Reviews — June 7
The Marx Brothers are, admittedly, an acquired taste. If you were born after 1960, it’s possible that your only exposure to their legacy might have been seeing Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce doing an occasional impersonation of Groucho on “MASH.” The more entertaining option, it seems to me, is to watch the real Groucho maintain that rapid-fire, innuendo-laden commentary over the course of an entire movie.
“A Night at the Opera” is a fine showcase for the Marx family’s century-old vaudevillian act, featuring bits they’d honed on stage.
The three brothers (Zeppo had left the act by that point) team up to oust the snooty leads from an opera so a more appealing couple can catch a break. It’s in this 1935 film that one finds the famous “stateroom scene,” in which more than a dozen people are stuffed into a tiny room aboard an ocean liner.
This scene is surely not as funny as it used to be, but for me, the film’s heart lies in a magical sequence aboard the same ship, when Harpo and Chico entertain a group of children on, respectively, a harp and a piano.
They are, in a word, amazing. The kids are clearly enthralled. The film concludes, naturally, with an opera – that spirals completely out of control – but it’s this musical sequence that steals the show.
“A Night at the Opera” (1935) Directed by Sam Wood. Starring Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx, Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones and Margaret Dumont. 96 minutes. In 1993, the film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
The front cover explains the title of Alice Sebold’s 1999 nonfiction book, “Lucky.”
“In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was LUCKY.”
I’d pulled the book off the library shelf at random as I searched for something else. But after reading that, how could I put “Lucky” back?
And the memoir was well worth reading. Sebold — who since has written “The Lovely Bones” and other novels — recounts the rape itself (in detail), testifying against her rapist, and, despite his conviction, the months and years of turmoil that followed.
She describes her life has having two sections, before the rape, which occurred just at the end of her freshman year of college, and after. It changed her completely, she says, and damaged not only her existing relationships but her future ones.
Most people didn’t know how to treat her after learning she had been raped, she says. Some assumed things that weren’t true; some hid behind avoidance; some wanted to force her into talking about things she wasn’t ready to discuss.
And some were pruriently interested. Sebold discusses the way many people were excited by the idea of being close to the “action” of any crime, gawking at the bright lights of the police cars and making themselves feel important by telling the details.
For instance: When she returned to her alma mater years later to do research for her book, she met a stranger in the library. Noticing she was researching the rape of Alice Sebold, but not realizing she was Alice Sebold, the stranger confided brightly, “I was her best friend.”
“Lucky” is well-written and very readable. It also feels important, as it offers important insights about the way crime victims have been treated and how they might be helped.
In its last chapters, Sebold quickly breezes through more than a decade of her life following the trial and incarceration of her rapist. She also talks about how she finally began to heal — something I’d have liked to have heard more about.
“Lucky,” by Alice Sebold, Schibner, 1999.