The Marx Brothers were vaudeville comedians from the early 20th century. They later starred in their own Broadway shows, and subsequently movies. They were wild and outrageous, gutbustingly hilarious with the central three being masters of different kinds of humor: verbal (Groucho), ethnic and musical (Chico), and surreal pantomime slapstick (Harpo).
A family act, the Marx Brothers went through several incarnations under varying names (including "The Four Nightingales", "The Six Mascots", and others) before an appearance in Texas, where the audience left the theatre during a performance to go watch a mule. This outraged the team, and they began breaking from their script to abuse the audience, which went over better than they expected with the audience finding it hilarious. Their act quickly incorporated a significant component of what would be referred to today as improv comedy, frequently mocking theatrical clichés and tropes, and they began to move up the ranks of vaudeville performers, eventually reaching the pinnacle of vaudeville fame, performing at New York's Palace theatre. A disagreement with the executive running the biggest vaudeville circuit at the time exiled them from big-time vaudeville, and sent them into regional touring, which was difficult and draining. The troupe was about to disband when a backer willing to fund a legitimate theatre production was found. Success on the road with I'll Say She Is, a revue based in part on their vaudeville routines, continued when the show was brought to Broadway. Their performance caught the attention of the theatrical critics as well as the audience, and their relatively haphazard, underfunded show ran for months. Their subsequent show was also a success, and was adapted to film, starting one of the greatest series of film comedies ever made.
The family had five brothers, although only four (and later three) performed together at a given time. According to interviews Groucho gave late in his life, their stage names reflected personal traits or important events in their lives, and were inspired by a comic strip called "Sherlocko the Monk", which triggered a brief rash of nicknames ending in "-o".
- Groucho (Julius Henry Marx; October 2, 1890 August 19, 1977), nicknamed for his abrasive wit. (Some sources say the name came from his "grouch bag", a bag worn around the neck, and used to keep money, as vaudeville performers were sometimes not above stealing from each other.) The patron saint of Deadpan Snarkers. Known for his cigar and mustache (which was actually a stripe of greasepaint, at least until he became the host of You Bet Your Life in 1947 and grew a real one). He's the singer of the group and, although it's not as showcased as Chico's and Harpo's instrumental talents, a gifted guitar player. A cross between a participant and a commentator, Groucho's on-screen persona would inspire performers from Alan Alda to the MST3K team and arguably up into the present day with groups like CinemaSins, his most famous imitator being a certain animated rabbit. Later in life, he became a fan and friend of Alice Cooper, oddly enough.
- Chico (Leo or Leonard Marx; March 22, 1887 October 11, 1961), whose nickname (pronounced "chicko") referred to his habit of "chicken chasing" (womanizing). His trademarks were an outrageously fake Italian accent, a conical black hat, and a distinctive style of piano playing where he appear to literally "tickle" the piano (a play on the phrase "tickling the ivories") and would "shoot" selected keys with his fingers held to form a gun. The most traditional comedian of the three major brothers, Chico would typically find himself providing the verbal component to Harpo's mime, or sparring with Groucho. Despite his Funny Foreigner persona, he was widely-beloved by Italian-Americans as a basically-flattering caricature, since most of his scenes have him outwitting his WASP antagonists.
- Harpo (Adolph Marx, later changed to Arthurnote ; November 23, 1888 September 28, 1964), nicknamed for his virtuoso harp playing (which was completely self-taught). His trademarks were harp playing, a silent mime performance (using a horn instead of speaking), and a clown-like costume featuring a raincoat with apparently bottomless pockets, a curly red wig (later blond, as it looked better in black-and-white film), and a top hat. He is a virtuoso kleptomaniac with a special knack for pickpocketing, ending up with such unlikely prizes as Groucho's boxers and a random man's birthmark. In the early stage shows, he did an Oirish accent, but it was eventually decided that having him be The Speechless was funnier. His mime routines (most notably the famous Mirror Scene from Duck Soup) have become a staple for comedy shows today, and even inspired all of Mr. Funny's entire character in the 2009 season of The Mr. Men Show.
