Back in the Seventies, there was a revival of interest in the films of the Marx Brothers. And I well remember how their new fans bemoaned the inclusion of “romantic sub-plots” – particularly in the later ones. I too thought the producers should have just let the boys loose.
Of course, I now know the truth. It’s been tried – but it doesn’t WORK. No matter HOW good a comedy film is, audience laughter begins to flag after an hour. In other words, great as the Brothers’ schtick was – the films would never have become the classics they are without the inclusion of PLOTS.
You’ll have noticed these days, the works of the Zuckers, Farrellys, et al, are NEVER more than seventy-five minutes long (if you exclude the five-minute credit sequences – and by the time THEY’RE over, the cinema is usually EMPTY) while films made by the likes of Nancy Meyers run TWO HOURS.
This is because Nancy’s films are comedy-DRAMAS. They have a STORY.
When “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” premiered, being a mega-movie (a film intended to run in two halves, without a support feature) it ran two hours fifty minutes. However, the release version was trimmed by twenty minutes, most of which featured a sub-plot where Spencer Tracy’s “Capt Culpepper” conspires with Buster Keaton’s “Jimmy” to grab the loot and head South.
Plus, the original script had scenes that were never even filmed, that gave more insight into ALL the characters. But in the end, it was all DROPPED, leaving two and a half hours of wall-to-wall MAYHEM, the ONLY diversion being poor old Culpepper’s world falling apart. However, his reaction to that (running off with the loot) seems out of character, without the missing scene.
Nevertheless, it is a measure of the BRILLIANCE of this epic that even with- out the planned filling out of the characters, it stands today as probably the greatest comedy film ever made (next year, there’ll be a [shudder] sequel).
But Mad World apart, NO film featuring ONLY comedy can keep an audience rocking with laughter for more than eighty minutes – it’s just not possible.
Hence the REALITY of having to give the audience SOMETHING to keep their interest alive – even a lame romantic sub-plot.
All of which supports the old show-biz adage. Give the audience what they want – not what they THINK they want!