on January 29, 2002
Duck Soup. Whenever I'm feeling depressed, this is the video I pop in the VCR whenever I'm feeling depressed because I know that as long as I live in a world where I can watch the Marx Brothers, there is no darkness that can't be ridiculed. The Marx Brothers were perhaps the funniest performers to ever appear in American film and Duck Soup, directed by Leo McCarey who had a far greater talent for comedy than their previous director Sam Wood ("You cannot make a directer out of Wood," as one of them -- I always chose to believe it was famously silent Harpo -- once quipped), is their funniest film. Of course, Duck Soup was the only one of their early films to be reviled by critics and ignored by audiences. Perhaps it was the subject matter, which still remains relavent today and can still lead to a few uncomfortable laughs as a result. Duck Soup is the Marx Brothers film that finds Groucho playing Rufus T. Firefly, the happily uncouth man who has -- through the usual hilarious courting of impassive Margaret Dumont -- become the ruler of Freedonia. Freedonia's enemies recruit to spies to undermine Firefly -- Chico and Harpo Marx. While Harpo torments lemonade salesman Egdar Buchanan, steals anything he can get his hands on, and eventually ends up sleeping with a horse, Chico is appointed to the cabinet by Groucho. Meanwhile, fourth Marx Brother Zeppo makes a few fleeting appearances as Groucho's private secretary. As usual, nobody seems to know what to do with Zeppo but they seem happy to have him around. Anyway, this film contains many classic bits that will be familiar to fans of the Marx Brothers and comedy in general. Though all have been endlessly redone by imitators, they all remain hilarious in the hands of the originals. Along with Groucho and Chico's vaudevillian wordplay, this film also contains Harpo at his most wild. Grinning like a demonic child, he steals everything he can find, revels in destroying random objects, and produces almost anything from the depths of his baggy trenchcoat. It is this film that firmly establishes the central Marx Brothers relationship -- Chico hangs out with Harpo while Groucho tolerates Harpo so he can hang out with Chico. In what made this film rather controversial for its time (and probably still would if it weren't now accepted as both a comedy classic and -- quite wrongly in my opinion -- a relic from a previous age), the film ultimately builds up to Groucho declaring war on his enemies. (Capped off by a riotous song in which the four Marx Brothers lead the country in happily singing "We're going to war!") The film ends on the battlefield and, in a rather jarring scene, actual footage of charging World War I soldiers is mixed with the Marx Brothers holed up in one besieged cabin. For a world still haunted by the slaughter of the Great War and on the verge of World War II, this was pretty strong stuff as were comments like Groucho saying the war will end because he's only rented the battlefield for a week. It also shows that the humor of the Marx Brothers was, for all of its seeming elitism and disregard for all other sensibilities, a truly populist expression. Through their ridicule, the Marx Brothers attacked the forces of the pompous and the humorless and never was that attack more potent and subversive than in Duck Soup. A classic film and, most importantly, proof that wild comedy need not be stupid comedy.
on October 30, 2001
Actually considered a flop when it was originally released back in 1933, DUCK SOUP is now generally regarded as the best/most successful Marx Bros. picture. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the soon-to-be leader of the small country called Freedonia. The thin plot includes the unique Margaret Dumont in her recurring role as the rich matron Groucho unabashedly tries to bilk out of her fortune, and Louis Calhern (he was once married to Natalie "Lovey Howell" Schafer) as the obligatory villian out to trounce Groucho and company. Most notably, DUCK SOUP contains one of the most famous examples of Marx lunacy: the mirror sequence. Years later, this routine would be seen again by millions in 1955 when Harpo and Lucy Ricardo played it excellently on I LOVE LUCY. While the great zanies first two films, THE COCOANUTS (1929) and ANIMAL CRACKERS suffer from staginess and inconsequential plotting, DUCK SOUP transcends its meager plot to give the Brothers the characterisations that would stay with them in other films: Groucho, the master of of zany one-liners and double-entendres, whose shadiness is exceeded only by his humour; Harpo, the silent, looney girl-chaser; Chico, the "Italian" foil for Groucho's complicated conversations; and lastly, Zeppo, the rather wooden "go-fer" (his talents were generally overshadowed by his brothers). After the insane, relentless comedy of the earlier scenes, the films' sudden and abrupt ending is slightly disappointing, but the lunacy of these madcaps gives us 72 minutes of supreme Marx insanity to cherish.
