Annotations for “A Night at the Lawyers” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #6
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: The film-within-a-comic story is a biography of Warner Brothers studios co-founder Jack L. Warner (and, to a lesser extent, his brothers), in the style of the Marx Brothers. Structurally, this is somewhat similar to issue #4‘s Willis O’Brien/King Kong story. Most of the biographical information about Jack Warner cited here comes from Wikipedia.
- The cover portrays five versions of Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers.
- Multiple Grouchos, the mirror, and pajamas reference the mirror scene in Duck Soup.
- There are five Marx Brothers; these Grouchos correspond to each of the brothers: (left to right)
– Upper left upside down: Harpo. Harpo randomly cutting other people’s clothes with scissors was a running gag in Duck Soup. Harpo holds a rubber ball on the end of a stick which he uses to make honking sounds, notably in this scene in A Night At The Opera.
– Left: Groucho
– Center holding contract: Gummo, who for many years was Groucho’s agent..
– Right hiding behind curtains: Zeppo. “Zeppo Marx… hides in an insignificant role, peeping out now and then to listen to plaudits in which he has no share.” Percy Hammond, 1928.
– Foreground at cash register: Chico. He is playing the cash register/piano in the peculiar style which Chico used. Chico was a gambler, so is depicted with an Ace of Spades and loaded dice falling out of his sleeve.
- The contract echoes this contract scene from A Night At The Opera, but also probably references Alan Moore’s frustration with contracts with DC Comics (which is owned by Warner Brothers).
- This appears to be the hand of the usherette (compare with CP#5 P1,p4.) The unnamed female narrator, at least up until now, was not wearing a wedding ring (see CP#5 P1,p2 and P8,p4.)
- Marie Prevost was an actress in the 1920s and 30s. She worked for Warner Brothers from 1922 to 1926. She died of acute alcoholism at the age of 38 in January 1937. The cover and text of the magazine are a darkly ironic reference to the fact that Prevost’s body was not discovered until two days after her death, when neighbors complained about her dog’s incessant barking.
Further tying into this issue’s story, Prevost had a falling-out with Jack Warner, who tried to end her career and ultimately did not renew her contract. (Source: Hollywood Scandals of Yesteryear podcast episode 31.)
(Prevost is pretty emblematic of the movie industry horror stories that Moore and O’Neill are telling in Purgatorio. A popular star in her day, Prevost died young and penniless.)
- “Never work with animals” is also a riff on a quote from comedian W.C. Fields, who once said “Never work with animals or children.”
- “Old Mother Riley Meets Death” looks like kind of mash-up combining the 1930s-1950s Old Mother Riley comedies and the death plays chess scene from Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal. The Old Mother Riley series had numerous sequels tied in to other popular movies; the last of these was Mother Riley Meets the Vampire in 1952.
- “Warner” is Jack L. Warner, one of the original Warner Brothers, and head of WB from the 1910s through 1966. Wikipedia quotes Jack Benny as saying “Jack Warner would rather tell a bad joke than make a good movie.”
- “Billy Wilder” was a Hollywood producer who worked on a never-completed Marx Brothers feature circa 1960.
- “Groucho Marx” is, of course, the famous entertainer.
- The quote is from a letter Groucho wrote to Warner Brothers while working on a film titled A Night in Casablanca. Warner’s legal department had (allegedly) complained about the use of “Casablanca” as part of the title, and Groucho wrote a famous set of letters in reply. (In fact, the whole thing was a publicity stunt.)
- Moore has had conflicts with DC Comics who are a subsidiary of Warner Brothers.
- Left to right are what appear to be the three most famous Marx Brothers: Chico, Harpo and Groucho. Groucho appears to be burning a photo of his brother Zeppo.
- The title “A Night at the Lawyers” parodies the 1935 Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera.
- Moore and O’Neill are interweaving the Warner Brothers and the Marx Brothers. The Warner Brothers are telling their family story (the history of Warner Brothers studios), in a movie done in the style of the Marx Brothers. Left to right are:
– Jacko (Jack L. Warner as Groucho, the perennial con man and public face of the Marx Brothers)
– Harro (Harry Warner as Chico, the one with the funny ethnic accent)
– Albo (Albert Warner as Harpo, the quiet/mute one), and
– Sammo (Sam Warner as Zeppo, “the handsome brother who’s just not as comical as the others”)
- The manic riposte comedy throughout references the Marx Brothers humor.