- Zeppo (Herbert Marx; February 25, 1901 November 30, 1979), whose nickname was born (according to Groucho) from the arrival of a German zeppelin at Lakehurst, New Jersey, but the dates don't match. Harpo, in his book Harpo Speaks, claims that the name was derived from a chimpanzee appearing in a comic strip of the day, Mr. Zippo, but when Herbert objected, this was changed to Zeppo. (There are other stories concerning the name's origin, such as the time the brothers were pretending to be farmers in order to dodge serving in World War I and gave each other hayseed names like "Zeke" and "Zeb".) Zeppo was the youngest and most handsome of the brothers, and while still part of the act generally played the straight man and sometimes the romantic lead. His trademark is less developed than the above. (He was a talented comedian, however, once filling in for Groucho during a Vaudeville tour when the latter was ill, and could flawlessly imitate all of his siblings.) After several movies, he followed brother Gummo in leaving the act and becoming a manager for his performing siblings. A talented mechanic and inventor, he also founded a manufacturing company.
- Gummo (Milton Marx; October 23, 1893 April 21, 1977), nicknamed for the sneaky, or "gumshoe", way he had of walking around backstage, or a pair of galoshes ("gumshoes") he had as a child. Having a lifelong dislike of being onstage, Gummo left the act right before it became famous to join the army during World War I, although he was never sent to Europe due to the war ending shortly afterwards. Zeppo, who until then was considered too young to be in the act, took his place. Like Zeppo, he later became a manager for his siblings and other talent, but he kept at it longer than his younger sibling. He died four months before Groucho, with the latter not being informed of his death in fear of making his already frail health worse. According to That Other Wiki, the contemporary actor Gregg Marx is his grandson.
- There was actually a sixth Marx Brother, Manfred Marx, who was also the oldest; he died of enterocolitis on 17 July 1886, aged seven months (his youngest brother Zeppo was given "Manfred" as a middle name in his memory). He is buried in New York Washington Cemetery near Minnie's mother Fanny.
- The Marx's "sister" Polly was actually a cousin whom Minnie and Frenchie adopted.
- They are in no way related to Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, despite humorist Richard Armour's assertion that Karl was the funniest of the brothers, nor are they related to musician Richard Marxnote . Also, Drano was never the name of one of the brothers. Nor was Gonzo.
Also frequently joining them was the matronly figure of Margaret Dumont, typically cast as a wealthy widow who was a perfect foil for Groucho; he would alternate between shamelessly flirting with her ("Ah, married. I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove...") and viciously insulting her ("But I can't see the stove.").
Their comedic style was chaotic and absurd, with lots of word play, pantomime and satire. In general, they would appear in stock stories, tired even by the standards of the day, and demolish them. The surrounding characters, trapped by their roles, would attempt to continue on through the story, mostly ignoring the literary deconstruction going on.
In particular, Chico, Harpo and Groucho had their own identifiers:
- Chico spoofed the ignorant Italian Immigrant, always looking to con, steal or otherwise make a quick buck. He was the only Marx Brother to keep using his vaudeville accent into the movies. It's notable that Chico's character worked on another level besides the obvious spoof; he often got the better of Groucho and other characters with a hint of Obfuscating Stupidity and more than a little gusto, particularly in A Day at the Races. One Marx historian proposed that this was a vicarious release for actual immigrants, seeing "one of their own" get one up on the establishment. Given that the brothers' parents were immigrants (Alsatian Jews rather than Italians), there might be something to that.
- Harpo originally spoofed an Irish Bruiser in the early vaudeville days, but later developed his trademark pantomime, "speaking" only through whistling, charades, and honking a horn. (In Real Life, Harpo actually had a pleasant baritone voice, and was described as talkative and intelligent; among his friends were Alexander Woolcott and George Bernard Shaw. He, like Woolcott, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table.) He was the clown of the group okay, they all were, to a point. He'd literally chase women, randomly snip off people's ties and other things with scissors, eat random objects, and produce unlikely items from his pockets and tattoos.
- In the team's vaudeville days, Groucho originally played a German-accented character; but he was often booed for it (there was a World War going on) and so became the fast-talking "authority figure", and possibly the king of wordplay. It was he who uttered those immortal lines, "Once I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know." However, one of the absolute best-known of his lines is something he never actually said a supposed comment to a woman with lots of children who appeared on You Bet Your Life:Woman: I love my husband.
