Sam Grunion (Love Happy)

Created by Frank Tashlin, Mac Benoff, Ben Hecht (uncredited), Harpo Marx

“I am the same Sam Grunion who solved the international uranium-mining swindle. Scotland Yard was baffled; the FBI was baffled. They sent for me and the case was solved immediately: I confessed.”
— Sam Grunion

In Love Happy (1949), the last film the Marx Brothers ever made together, Groucho plays fast-talking, eyebrow-waggling, wise-cracking private eye (hah!) SAM GRUNION, who comes to the rescue of a bunch of plucky young hopefuls trying to stage a Broadway show who have attracted the attention of a gang of jewel thieves. The thieves are after the famous Romanoff diamonds, which have been hidden in a can of Portuguese sardines (don’t ask!).

Aiding and abetting are shoplifter Harpo (Harpo!) and ivory-tinkling conman Faustino the Great (Chico!).

This is by far the weakest of the Brothers’ films, with Groucho rarely interacting with Harpo and Chico (and at no point do all three brothers appear in the same scene), and rumours persist that the film was only made to pay off Chico’s gambling debts. In fact, originally the film was supposed to feature only Chico and Harpo, but MGM refused to release the film without Groucho, so he reluctantly shot a few scenes,  as well as a new ending, and even supplied some voiceover narration (how noir!) to help it make some sort of sense. I’m not sure they succeeded.

But hey, even a weak Marx Bros. flick has its moments. And a then almost-unknown Marilyn Monroe makes a brief appearance as Groucho’s (Oops! I mean Sam’s) client. Supposedly Groucho wanted to give the kid a break.

Groucho has previously played a gumshoe in The Big Store (1941, MGM).

In fact, it was the critical and commercial failure of that film that prompted Groucho Marx  to proclaim that there would be no more Marx Brothers films. However, a funny thing happened on the way to retirement. Two more Marx Brothers films would surface: A Night in Casablanca and Love Happy. Both films share one thing in common: they were allegedly made as a way to help Chico ease the massive debts he had collected between films.

While The Big Store and A Night in Casablanca were not among the best Marx Brothers films, some have suggested that Love Happy is a marked improvement. I’m not sure I agree, although the decision to scrap the unnecessary musical numbers was a good one, allowing the brothers to play to their strengths. It also helped that Harpo (with some help from Chico) had a hand in concocting the basic story, which he then handed over to Frank Tashlin, who had begun his career as a writer and director of various Looney Tunes cartoons for Warner Bros–and what are the Marx Brothers really, but life-sized cartoons? Tashlin’s knack for wacky set pieces and goofy gags was a godsend (the final chase is a good one), and the premise—a Broadway musical in rehearsals—meant that the musical numbers that did make it into the film feel like they were there for a reason, rather than as padding to fill up space and run out the clock.

Unfortunately, none of this was enough to save the film. The boys seem tired, as though their hearts (or at least Groucho’s) weren’t in it.

THE EVIDENCE

  • “Here’s another Broadway hopeful: Faustino the Great. For 20 years he was an organ grinder with a monkey. Then one day the monkey went on strike. He wanted shorter hours and longer bananas.”
    — Sam Grunion

FILMS

  • LOVE HAPPY Buy the VHS | Buy the DVD  | Buy the Blu-Ray | Buy this DVD
    (1949, United Artists)
    Written by Frank Tashlin, Mac Benoff, Ben Hecht (uncredited), Harpo Marx
    Directed by David Miller
    Produced by Lester Cowan, Mary Pickford (uncredited)
    Starring Groucho Marx as SAM GRUNION
    with Chico Marx as Faustino the Great
    and Harpo Marx as Harpo
    Also starring Marilyn Monroe, Iilona Massey, Raymond Burr, Vera-Ellen, Marion Hutton, Vera-Ellen, Paul Valentine, Leon Belasco, Melville Cooper, Raymond Burr

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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