- The “nine of us” are Warner parents Benjamin and Pearl, siblings Harry, Albert, Sam, Jack, David, Sadie, and Milton.
- The “Baltimore shoe-store” is not entirely clear. According to Wikipedia, the Warner family lived in Baltimore at various points in the 1890s: “In 1896, the family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, following the lead of Harry Warner, who established a shoe repair shop”. It’s possible that Moore conflated these.
- “Invoke the sanitary clause” spoofs invoking the sanity clause in the contract scene in A Night at the Opera. Harro’s words “there is-a no sanitary clause” echo Chico’s words “there ain’t no sanity clause.”
- “The handsome brother who’s just not as comical as the others” aptly describes Zeppo Marx, who generally played a straight man.
- The Warner family first entered the movie business when Sam Warner bought a used Model B Kinetoscope for $1,000.
- Jacko fingers a vagina-like opening in a female boot. This refers to Groucho’s (real-life and cinematic) fondness for chasing attractive young women, and to Jack Warner’s similar proclivities.
- “Lodtz trouble” apparently refers to the Polish Łódź Ghetto, part of the WWII German isolating and killing of European Jews. The pile of shoes on the ground may also refer to the WWII Jewish holocaust. The Warner Brothers’ parents were Polish Jews who immigrated to Canada.
This could also be read as “lootz trouble”, as he is fiddling with a sort of portable cash register, and the family is clearly poor.
- Albo’s cash register (here and on subsequent pages) references Albert Warner‘s role as WB’s treasurer.
- The projected image is from The Great Train Robbery, an early (1903) motion picture which the Warners exhibited with their kinetoscope.
- A movie about venereal disease is Open Your Eyes, made by Warner Brothers in 1919. It was the only time Jack Warner appeared on screen (in a small role).
- “Clap” is, of course, a common slang name for the venereal disease Gonorrhea.
- “Film exchange in San Francisco” refers to how Jack was sent by his older brother Harry to start a film exchange in San Francisco. Film exchanges were early agencies involved in the rental or exchange of films, before modern distribution systems came about.
- “Before I’m-a kill you” references that Warners studio employees claimed they saw Harry chase Jack through the studio with a lead pipe, shouting, “I’ll get you for this, you son of a bitch” and threatening to kill him.
- “Oh really!” was a characteristic line of Margaret Dumont, who played straight woman to Groucho in several classic films. (The line repeats in panel 8 below and P5,p3 below.)
- Jacko is wearing long white pajamas from the mirror scene in Duck Soup (see cover above.) He is flirting with Margaret Dumont as he did in this scene in Duck Soup.
- “Hollywoodland” is what the iconic Hollywood Sign originally read.
- Panels 1 and 2 form a comics polyptych displaying a background map of the west coast.
- “Shiksa” is a derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman. On October 14, 1914, Jack Warner married Irma Claire Salomon, the adolescent daughter of Sam Saloman and Bertha Franklin Salomon from one of San Francisco‘s pioneer Jewish families, so “shiksa” seems out of place here. (Shiska could refer to Groucho’s first wife, Ruth Johnson, though this was on the east coast.)
- “Rin-Tin-Tin” was the name of a German shepherd dog who starred in several Warned Brothers movies, starting in 1923. According to one biographer, Jack Warner’s initial doubts about the project were quelled when he met Rin Tin Tin, “who seemed to display more intelligence than some of the Warner comics.”
Rin-Tin-Tin depicted carrying a bundle is possibly inspired by this photo:
- “Shmucks with Underwoods” is a famous Hollywood description of writers, usually attributed to Jack Warner. (“Underwoods” are typewriters.)
- Sammo’s interest in “talking pictures” (also referenced as “if we had sound” panel 5 and and “Sammo’s phonograph” panel 6) refers to how, in 1925, Sam Warner urged his brother, Harry, to sign an agreement with Western Electric to develop a series of talking “shorts” using the newly developed Vitaphone technology. Sam Warner procured the technology to produce the first very successful talking movie The Jazz Singer (see panel 6 below).
