During our Swampchat discussion of February’s Movie of the Month, the Bette Midler/Lily Tomlin swapped-twins comedy Big Business, we paid a lot of attention to the film’s roots in Old Hollywood farces. Although Big Business originates as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, its tone & setting are much more in line with a very specific era of 30s & 40s Hollywood comedy pictures. This makes total sense, since it’s the exact kind of stuff Tomlin & Midler would’ve grown up loving.
It’s easy to see the Old Hollywood love all throughout Big Business, but I think the most recognizable, highly specific moment where its homage to the era bleeds through is in the scene where Midler meets her estranged twin in a bathroom “mirror”. Besides being an exquisite display of physical comedy that recalls leftover tricks of the trade from the silent era & vaudevillian performance, it’s also a near-exact replica of a scene from my favorite Marx Brothers’ film, Duck Soup. Midler’s scene requires her to carry a full load of work that was shared between Harpo & Groucho Marx in its Duck Soup origins, so the dynamics of the gag are a little different, but I believe the sentiment shared between the two scenes is nearly identical.
See for yourself! If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Big Business or Duck Soup (and you really should), at least check out the extended “mirror” gag shared between the two films. They’re sublimely choreographed examples of physical comedy at its best.