Groucho: I love my cigar, too, but I take it out once in a while.
Groucho and Harpo went on to inspire the characters of Yakko and Wakko respectively in the hit 1990s Warner Bros. cartoon Animaniacs. In fact, an episode of Animaniacs entitled "King Yakko" is very similar to Duck Soup, following a similar plot and with Yakko and Wakko falling into roles similar to those of Groucho and Harpo. The episode even ends with Wakko having a beautiful woman hold his leg, one of Harpo's Running Gags.
Also, Bugs Bunny: Bugs actually stole some of his mannerisms and lines from Groucho, including the famous line "Of course you know, This Means War!" It is also argued that the way Bugs holds his carrot is meant to be reminiscent of Groucho and his cigar. There was even a Looney Tunes short in which Bugs disguised himself as Groucho to evade the attentions of restaurant chef Elmer Fudd. It didn't work, because Fudd was already disguised as Harpo.
Groucho also has the distinctive pleasure of starring in a series of successful mystery novels by author Ron Goulart in which he and his writer Frank Denby investigate various murders and crimes that popped up in Hollywood during the 1930s (in the novels, Groucho did the investigations in between his working in movies and his hosting a weekly radio program).
The Marx Brothers' films:
- Humor Risk (also called Humorisk; 1921) Don't expect to ever see it, as the Marxes had all the copies destroyed soon after it debuted as they felt it was rubbish.
- The Cocoanuts (1929)
- Animal Crackers (1930)
- Monkey Business (1931)
- Horse Feathers (1932)
- Duck Soup (1933)
- A Night at the Opera (1935)
- A Day at the Races (1937)
- Room Service (1938)
- At The Circus (1939)
- Go West (1940)
- The Big Store (1941)
- A Night In Casablanca (1946)
- Love Happy (1949)
- Groucho, Chico, and Harpo also appeared (in separate, individual vignettes) in Irwin Allen's 1957 fantasy film The Story of Mankind.
- Giraffes on Horseback Salad - A screenplay by Salvador Dalí (yes, really) which the Brothers loved but was deemed unfilmable. Was later fleshed out by Josh Frank and Tim Heidecker and turned into a graphic novel.
- Groucho appeared solo in a number of films, including:
The Marx Brothers' TV appearences:
- Groucho's comeback Game Show You Bet Your Life
- Groucho performed the part of Ko-Ko in a production of The Mikado on The Bell Telephone Hour.
- Harpo appears in one of the Hollywood arc episodes of I Love Lucy (complete with harp and mirror routine) with Ricky and Fred dressed as Groucho and Chico.
- Both Harpo and Groucho appeared on separate episodes of the Game Show I've Got a Secret, and Groucho appeared as both panelist and Mystery Guest in episodes of What's My Line?.
- The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians, an animated vaudeville-style TV special (1970) by Rankin/Bass Productions, featuring the voices of Groucho as himself and Napoleon, Jack Benny, George Burns, Phyllis Diller, Paul Frees as the voices of Zeppo (who had retired from the movies in 1933), W.C. Fields and Chico Marx, who had died in 1946 and 1961, respectively; the Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson, and Henny Youngman.
They often employed such tropes as:
- Actually Pretty Funny: As stated above, Italian-Americans' reaction to Chico's character.
- Bag of Holding: Harpo's baggy old overcoat has been known to produce lit candles, hot cups of tea, fresh fish, and roughly eight drawers' worth of stolen silverware.
- Big Little Brother: Of the four performing brothers, Zeppo was the youngest, but also the tallest and most traditionally handsome.
- Book Worm: Groucho, who always regretted barely spending any time in school as a child, was an avid bookworm, attempting to read a new book every day and even writing several himself. One of his proudest moments was when several of his writings were preserved in the Library of Congress for historical significance. He often remarked that "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:Groucho: (as Chico begins a piano solo) I've got to stay here— but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this thing blows over.
- In another instance, he deliberately tells a bad joke and then says to the audience "Well, all the jokes can't be good! You gotta expect that sometimes."
- Similarly, after one particularly bad stock joke he says "That's the first time I've used that joke in 20 years."