- Why is Jacko looking at his watch – suggest??
- “Sammo’s phonograph” – see panel 3 above.
- “When Jolson’s a smash hit” (and panel 8 below “The Jazz-a Singer”) refer to Al Jolson‘s 1927 hit movie The Jazz Singer which was among the earliest (and very successful) talking movies.
- “Pneumonia” – see next panel.
- Sam Warner died of pneumonia on October 5, 1927, the day before the premiere of The Jazz Singer.
- “WB” is Warner Brothers.
- “Sammo’s a-dead, day before “The Jazz-a Singer” opens – see panels 6 and 7 above.
- “Take his baby away” refers to how, after Sam‘s death, Harry Warner pressured Sam’s widow, Lina (a former Ziegfeld girl, see below), to give up custody of their daughter, Lita, as he did not want her raised Catholic.
- “Ziegfeld” refers to the showgirls of Broadway’s Ziegfeld Follies.
- “His-a ziegfeld dancer wife” was Jack Warner’s “brief but stormy affair” with Ziegfeld girl Marilyn Miller.
- The mini-Groucho is Jack Warner’s son, Jack M. Warner (“Junior”).
- “You-a married” (you are married) refers to Jack Warner’s womanizing, cheating on his first wife.
- “Torah” is a pun on “tore a.”
- “[Benjamin] Disraeli” was the first Jewish Prime Minister of Britain. In 1929 Warner Brothers produced Disraeli, a hit film about.
- “Nah! I meant like…” is Jacko suggesting that “our people” are not Jews, but gangsters.
- “Little Caesar” is a 1930 crime film.
- “[The] Public Enemy” is a 1931 crime film which includes a scene where James Cagney pushes half a grapefruit into Mae Clark’s face.
- “Hymie Weiss” was a real-life Chicago gangster of the 30s, who was one of the sources for Cagney’s character in The Public Enemy.
- “42nd Street” is a 1933 Busby Berkeley film.
- “Busby” is Busby Berkeley a director and choreographer. He was married six times. Pre-Code Misbehaving states that Busby was “known by his friends and family to be on occasions a hostile and uncontrollable drinker.”
- In September, 1935, Berkeley caused a car crash that killed two people outright, and badly injured five more, one of whom subsequently died of their injuries.
- The numerous scantily clad dancing girls in complex choreography recall the lavish production numbers Berkeley was famous for.
- “Gaol Dodgers of 1935” parodies the title of Berkeley’s film Gold Diggers of 1935 (part of a series).
- “Gaol” is an archaic spelling of “jail”, probably used here to help emphasize the similarity to “Gold”.
- “Two hung juries” refers to Berkeley’s first two trials resulted in hung juries; the third acquitted him.
- This page contains many small incidents, some of which fall out of real-world chronological sequence. This was probably done in order to accommodate the previous page’s big production number.
- “This Mizner guy” is playwright and screenwriter Wilson Mizner. Mizner worked for Warner Brothers beginning around 1931 and clashed with Jack Warner. “Working for Warner…” is a quote from Mizner.
- The anecdote about Jack Warner firing a singing security guard shows up in a few places, but is generally referred to as legendary; we have been unable to find any solid documentation for it.
- “You divorce-a…” refers to how, in 1935, Jack Warner divorced his wife Irma to marry Ann Page. Jack Warner Jr was loyal to his mother, resulting in his becoming estranged with his father.
- Jacko’s uniform here is, oddly, reminiscent of one worn by Harpo in Duck Soup.
- “Producin’ army training films” refers WB producing army training and propaganda films in the early 1940s, most notably Private Snafu.
- Per Wikipedia, after WWII was declared, Jack Warner, like some other studio heads, was commissioned in the U.S. Army. Jack Warner was made a Lieutenant Colonel in The First Motion Picture Unit.
- Jack did apparently resign his commission just after a full Army Colonel told Jack he should have saluted.
- Jacko’s roller skates refer to this scene from The Big Store.
