Jan 15, 2020
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.