- It becomes a Running Gag in At The Circus since Groucho does it numerous times. One of the best is a scene where he's trying to get something Pauline has stuffed down her shirt, and when he realized she's done so he looks at the camera in fear and says "There has to be some way to get that money while staying out of the Hays Office!"
- This dress is bright red, but Technicolor is SOOO expensive!
- In Go West, after binding and gagging one of the villain's henchmen, Groucho turns toward the audience and remarks "Did you know this is the best gag in the picture?"
- "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude." This is a shout-out to Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, in which the characters speak to each other while holding masks, then drop the masks to voice their true feelings in soliloquies.
- In another instance, he deliberately tells a bad joke and then says to the audience "Well, all the jokes can't be good! You gotta expect that sometimes."
- Butt-Monkey: Margaret Dumont's characters were always insulted and embarrassed by Groucho.
- Call-Back: During the musical number "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" in At the Circus, Groucho mentions that Lydia had a tattoo of "Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon", referring back to the character he played in Animal Crackers.
- In A Night at the Opera, Groucho says "You know this means war!", referring to their previous film Duck Soup.
- In A Day At The Races he barn dance has the lyric "All God's children got swing." which is a call back to Duck Soup where the line was "All God's children got guns."
- Captain Obvious: During the 1970s, when Groucho attended a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar with Elton John, he remarked "This is sure to offend the Jews" in reagards to the crucifixion scene, which may be considered a bit of self-deprecating humor, since Groucho and his brothers were Jewish.
- The Casanova: Chico in real life. His nickname, not coincidentally, was pronounced "Chick-o".
- Cash Lure: In Go West, Harpo uses this on Groucho.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Harpo. Sometimes a harmless Reality Warper.
- Comedic Sociopathy: Part of their charm is the fact that the Marxes basically didn't care about the plot. Groucho was a comedic sociopath exactly as much as MST3K's Mike and Joel were he doesn't buy into the significance of anything that you would normally expect a character in a movie to care about. All three of the primary Marxes knew they were in a movie, and were willing to continue being in the movie as long as nobody expected them to give a damn. Harpo and Chico are sometimes theoretically allies with Groucho, sometimes antagonists...and it doesn't matter in the slightest.
- In the original scripts for Duck Soup, Groucho's character (Rufus T. Firefly) is the owner of a munitions factory before being appointed President of Freedonia and he has no qualms about using his new position to start a war in order to improve his business. Executive Meddling forced this to be changed, as The Powers That Be at Paramount Pictures felt it was too unbelievable that a politician or captain of industry would be so corrupt.
- Comic Trio: After Zeppo left, and some would claim before.
- The Comically Serious: Zeppo, several times. Some would argue that this is his real talent.
- It was definitely Margaret Dumont's talent. Not many people can act like this around Groucho without Corpsing.
- Commander Contrarian: Groucho.Wagstaff: Whatever it is / I'm against it! / No matter what it is or who presents it / I'm against it!
- Cool Hat: Harpo's high hat.
- Cute Mute: Harpo.
- Deadpan Snarker: Groucho especially, but Chico had his moments.
- In the letter dictation scene from Duck Soup, the underappreciated Zeppo deadpans circles around Groucho.
- Silent Snarker: Harpo.
- Department of Redundancy Department: A routine in A Night at the Opera which focuses on a contract whose clauses are all along the lines of "The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part."
- Distracted by the Sexy: Everybody, but especially Harpo.
- Do Wrong, Right: Being entirely self-taught, Harpo inadvertently learned the harp backwards. (he put it on the wrong shoulder — then saw a greeting card with an angel holding it the right way.) After he became successful, he tried to take lessons to learn how to do it the right way, but his teachers were all too enraptured by his playing to ever instruct him. The one exception was Mildred Dilling, who broke him of a lot of bad habits and coached him in certain songs he wanted to learn. When he got stuck he would call her up and she'd pull her harp over next to the phone and they'd play back and forth until he could correct the problem. In other cases, he was asked to share his technique with formally-trained harpists, which he found entirely impossible.