- In this panel, O’Neill has done a particularly good job of evoking Groucho Marx’s silly way of moving.
- The model ship may be being used as a background for a war movie.
- “Errol [Flynn]” was a popular swashbuckling actor (and womanizer) who worked for WB.
- “Errol’s second statuatory rape charge” – Actor Errol Flynn was charged with two counts of statuatory rape in 1942. The trial took place in late January and early February 1943. Flynn was acquitted.
- “Busby’s lawyer” was Jerry Geisler, who was the defense attorney for Busby Berkeley, Errol Flynn, and many other famous celebrity trials.
- Flynn’s “slaving” is in his own autobiography. One of the (many, brief) jobs Flynn had before becoming an actor was being a slave trader in New Guinea.
- The woman Flynn is on appears to be his first wife actress Lili Damita. They were married from 1935 to 1942.
- William Faulkner was a famous American novelist, who at various points in his life worked as a Hollywood screenwriter. He worked at Warner’s intermittently between 1942 and 1945.
- Faulkner, though admittedly a heavy drinker, was not “drinking himself to death” at Warner’s; he had a lengthy further career, not dying until 1962. It’s possible that Moore’s portrayal is based upon a Faulkner-like character in the film Barton Fink.
- The screenwriters demands for wages may refer to how “Jack Warner felt that Communists were responsible for the studio’s month-long strike that occurred in the fall of 1946.”
- Odd that Moore would portray Harro as the rabid anti-communist, when it was Jack Warner who testified before HUAC.
- The panel depicts Warner Brothers animation department: left to right:
– munching a carrot like Bugs Bunny: possibly intended to be one of the animators most associated with Bugs: Tex Avery.
– stuttering like Porky Pig: Mel Blanc, the primary voice actor for Porky (and most Warner cartoon characters).
– wearing a hat like Elmer Fudd: Bob Clampett (??) .
- “We do Mickey Mouse” refers to a 1953 quote from Harry Warner: “The only thing I know is that we make Mickey Mouse.” This was, of course, wrong. Mickey Mouse was made by Disney. According to Wikipedia, the Warner heads treated WB cartoons as “stepchildren.” It is barely touched on here, but Moore may be showing this as an analogy for Warner’s lack of respect for DC Comics and comics creators, including Moore himself.
- “A-Bee, A-Bee, A-Bee” sounds like the stuttering of Porky Pig when he says “Th-th-that’s all folks!” Not sure what “A-bee” is starting to say – maybe “But…”
- Note that one of the animators has drawn a caricature of Jacko.
- “Contracts with-a party of the first part” references this contract scene from A Night at the Opera.
- “Sold our shares… I’ve bought all the shares back” refers to how, in July 1956, Jack, Harry, and Albert announced that they were putting Warner Bros. on the market, then Jack secretly organized a syndicate that purchased control of the company.
- In panel 3, Albo/Harpo has forks and knives up his sleeve, echoing this scene from Animal Crackers.
- Harro’s death references the death of Harry Warner in 1958. According to Wikipedia, when Harry Warner found out about Jack takeover of WB, he collapsed after reading the news. The next day, he checked into the hospital and doctors told him he had a suffered a minor heart attack the previous day. While at the hospital, Warner suffered a stroke.
- Left to right are: Albo/Albert Warner, Harry Warner’s widow Rea Warner, rabbi officiant, (actor? – suggest??), actor James Stewart (?), Jacko/Jack Warner, and (actor? – suggest??)
- “Jacko killed him” – see panel 4 above.
- “Hello I must be going” is a musical scene from Animal Crackers (in which Groucho wore a pith helmet, as Jacko does here).
- “Tropical vacation” refers to how Jack did not attend Harry’s funeral, departing for his annual vacation at Cap d’Antibes instead.
- The couple on the left are xxx – suggest??
- “I didn’t give a shit about Harro” are Jack Warner‘s words when asked to respond to his brother’s death: “I didn’t give a shit about Harry.”
- “Letter o’ condolence” refers to how Jack took pride in the fact that President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent him a letter of condolence on the death of his brother Harry.
