Seriously Funny: Comedy of Chaplin and the Marx Brothers

         There are many film actors who have made significant contributions to the development of the cinema. The comedy genre of film is varied and vast, but Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers did much to set the stage for later developments.

         Charlie Chaplin set the stage for much physical comedy through his many films, particularly The Gold Rush (1925). Chaplin uses mime and actions to portray comedy, so that the presence of words is not even necessary. There are several specific scenes in The Gold Rush that portray Chaplin's comic genius. He cooks, eats, and serves his boot to Big Jim (Matt Swain). Chaplin gulps down the boot, and allows the audience to laugh at his misfortune. While in a dream sequence of entertaining Georgia (Georgia Hale) and the ladies at dinner, Chaplin performs a dance for the party with forks and rolls. This use of silent mime finds humor in the simple things. Chaplin through his physical mime turns the ordinary occurrences of life and film into fun and excitement.

         Chaplin's character, affectionately known as "the little tramp," was also a significant contribution to the development of the comedic cinema. Chaplin showed that developing a character that people could relate to throughout a series of movies was profitable. Chaplin's tramp also made it possible for characters to represent something that could be fought for or satirized. Chaplin also fully developed the comedic film as a device to inform the public and challenge the existing social structure, such as he did with his 1936 film Modern Times. The "little tramp" allowed Chaplin to develop a style of comedy that focused on a character that found humor in everyday life in order to triumph over adversity.

         The Marx Brothers were also film actors that greatly influenced the development of the comedic cinema. The Marx Brothers introduced the possibility for the use of comedic dialogue. The Marx Brothers went beyond the use of silent mime and just physical comedy, to delivering stunningly fast one-liners. The Marx Brothers starred in the movie Duck Soup (1933), directed by Leo McCarey, which further developed the use of comedy for political satire. The whole movie focuses on the powers of a dictator and how he uses his powers for selfish reasons, instead of for the good of the country. The film makes light of this situation. The Marx Brothers also encouraged improvisation in comedy for the cinema, and showed the power of actors to "play" off each other for comedic purposes.

         Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers were able to make significant contributions to the development of the cinema. Many of their comedic conventions can still be seen in many films and through the work of many other modern-day comedians.

Megan Locke

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