- Double Entendre: Groucho could turn anything into one with just a wag of his eyebrows and a smirk. Anything. He would later lampshade his reputation for this on You Bet Your Life, because the audience would go off when a guest would say something they knew Groucho would turn into this.Groucho: I must have some reputation if they keep laughing before I even say anything.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In The Cocoanuts Harpo wore his red wig from their stage show, which appears dark grey on the black and white film. He quickly decided that it would look better bleached to a light pink. That's why he's called Pinky in some of the films. Many fans do think of Harpo as blond.
- Excuse Plot: Any "plot" is there purely for form's sake. The real reason their movies were made and why people went to see them is purely For the Funnyz.
- In his autobiography, Harpo describes how, during an acting tour in Russia, a director insisted on inserting dramatic scenes between Harpo's comedic routines because he didn't think the audience would enjoy the show unless it made some level of sense. As Harpo couldn't understand the scenes (which were in Russian), he would just stand there waiting for his cue to do his next trick. In relating this, he recalled that although he was convinced it would be a disaster, it turned out that the director was right; the combination of dramatic scenes and slapstick comedy ended up being a massive hit.
- Extreme Omnivore: Harpo, who eats everything, including buttons, telephones and thermometers.
- Five-Man Band:
- Foil: The Marxes had several throughout their films: Margaret Dumont, Sig Ruman (A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and Thelma Todd (Monkey Business, Horse Feathers).
- Forgotten Trope: Horse Feathers relies on several concepts, like "college widows", that no longer exist.
- For the Funnyz: The bros' main goal in basically any movie.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Groucho is Sanguine, Harpo is Melancholic, Chico is Choleric and Zeppo is Phlegmatic.
- Freudian Trio: Groucho = superego. Chico = ego. Harpo = id.
- Funny Foreigner: Chico is a holdover of the classic "dialect comedian" from vaudeville, specifically a comical Italian.
- Funny Character, Boring Actor: Groucho and Harpo. Both, in real life, were quiet and introverted. Harpo was a soft-spoken family man who, though a member of the Algonquin Round Table, was more of an audience for their zingers. In Real Life he preferred painting, playing his harp, and spending time with his children to wild nightlife. Groucho, too, disliked raucous nightlife. According to his son, he preferred to spend his leisure time reading and writing.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Zeppo was a Real Life example. He eventually left the act to start an engineering firm, and invented the clamps used to secure the first atom bombs in their bays.
- The Gambling Addict: In Real Life Chico was a degenerate gambler. Gambling led him to meet MGM mogul Irving Thalberg (another gambler) and in consequence, a chance to resurrect the brothers' career after Zeppo quit the team. But in the long run it also led to Chico constantly being on the brink of going bankrupt, which forced the Marx Brothers to stay together for ten years longer than planned to earn income to help with Chico's debts. Eventually all of his four brothers forced him to go into an allowance scheme, where they would manage Chico's earnings and give him a monthly stipend so that he wouldn't gamble it all away.
- Genius Ditz: Harpo played a bumbling fool who was nonetheless a brilliant harpist.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: A core value of Groucho's comedic approach, to the point that legend attributes far more, and far more blatant, successes to him than he actually had. A few examples:
Quale: There's something corrupt going on around my pants, but I just can't seem to locate it.
- In Horse Feathers Groucho, when renting a canoe, comments "I wanted a flat bottom, but the girl in the boathouse didn't have one."
- From Animal Crackers: "We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a couple of weeks, and..." (here, hastily interrupted by Margaret Dumont)
- "Signor Ravelli's first selection will be 'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping' with a male chorus."
- "Now, I want to tell you, madam, that with this insurance policy you are provided for your little ones and for your old age, which will be here in a couple of weeks now, if I'm any judge of horseflesh."
- From Monkey Business: "You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night."
- From Duck Soup: "All I can offer you is a Rufus over your head."
- "Married. I can see you right now, bending over a hot stove... but I can't see the stove."
- Groucho says "Here's one I picked up in a dance hall!" and goes into a loopy dance move, then says "Here's another one I picked up in a dance hall!" and gestures toward Margaret Dumont.
- "Remember you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did!"
- From A Night at the Opera: "You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of 'Minnie the Moocher' for 75 cents. (pause) For a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie."
- From A Day at the Races:Chico: One dollar, and you'll remember me all your life.Groucho: That's the most nauseating proposition I ever had.[later]Chico: (singing) Getta you tootsie-frootsie!Groucho: I'm getting a fine tootsie-frootsieing right here!