on October 9, 2001
"Duck Soup", the Marx Bros. fifth film, released in 1933, may be their finest piece of work. It is fast paced throughout, with a myriad of gags, jokes, and one-liners; the songs are humorous; there is no hint or presence of opera; it marks Zeppo's last film with his brothers (he later became their agent) - and best of all, Margaret Dumont returns after a two film absence. (She was not in "Monkey Business" or "Horse Feathers")
Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the newly appointed dictator of Freedonia. This small nation is on the brink of bankrupty and is threatened to be taken over by neighboring Sylvania when Mrs. Gloria teasdale, played by Margaret Dumont, the wealthiest freedonian, offers financial assistance only if Rufus becomes dictator.
This does not set well with Trentino, Slvania's ambassador, played by Louis Calhern. He plans to marry Mrs. Teasdale (she is a widow), gain her fortune, and take over Freedonia. Now, with Rufus as the new dictator, and showing his own interest in her, Trentino sees war as the only way to overtake Freedonia.
Groucho picks up with Margaret Dumont right where he left off with her in "Animal Crackers"; that being, rudely. Yet that is what she is in these film for - to play the kind of high society snob the Marx Bros. love to hate, and make fun of, brilliantly so. Zeppo is less than visible in this film, and really doesn't have much a role, except for the songs.
Trentino hires Chico and Harpo to spy on Rufus, which is interesting because Chico is also hired by Rufus as Minister of War, which he only accepts after Rufus declines the offer. Harpo, as in previous films, is fixated on horses. In one scene he is sleeping with a horse, while a beautiful woman sleeps alone in another bed.
Trying to break the relationship and trust Mrs. Teasdale has for Rufus, Trentino uses the voluptious Vera Marcal, played by Racquel Torres, to make love, of sorts, to Rufus. However, Rufus is more interested in making jokes at her expense than anything else.
Great scenes pull this film together; including the mirror scene where Harpo is dressed to look like Groucho, and each tries to expose and one up the other; Chico and Harpo's feud between vendor Edgar Kennedy; and Chico's trial, where he has been arrested for being a spy, and sees it as more of a game than anything else.
War is finally declared, and overall it plays out fantastically. The ending is, to a certain extent, poor; not one of the Marx Bros. best film endings. However, it had to end without seeing anyone actually killed, and in this respect, the ending is justified.
Throughout its history, "Duck Soup" has been banned both in Italy, by Mussolini; and here in the U.S., during part of the Vietnam War. Yet it has stood the test of time, and still stands as one of their best, if not their best, films.
on November 1, 2000
To gain financial support from Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), the tiny bankrupt country of Freedonia agrees to take Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) as their new president (the poor saps). Mayhem springs from Firefly's cynical and sarcastic leadership, culminating in war with the neighboring country of Sylvania. Throughout, Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Chicolini (Chico Marx) are scheming among the great and powerful, taking money from Trentino (Louis Calhern) of Sylvania, and directing Firefly's war effort. [Black & white, created in 1933, with a running time of 70 minutes.]
This movie contains some of Groucho's funniest witticisms, his badinage with Margaret Dumont producing some of the funniest lines in theatrical history. The story takes something of a backseat to the Marx brother's comedy, but this movie is first and foremost a satire of politics in general, and war and patriotism in particular. Back to the comedy, this movie is fantastically funny, containing the famous mirror scene, where Chico is dressed as Groucho, who must figure out if he is seeing his reflection or something else!
This is a great movie. The comedy is funny and clean, and can be watched by viewers of any age. I highly recommend this movie.
My favorite Marx Brothers movie is "A Night at the Opera," but this political satire, which was banned in Italy by Mussolini, is a very close second. It is definitely the best (and last) Marx Brothers movie with Zeppo, for what that is worth. As Groucho later pointed out, Zeppo's roles as the group's straight man were thankless. It was not that Zeppo lacked talent, but rather that he had three older brothers.
