Does someone in Hollywood really think that “bringing back” James Dean in a “new role” is an exciting idea, or even a unique one? It’s cute as a brief gimmick for a comedy or a TV commercial, but unless it’s a newly minted script for Bugs Bunny, it’s probably not enough to hold a feature film together.
A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed a book titled The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made, about some legendary movie projects that never found their way in front of a camera. I think I now have a nomination for # 51: Giraffes on Horseback Salad(Quirk Books, $24.99), a script written for The Marx Brothers by famed surrealist Salvador Dali.
The movie’s concept was presented by Dali and Harpo Marx to M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer in 1937, but not to my great surprise, Mayer dismissed the project out of hand. For decades, the script was considered lost. But thanks to detailed detective work by author Josh Frank, the script’s missing pieces were found and reassembled. Frank worked with Tim Heidecker and artist Manuela Pertega to assemble the “lost film” in graphic-novel format, and the result should fascinate and enthrall enthusiasts of the Marxes and Dali alike.
The story centers on a workaholic named Jimmy, who has patented countless brilliant ideas for time- and labor-saving devices. But he is paying the price personally, his only confidante in the world being his social-ladder-climbing fiancee Linda. One night, the couple attend a stuffy party where everyone is talking only about an enigmatic socialite known only as “The Surrealist Woman.” When Groucho and Chico (inexplicably, of course) show up to introduce The Surrealist Woman to the party crowd, Jimmy is smitten by her mysterious beauty and her dismissal of conformity, and he longs to get to know her better. This aggravates Linda to no end, but with Groucho and Chico on Jimmy’s side, which woman do you think will win out?
The attention to detail by Frank, et al. really pays off. Groucho and Chico’s wisecracking style is authentically represented here (we’ll leave the book’s readers to investigate Harpo’s whereabouts), and with a small stretch of the imagination, one can just about imagine this project as an honest-to-gosh movie. In addition to bringing the Dali script to life, the book contains images of Dali’s storyboard drawings for the movie, as well as “bookend” material to explain the script’s origins (including an essay by Harpo’s son Bill.)
Giraffes on Horseback Salad is a welcome and worthy addition to the Marx Brothers canon, even if it is the strangest movie idea you’ve ever heard.