Lately I’ve noticed it’s pretty much impossible to go to the movies and not see people talking to each other throughout, or turning on their phones to scan what’s been going on for five minutes in their world Facebook.

The picture doesn’t matter. Two 27-year-old women are just as likely to chat during 1956 forbidden planetas I witnessed recently, because a group of teenagers used to telephone during A thug.

This tends to happen more during times when people on screen are talking, rather than running from peril or blowing up a bad guy.

Which made me think of the Marx Brothers, as I have done a lot lately, given the gorgeous new packaging of their first five films that recently came out on Blu-ray, and the zeal of many theaters to put a Marx Brothers marathon at the start of each new year.

The Marx Brothers were the first comedians in cinema who could not have existed in the era of silence. Their humor was largely word-based. Some of the original comic clowns like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin existed in both the era of silence and the walkie-talkie, with much less success in the latter. Oliver and Hardy were the only duo to excel at each. But the Marx Brothers, no: the guys needed to talk, and talk a lot. Except, of course, for Harpo, who tended to squeal, usually with a horn he’d put his mittens on.

Moviegoers have wanted the Marx Brothers on Blu-ray for a long time. As far as Hollywood history goes, they were one of the last great holdouts.

The prints circulating looked like ass, with lots of hiss and pops, a layer of woolly stripes all over the images – like relics someone dug up from a keepsake box planted in the dirt.

But even though I wanted to see the promised glory of the restorations, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Marx Brothers and their humor even worked in today’s world, for today’s audience – that we were talking about people in their 70s or in their twenties.

As far as cleaning up old, damaged material, Universal’s handling of those first five Marx Brothers movies…Coconuts (1929), animal crackers (1930), monkey business (1931), horse feathers (1932), duck soup (1933) – will roughly separate your jaw from your mouth.

The films look like they could have been made in the last decade, someone simply chose to shoot them in black and white.

Harpo moves even more like a dervish, Groucho rushes to hit his mark and deliver his final bit of wisdom with greater swiftness, Chico’s eyes convey details and sly asides you didn’t know they were doing before , and as for Zeppo – well, nobody cares much about the straight man, do they? Difficult concert for poor Zeppo.

The plots are, to be generous, threadbare. The Marx Brothers were out of vaudeville, where any good performer knew it was all just a framing device to get to the gag. If you want to play an Ambrose Bierce, you could say life is a version of that, and it always struck me how the seemingly light-hearted madness – with ups and ups and ups – of the Marx Brothers has in common with a Beckett piece, but with more yuck.

They push everything further – every gag, every repartee routine – than you ever thought possible, reaching what must surely be the point of no return, then coming back faster than they came.

Coconuts presents their particular essence to us. Groucho runs a hotel in Florida, money is tight, the hotel staff loves to sing and dance, Harpo and Chico show up, as they always do, Marx Brothers regular grande dame Margaret Dumont attends, there has a scam. Harpo, a walking deus ex machina in a slightly humanized imp form, does not speak, but utters a few words when offended, a symbol of internalized frustration.

When you watch it, it’s easy to notice, “Yeah, I hear you, man, fucking people, don’t you?” Boring.” Then you realize you’re someone who talks to yourself in response to a guy who doesn’t talk in a movie from over eighty years ago, which is kind of the purpose, and kind of the reason why the Marx Brothers still work.

Their energy is created by human-to-human action, which often takes the form of madness and frustration, and then expresses that frustration.

Something, in other words, that we all wish to do throughout our days. Groucho in particular, who can’t stand any insults, real or imagined, with silence, would throw a fit every day when he showed up at the Starbucks line in the morning for his coffee before work and someone started his nonsense. . You would like. I would like. Hell, I’ll give it a try after this and relieve some internal tension. I’m joking. But I like knowing that the Marx Brothers do it for me, in a way, and there’s a nice voyeurism to watching them and wishing you could get in on the act.

The films after Coconuts, as a shot designer, has gotten a little less crude, but nobody’s there for the plot or the crossfades or the tracking shots. You want frenzy, and as far as that energy goes, just atoms slamming and battling each other at crazy rates, we’ve got what’s essentially the spoken word version of an action movie.

monkey business has the brothers as stowaways on an ocean liner, and was shaped almost entirely from two old vaudeville acts they used to do and an idea Groucho stole from a friend. horse feathers is a standout football film, one of the best the sport has produced, in which the culture of athletes clashes with academia. Groucho is a college president, Chico a bootlegger, and the climate scene features pieces from Ben Hur and Harpo scoring a game-winning touchdown in a tank.

It’s kinda iconic, as much as that guy pulling the bomb out of the plane in Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. animal crackers is perhaps a rung, the film in which the Marx Brothers seem to be collectively thinking, “Hey, no one ever stops us, how far can we go?

Groucho is an African explorer’s madhouse, which unleashes lines like, “One morning I shot an elephant in pajamas. How he got into my pyjamas, I don’t know.

It’s funny? Well, no, not per se. But the thing is, it never stops. The idea of ​​someone like that is funny, just like Cliff Clavin on Cheers is funny, that local character you know in your whatever it is – hair salon, yoga studio, cafe, department meeting – is funny.

You don’t want to say it’s conceptually funny, because it sounds funny in theory, and not very funny after all. But it’s when Harpo and Chico enter, Groucho continues to do his thing, they launch into theirs, that a humor emerges that knows no constraints of decade or era.

And the best example of this, in the manner of the Marx Brothers, is duck soup. Comedy movies are almost unloved in terms of “Best Ever” movie lists. Neither do horror movies. But you could put duck soup in the pantheon with The game’s rules, Citizen Kane, fear of heights, Bride of Frankenstein, The generaland Researchers.

Critics at the time thought it was a disappointment and that the brothers had wandered off. Groucho is the president of Freedonia. As usual, he’s broke; or rather, it is his country. Chico and Harpo are international spies. A scheme is set up to get much-needed funds, but it goes awry because Groucho thinks he’s been insulted, necessitating a Groucho-style war.

Political commentators today should probably pick up a movie like this and make scholarly references to it, but a lot of people just don’t know the fucking thing, won’t look for it and will miss it about a damn awesome thing in their lives.

But if you’re not one of those people, or already know about it, then yes, the proverbial donkey can still be laughed at while watching the Marx Brothers. And the more frustration you have on any given day, the more likely you’ll laugh. And who, at any time, does not have some in reserve?