- From At the Circus:Groucho: You know, if you hadn't sent for me I'd probably be home now in a nice warm bedroom, in a comfortable bed, with a hot toddy.Chico: Who?Groucho: A hot toddy!...That's a drink!Chico: At'sa too bad! note
- As mentioned above, there's a scene where Pauline stuffs some money down her shirt, and Groucho is worried he won't be able to get it out without breaking The Hays Code.
- From the very beginning of Go West:Chico: Where's your $70?[Harpo reaches his pockets, smiles, shakes his head and shows his empty hands]Chico: You only got $10? What did you do with the other $60?[Harpo describes feminine forms with his hands, then makes a wolf whistle and a mischevious grin]Chico: Ohhhh... You buy a snake, eh?[Harpo looks at him, puzzled]
- Later in Go West, when Quale's money is missing:
- Grande Dame: Margaret Dumont was the perpetual butt of the Marxian humor throughout a long series of films.
- Harpo Does Something Funny: The Trope Namer, naturally. The scripts for their movies would often contain sections which consisted of a direction for one or more of them to do some comedic business, with the details left to them.
- He Who Must Not Be Heard: Harpo. He reportedly turned down $50,000 to speak one word in At The Circus.
- Except (apparently) singing "Sweet Adeline" in Monkey Business, since the first officer could hear them all singing in four-part harmony.
- Later in life, Harpo had a second career as a dinner speaker. He would always open his speeches with a wry "unaccustomed as I am to public speaking," and get the audience rolling with laughter.
- Harpo named the memoirs he wrote in his old age Harpo Speaks. The two last words in it are "honk, honk!"
- Hurricane of Puns: Chico and Groucho are both prone.
- One well known example is this Groucho monologue from Duck Soup: "Well, that [statement] covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself! You'd better beat it! I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing. You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon you can leave in a minute and a huff."
- Iconic Item: Harpo's high hat, magical coat, motor horn and harp. Chico's pseudo-Italian suit. Groucho's cigar.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All their features from Animal Crackers to Duck Soup are named after silly phrases with animals in them that have nothing to do with the plot. These were followed by two films with titles featuring variations of A _____ at the _____.
- I'll Take Two Beers Too: In A Night at the Opera:Groucho: Two beers, bartender!
Chico: I'll take two beers too.
- Insult Comic: Groucho made this type of comedian universally famous and popular. He is more or less the godfather of this genre.
- I Take Offense to That Last One!: In Duck Soup, Groucho does this to Trentino. Although he still likes "upstart".
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": "Chico" is pronounced "Chicko," rather than the normally-expected "Cheeko." He was an inveterate womanizer, and the nickname (and pronunciation) comes from his habit of "chasing the chicks." note
- Jerkass: Groucho, although he's also most times a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
- Groucho was known to be this in real life, too. He was notoriously incapable of reining in his caustic and deadpan wit, but was rarely malicious with his verbal barbs. He was also noted to be a bit of a sexist, but also had a soft spot for children. In fact, the PBS special The One and Only Groucho noted that "he married for love but drove all his wives away with his caustic wit," though all his marriages lasted for years and sometimes decades.
- Karmic Protection: Don't be mean to Harpo.
- Karmic Trickster: Groucho and company spend much of their movies getting back at those who have wronged them. Groucho was an inspiration for the most famous Karmic Trickster of all.
- Large Ham: Groucho and Chico. Harpo is one of the mute examples.
- Lighter and Softer: When the Brothers went to MGM, Irving Thalberg made them lighten up their act a bit to play slightly nicer characters who saved their mischief for the villains while helping the romantic leads of the stories.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance: While the general consensus is that Duck Soup was their best film, Groucho felt A Night at the Opera was better. This is a minor example, though, as both movies are highly regarded.
- Malaproper: Chico, a lot of the time.
- Mirror Routine: Not an Ur-Example (the routine predates film), but one of the most memorable.
- Momma's Boy: All of them were devoted to their mother, Minnie, and Groucho, Chico, and Harpo named their daughters in honor of her.
- Motor Mouth: Groucho.
