Here’s a beautiful book about The Marx Brothers and here’s a dreadful one about Groucho. The first, by movie comedy-specialist Simon Louvish, is warm, melancholy, loaded with incident, contemporary accounts, documentation, asides and – above all – funny material from the brothers’ long career on- and off-screen. The second, by Groucho expert Stefan Kanfer, is long, dreary, parsimonious and self-important. The first is a pleasure to open at almost any page and the second will send you to sleep in five minutes. The first is ‘a book about The Marx Brothers’, the second is – and very self-consciously – a proper biography of the act’s biggest star. Self-effacing, self-important. Scrapbook, monologue. You choose.
I think this must be the first time I’ve passed out a bad review here and I feel a bit shoddy about it. Bloggers usually only review stuff they love. I love Groucho, though, and every time I go on holiday I take something about him or the brothers to read. Louvish is a permanent pleasure and Kanfer really annoys me because I don’t think it should be possible to write such a mean-spirited book about such a big and complicated (and funny) man.