- “Your brother Albo has passed quietly” references that Albert Warner died in 1967 in Miami Beach.
- Jacko’s “son” is Jack L. Warner’s estranged son Jack M. Warner.
- Jacko’s two associates on the left might be specific persons – suggest?? (Later WB head Ben Kalmenson??) The silhouette in the back might be a specific person, too??
- These two panels form a fixed camera sequence.
- “Squealed on some blacklisted writers” refers to how, in 1947, Jack Warner served as a “friendly witness” for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
- “Helped Sinatra during his Cal-Neva mob-connection hearings” refers to the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino, jointly owned by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. After unfavorable publicity following FBI investigations, Sinatra decided to leave the business; the Cal Neva was leased to Jack L. Warner.
- This panel portrays the death of Bugsy Siegel (right), who was shot to death in his Beverly Hills living room in 1947. On the left is apparently Siegel associate Allen Smiley, who was present at the shooting, but was unharmed. Some think Smiley helped set up Siegel.
- Jacko “was pals with Bugsy Siegel‘s chief lieutenant” refers to how Jewish mobster Siegel was known to associate with Jack Warner. Siegel’s “chief lieutenant” was Mickey Cohen, not Allen Smiley. Warner is not known to have associated directly with Cohen or Smiley, though he certainly may have.
- This panel depicts a host of Warner Brothers entertainers from the last few years of Jack Warner’s life: (left to right)
1 – legs – from the original poster to 42nd Street. (Thanks, commenter Norman Phay.)
2 – The costumed Superman character may refer to the original 1978 WB movie Superman, as well as standing in for WB ownership of DC Comics.
3 – Backround person wearing hat with white band (also in next panel)? – suggest??
4 – man with mustache wearing cap – Walter Matthau? suggest??
5 – woman behind man – Possibly Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson in the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. (Thanks to commenter cormansinferno.)
6 – The black hat man with eyeliner is Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, from the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange.
7 – Possibly “Dirty Harry” Callahan, as played by Clint Eastwood in the 1971 film Dirty Harry. (Thanks to commenter cormansinferno.) Or, possibly, James Caan in Rabbit, Run (1970). (Thanks to commenter Daniel Thomas.)
8 – The silhouette of a man with briefcase is Max Von Sydow as Father Lankaster Merrin in The Exorcist (1973).
9 – man with glasses and mustache – Jack Jr.
10 – Woman with clipboard may be Barbara Streisand in Up the Sandbox (1972). (Thanks to commemter Daniel Thomas.)
11 – The man with the handlebar mustache is Father Urbain Grandier, played by Oliver Reed, from the 1971 film The Devils. Moore references this story in Suydam’s pamphlet in Providence #2 page 35.
– Jack/Jacko Warner
– man in convict suit – suggest??
– chorus woman – suggest?
– woman filing Jacko’s nails – suggest??
- Jack Warner spent the last few years of his life in dementia.
- On Jacko’s lap is a high-heeled shoe with a straw. It is a long-standing custom to drink champagne from a lady’s shoe, but doing so with a straw is tacky. In the 1939 Marx Brothers film At the Circus, Groucho Marx says: “That night I drank champagne from your slipper. Two quarts. It would have held more but you were wearing inner soles!”
- The man (in hat) walking away appears obscured at the top of the prior panel – who is he? (suggest??)
- The shield shape is that of the Warner Brothers logo.
- The bullet holes refer to WB as associated with (both real life and film) mob gangsters.
- Who is the man with the schoolboy’s cap? suggest??
- “The Jazz Singer” is the 1927 film – see P3 above. The image shows Al Jolson performing in blackface.
- There was no “The Jazz Singer 2” though there were several remakes – in 1952, 1959, and 1980.
- Note the used condom on the floor.
- “Marie Prevost” is mentioned P1,p2 above.
- “You expect to be eaten alive” refers to, as mentioned above, Prevost died of acute alcohol alcoholism and her body was discovered days later due to the barking of her dog. Some lurid accounts of her death (including Nick Lowe’s song “Marie Prevost”: “She was a winner/That became the doggie’s dinner”) suggest that she was partially eaten by her dog.
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