- The Musical: Most (if not all) of their movies, of course, but also Minnie's Boys, a musical Very Loosely Based on a True Story, namely the Marx Brother's early life and careers, as well as their relationship with their mother, the titular Minnie (played by Shelley Winters in the original Broadway production). How loosely based? Well, for one thing, Gummo never even joins the act once (though he's in the early scenes and some later ones when his brothers get famous).
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Harpo was a prop comic mime harpist.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Although the public image of Margaret Dumont was as a stuffy dowager who, according to legend, had no clue of how the brothers were funny, many people have observed that she had a long enough career in stage comedy to say that was an act. Groucho claimed she really didn't get the jokes, but who're you gonna believe, him or your own eyes?
- Odd Name Out: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, Gummo, and... Margaret.
- Only Sane Man: Zeppo's schtick. He often played an exaggerated parody of the straitlaced and handsome leading man prevalent in Hollywood at the time, but also acted as an amused observer to the madcap shenanigans that were going on; The Cocoanuts and Monkey Business are the best examples. In the latter, he even gleefully joins in with some of his brothers' antics and lets fly a few zingers of his own.
- On Second Thought: "I could dance with you until the cows come home. On Second Thought I'd rather dance with the cows until you came home."
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Watch Harpo when he sits down to play the harp. All traces of his usual goofy clown suddenly disappear as he becomes intent on the music, and then reappear as soon as the music ends. Chico at the piano is sometimes this as well, but Chico mixed up the clowning and the serious music more than Harpo did.
- Overly Long Gag:
- A Day at the Races features Harpo beginning to play the piano... before attacking it, spending two to three minutes just tearing it apart. Out of the wreckage, he pulls the strings, which he then proceeds to play as a harp, at which point, the scene stops being a gag and just becomes a very nice harp performance.
- Animal Crackers features Chico's incredibly long piano scene and the scene where Harpo pours a truly remarkable amount of cutlery out of his pocket.
- A Night at the Opera:Chico: And two hard-boiled eggs.
Groucho: And two hard-boiled eggs.
Groucho: Make that three hard-boiled eggs.
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Not an example in the strictest sense, but the Trope Maker for half of the ones that are. Anytime the password is "swordfish", it's a reference to Horse Feathers.
- Power Trio: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.
- Premature Aggravation: A truly epic example in Duck Soup; see the trope page for the full quote.
- Pretext for War: Duck Soup.
- Quick Change: In Go West, Chico and Harpo (playing Joseph and Rusty Panello) approach Groucho (as S. Quentin Quale), and when Groucho sells Harpo a beaverskin hat for $1, Harpo gives him a $10 bill, and gets $9 back in change, with Harpo fishing his original $10 bill out of Groucho's pocket and buying an animal skin for $1 by giving him the same $10 bill with $9 change due from Groucho. By the time Groucho gets wise, Chico and Harpo offer him $1 back, only to give him the $10 with $9 change back, and again when offering to pay the $1 sales tax with $9 change coming back, pretending they didn't receive their change, when Harpo put his hand in front of Chico's to pocket the bills. By the time Groucho goes about his way, they've gained about $45 change due to Harpo's nimble hands and his original $10 bill.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: Even for their time, they were considerable masters of this craft, especially Groucho, who spat out so many one-liners that it can take multiple viewings of any film just to hear all of his jokes (presumably because you'll be laughing too hard), let alone find them funny. Even if you don't laugh at each individual joke, the absurdly fast delivery can be funny in itself.
- Really Gets Around: According to Gummo, Chico's favourite people were actors who gambled, producers who gambled and women who screwed. Averted with Harpo, who married late, but was a devoted family man.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Every Double Act followed this pattern. From reddest to bluest: Harpo's characters, Chico's characters, Groucho's characters, and Zeppo's characters.
- Secret Word: Groucho and Chico have a famous routine based on this concept in Horse Feathers. Hilarious in Hindsight is the fact that Groucho would later become the host of a game show called You Bet Your Life where a secret word was also an important part of the game.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: In most films, Harpo is the supremely silly clown, but he always performs the harp as a serious musician.
- Silent Partner: Chico frequently did the talking for Harpo, and even lampshaded this on occasion.
