Book Review: Giraffes on Horseback Salad, Envisioning the Marx Brothers/Salvador Dalí Collaboration that Never Was


Giraffes on Horseback Salad
Josh Frank, Tim Heidecker
Illustrated by Manuela Pertega
Quirk Books, 2019

Of the multiple abandoned Salvador Dalí /Hollywood collaborations haunting cinematic history, perhaps the saddest could-have-been is the artist’s unfulfilled project with the Marx Brothers. In 1937, Dalí wrote the screenplay for Giraffes on Horseback Salad, a story about a Spanish aristocrat and a mysterious so-called “Surrealist Woman” who lures him away from his humdrum life. Meant to be a marriage of one of surrealism’s biggest stars and the inherently surrealist brothers, the Marx’s studio MGM balked at the outrageous story and the project stalled.

In the interest of getting a flavor of what might have been, author Josh Frank tracked down two drafts of Dali’s screenplay and used them as a template for creating a giddily adventurous graphic novel, also entitled Giraffes on Horseback Salad, which envisions how that film might have turned out. The project was a team effort, with Tim Heidecker co-writing the adaptation and artist Manuela Pertega providing deliriously vibrant illustrations.

Rather than staying within the limitations of what could be practically filmed, Giraffes on Horseback Salad is explosively lavish and bold. It is the sort of extravagant vision Dali would likely have wanted, however impossible it would have been to fulfill in 1930s Hollywood.

The result is a happy marriage of reality and dreams. It is easy to picture how the script and songs could have been crafted into an exciting, even visionary film, despite studio limitations. However, it is the added thrill of imagining a production without creative or physical boundaries that makes the book so magical, because it taps into the mutually untamed spirits of both Dali and the Marx Brothers. As it is brightly proclaimed on the cover, it was the strangest movie never made.

This project has since expanded to include an album which crafts a soundtrack based on the lyrics Dalí composed for the film's songs. What a fascinating way to bring a long abandoned idea back to life.




On Blu-Ray: The Luscious, Vicious Hollywood of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)


In telling the story of a charismatic cad, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) encapsulates all the glory, glamour, despair, and depravity of Hollywood. Director Vincente Minnelli’s portrait of the manipulative filmmaker Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) feels so real that you can’t help wondering who was the inspiration for this man and the cast of characters that surrounds him. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, the film looks great and has retained its devastating power.

The story plays mostly in flashback, with a framing device in which producer Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) tries to convince actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) to speak with Shields about a new production. The filmmaker is down-and-out, but this trio has taken plenty of professional and personal grief from Shields and they are understandably wary of him. Pebbel tries the risky tactic of asking them to reminisce about their times together, in the hopes they will find something good that makes them want to work with him again.

This vibrantly-told tale was based on George Bradshaw’s 1949 story Of Good and Evil, which was later released in an expanded version as Memorial to a Bad Man. It was originally set in the New York theater world, but producer John Houseman found it more interesting and novel to focus on Hollywood. He certainly had plenty of material to work with; it is rumored that Shields was crafted out of the personalities of Val Lewton, Orson Welles, and David O. Selznick.

The film made a profit, and won many accolades, including five Academy Awards out of six nominations. Douglas was nominated, and Gloria Grahame won supporting actress for barely over nine minutes of screen time, a record for shortest nominated appearance at the time.

While any acting nomination for The Bad and the Beautiful would be well deserved, it is always Lana Turner who gets to me the most. She so effectively communicates the hurt and yearning beneath her perfect blonde beauty. You could see just about anyone in this film bouncing back from disappointment, even Shields, but Turner’s take on Lorrison gives you the impression that she will always be a bit haunted and that feeling, coupled with the genetic burden of alcoholism, seems constantly ready to claim her.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is that while it is so much about the dark side of Hollywood, it is also a perfectly pleasing Tinsel Town product: lushly glamorous, passionate, and vibrant with the charisma of its astonishing cast.

Special features on the Blu-ray include the TCM-produced documentary Lana Turner…A Daughter’s Memoir (2001), scoring session music cues, and theatrical trailers.


Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
Related Posts with Thumbnails