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Review: Giraffes on Horseback Salad

In 1937, noted surrealist Salvador Dalí visited the United States, and while he was here, he made sure to meet with some of the biggest stars of the period – the Marx Brothers. Dalí and Harpo Marx became fast friends, starting by painting each other and ultimately writing a film together that was never filmed.

Somewhat autobiographical while maintaining Dalí’s surrealist technique, the two artists created Giraffes on Horseback Salad together. They shopped it around Hollywood, but due to a series of incidents and Hollywood producers not truly understanding the film as it was written, it was never turned into a film.

80 years later, life long Harpo Marx fan Josh Frank was doing work on unmade film scripts, and the existence of a script by Marx and Dalí piqued his interest. He immediately went to work tracking down a copy of the script, which was easier said than done. Tracking down multiple pieces of information across multiple countries in multiple languages – as all inscribed within the introduction of the book – he was able to put together most of the story. Once the structure of the script was recreated in English, he brought in comedian Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! to punch up the script and add a comedic touch to the proceedings.

With the script rewritten, Frank wanted to recreate the cinematic experience. As he says in his introduction, he wanted to create “an alternate universe where Irving Thalberg greenlit the movie in 1937,” rather than passing away. To that end, he found Spanish artist Manuela Pertega to create the imagery on the page and since it was a Marx Brothers movie, Noah Diamond to create the songs.

Giraffes on Horseback Salad was reborn in graphic novel form. The art and writing truly captures the period and give a feel for what the movie would have felt like. The movie opens in black and white with Harpo starring as Jimmy, a banker in New York City. At a club that night, we are introduced to the Surrealist Woman, who is accompanied by Groucho and Chico Marx, bringing their wacky sensibilities to the forefront as they contrast with Jimmy’s staid world. As Jimmy, and we, fall under the sway of the Surrealist Woman, the world becomes more colorful and that much more enjoyable – as she conflicts with society and Jimmy’s girlfriend.

Reading Giraffes on Horseback truly felt like I was being immersed in a never before seen Marx Brothers movie. I could hear their voices in my head as I read their lines and could imagine their antics as they traversed across the page. The book truly captured the feel of a movie of the period.

I would love to see a cinematic interpretation of what Josh Frank and company created, but there’s no one who could do it justice except the Marx Brothers. Perhaps an animated version could come out one day and bring this technicolor dream to cinematic life.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Salvador Dalí, the Marx Brothers, or any fan of the vaudevillian style cinema of the 1930s. It’s unfortunate that these artistic geniuses couldn’t bring it to the screen in their time, but this book is the next best thing.

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