- Sixth Ranger: Margaret Dumont. Groucho even lovingly called her "The fifth Marx brother."
- Slobs vs. Snobs: The basis for most of their stories, with the uncouth Marxes making fools out of high-society people.
- Smart Jerk and Nice Moron: In the movies Chico and Harpo are usually paired up together, with Chico as the scheming leader, while the mute Manchild Harpo just tags along. Nevertheless, Chico often scolds Harpo for being stupid and not understanding him.
- The Speechless: It's not entirely clear whether Harpo's character is meant to be this or just The Voiceless. In any case, he communicates just fine through mime and whistling.
- Spiritual Successor: Looney Tunes and Monty Python are probably the closest comparison.
- The State Room Sketch: Trope/Sketch Originators; most other instances are a Shout-Out.
- Stealing from the Hotel: In The Cocoanuts, Chico and Harpo check in with an empty suitcase. "That's all right, we fill it before we leave."
- Straight Man: Zeppo, Margaret Dumont, and really anyone else who spoke to one of the three.
- Zeppo demonstrated in more than one film that he could do comedy too, but the brothers liked to circulate tales about how Margaret Dumont never really understood that she was appearing in comedies and genuinely believed that she was playing a serious role. At least one of their biographers has demonstrated that in Dumont's earlier career, she was noted as a smart actress who was adept at playing society matrons but also at subtly subverting them for comic purposes; the likelihood is that Dumont realised that it was funnier if people believed that she truly didn't get the joke, and so she doggedly played the brothers' Straight Man both on and off screen, making her one of the most dedicated examples of this trope ever witnessed.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Zeppo left the act, several men filled his spot - Allan Jones (A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races), Frank Albertson (Room Service), Kenny Baker (At the Circus), John Carroll, (Go West), Tony Martin (The Big Store) and Charlie Drake (A Night in Casablanca).
- Surreal Humor: Harpo has a coat that appears to contain everything he wants. Certain gags are physically impossible and/or break the fourth wall. Groucho and Chico frequently discuss absurd topics, and Groucho himself also has absurd non-sequiturs. It is any surprise that Salvador Dalí was a big fan?
- Stylistic Suck:
- According to one interpretation, this was the point of Zeppo's character. He was meant as an exaggerated parody of the typical feckless leading man character that headlined contemporary musicals and comedies of the late 1920s. His presence in Horse Feathers and Monkey Business makes much more sense in this light.
- Groucho's dancing. By the time the brothers started making their movies, he was an accomplished dancer (starting out as an awkward teen in vaudeville), but his floppy and slightly off-beat moves were just funnier.
- Take That!: Groucho sings and plays the guitar ("Everyone Says I Love You") in Horse Feathers reportedly because he felt stopping the films so his brothers could do their musical schticks was getting old. Notably, the next film (Duck Soup) has no harp and piano bits. (But only that one film!)
- Tempting Fate: A popular rumor as to why Harpo never spoke goes back to one of their earliest Vaudeville performances, where the theater manager paid the Brothers in sacks of pennies, which they had to lug onto a train they were late for. An angry Harpo shouted "I hope your theater burns to the ground!" at the manager as they left. The next morning, they read that it had. Groucho later likened his brother's voice to "the axe hanging on the backstage wall of every theater: To be used only in case of emergencies."note
- Theme Naming: Several of their early films have an animal name in the title: Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup. One of their famous routines, "Why a duck?", also involves ducks. Then there's Harpo, who has a soft spot for animals.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Heinrich Stubel (Sig Ruman), a fugitive war criminal who disguises himself as Count Pfefferman in A Night in Casablanca to reclaim the stolen art treasures he's stashed in the hotel, while murdering the hotel's managers.
- Translator Buddy/ Voice for the Voiceless: Chico translated for Harpo.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: See Comedic Sociopathy above.
- World of Pun: The brothers build a lot of their humor from puns. For instance, Chico combines this with "Fauxreigner":"Taxes? My uncle's from Taxes."
"No, not Texas, taxes! Money! Dollars!"
"That's where he's from! Dollars, Taxes!"
- You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses?:
- Groucho says this in Go West. Yes, the guy would.
- Also referenced in Monkey Business:Groucho: Say, why don't you guys fight over there, you wanna break my glasses?