responses to “Love Happy (1949)”

  1. Not a must but not really “tepid” either.

    Going back for a revisit, I had a memory of this being a very disappointing outing – but it’s actually watchable if very slight entertainment. It’s nice seeing Harpo more or less in a lead role. (He and Chico each have wonderful piano and harp interludes.) Vera-Ellen does indeed have one terrific dance sequence. And Massey is an effective villainess. (One can definitely see when Tashlin has his stamp on the script and that stamp is most evident in Massey’s Madame Egelichi). As for Monroe, she may only be in it for a minute – but what a minute!

    The downside (and it’s very pronounced): There’s one disturbing musical number – ‘Who Stole That Jam?’ – in which a woman singing as a mother physically abuses her raggedy doll children so that they’ll ‘fess up. What the h is *that* doing in there??? But the real weak link here is the considerable amount of clunky verbal jokes. I don’t think any of them work, and there are many of them. The visual ones are more successful more often. And that’s where we have to thank director David Miller (who would go on to do ‘Sudden Fear’, ‘Lonely Are The Brave’, etc.). If any ffs are interested in how a director can take a so-so script and serve it up with as much pizazz as is possible, they may really want to take a look at ‘Love Happy’. In less-competent hands, ‘LH’ could really have been forgettable. But Miller did his best to make it work and the result is pleasant enough while it’s running.

    The rumor is that this film was mainly made in order to get Chico out of gambling debt.

  2. I was surprised to find myself enjoying this one more than its reputation warrants, too. No, it offers nothing close to the zany brilliance of the Marx Brothers’ earliest output (which is inevitably what dissenters were comparing it to), but — as you’ve pointed out — it’s certainly “watchable if very slight entertainment”. I think I was most impressed by Massey (why didn’t she make more films??) and Harpo (whose autobiography I’m now reading; what a fascinating fellow! He certainly deserved his chance to shine, and it’s too bad, really, that this didn’t remain a solo outing for him).

    Yes, the Tashlin influence is certainly felt — particularly for me in the closing chase sequence (taking place among product-placement billboards), which bears definite visual resemblance to the memorable opening sequence of Tashlin’s Artists and Models.

    I’ll agree that Monroe’s scene has impact, but (as a huge Monroe fan) I still felt a bit cheated. Interestingly, her brief entrance and exit smack of caricature — right at the beginning of her career, no less.

  3. I would ‘argue’ that, in its own way, ‘LH’ is a more satisfying film than a better-known MB title like ‘Duck Soup’, if only because ‘LH’ sets out to at least be watchable throughout. As I mentioned in my ‘DS’ post, I find that one a bit dull until the finish – like they thought all would be forgiven if they went out with a bang. Granted, things do pick up nicely near the conclusion of ‘DS’, but I felt more impatient with it than with ‘LH’.

    It’s interesting the way Monroe’s exit is shot: she walks straight toward the camera, and then seems to have a knowing smile as she makes a sharp left out of the frame. “Some men are following me,” is what she says as she leaves – and the set-up just makes you want to follow.

  4. Wow! Citing Love Happy as better in some way than Duck Soup (which was voted the 5th funniest American film of all time by the AFI, ooh la la) is really putting yourself out there on a limb! (Then again, I don’t expect anything less from you. ;))

    And I do sort of understand where you’re coming from. Duck Soup is “pure” Marx Brothers anarchy, while Love Happy definitely has more of a true story arc to it — and in that sense, may very well be considered more narratively “satisfying”.

  5. (chortle) Like I care about the AFI!

    Although I tend to hold strong narrative in high regard, I have absolutely no objections to something totally free-form…or *anything* really, as long as it seems to work on its own terms. While ‘DS’ is certainly anarchic, to me it’s not anarchic enough. It just seems to slowly build up steam for kind of a wild climax. So, no, ultimately I don’t find it all that satisfying as a complete film.

    As much as I admire a lot of the antics in their work overall, I doubt I would put any MB movie in a top 10 comedies list.

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