"In Duck Soup," the mythical nation of Freedonia is in trouble and Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) insists that the reigns of power be turned over to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho). Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of the neighboring country of Sylvania employs a couple of spies, Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), to shadow Firefly. Oh, and Firefly has a secretary, Bob Rolland (Zeppo). Many of the most famous sequences by the Brothers Marx are found in this film: (1) The mirror sequence between Groucho and Harpo (if it had been Groucho and Chico instead Groucho would have asked "Are you my reflection" and Chico would have answered "Sure"); (2) Harpo's encounter with street vendor Edgar Kennedy, master of the slow-burn (" "); (3) The "We're Going to War" take off on 1930s musicals ("They've got guns, we've got guns, all God's chil'en got guns"); (4) Groucho offering Chico the position of Secretary of War ("Sold!"); (5) Harpo offering Grouch a ride in the sidecar of his motorcyle ("This is the third trip I've taken today and I still haven't gone anywhere"); (6) Zeppo introducing the new leader of Freedonia, Rufus T. Fireflay ("Whatever it is, I'm against it."); and much, much more, including the lovely Rachel Torres as the lovely Vera Marcal!
"Duck Soup" was helped by several factors. With director Leo McCarey the Marx Brothers finally had a first rate director who understood how to stage and shoot the action. The Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby screenplay does one of the better jobs of integrating the various comic routines into the overall story. After an absence of two films Margaret Dumont was back where she belonged, trying to stay above the insanity with no success whatsoever. Louis Calhern is arguably the ideal villain for the Marx Brothers because in scene after scene he plays it absolutely straight, without losing his dignity or becoming laughable (similar to the marvelous job by Kitty Carlisle in "A Night at the Opera").
Final tidbit: When the town of Fredonia, New York complained about its name being used in the film (the extra "e" did not matter for some reason," Groucho shot back: "Change the name of your town, it's hurting our picture." And, as always, please remember that the correct pronunciation of Leonard's stage name is "Chick-o" not "Cheek-o." The man liked the ladies and was not a young Hispanic male.
on July 25, 2000
Ever wonder where ideas for movies like Dr. Strangelove come from? Well, look no further than Duck Soup.
In this movie the Brothers go through their usual zany antics. However, this film has a moral lesson: War is foolish. War is Dirty Business.
Unfortunately, movie goers of yesteryear couldn't see Duck Soup for what it really was. The original anti-war movie. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), President of Freedonia, has strained relations with his neighboring country. The leader of the neighboring country sends intelligence agents (Chico and Harpo) into Freedonia to keep an eye on Firefly. Hum. . . Harpo and Chico are intelligence agents. . . how's that for a spin on "military intelligence?" Then again, Groucho once said that Military intelligence is to intelligence what military music is to music. I think you get the idea!
Anyway, Groucho triggers a war when he slaps the leadder of the neighboring country across the face for calling him an "upstart." As Groucho declares: "Nobody calls a Firefly an Upstart." As you can imagine, the war starts out bad for Freedonia. Groucho shoots his own men (and then covers it up: "Here's $5. . . Keep it under your hat. Better yet, keep it under mine"), Secretary of War Chico "joins the other side because the food is better there," and Harpo is combing the countryside (battlefield) for recruits. Finally, when all looks lost, Freedonia captures the leader of the opposing side and makes him surrender by putting him in stocks and then throwing fruits and vegetables at him.
The jokes and one-liners are fast and furious. The slap stick humor is done with a style that can only be accomplished by the Marx Brothers. For example, the bit where Harpo decides to wash his feet in the vendor's vat of lemonade wouldn't be all that funny if someone like Lou Costello or Stan Laurel decided to do the same thing. The mirror scene is a classic Hal Roach silent movie bit. . . possibly done by Chaplain, I believe.
Without a doubt, Duck Soup will keep you laughing no matter how many times you've seen it. It is a Great comedy classic. As a matter of fact, it was recently voted one of the top ten comedy movies of the 20th century. So, go out a own a piece of history!
on October 13, 1999
If I were stranded on a desert island with a working VCR and could only have one film, this would be it! Gaggingly hysterical lampoon has Margaret Dumont offering financial aid to her country, Freedonia, only if Groucho is appointed leader. He takes control and Freedonia grinds to a halt as rival Sylvania plans to overrun it subversely by Ambassador Trentino's love appeals to Dumont! Zeppo gets wind of this, plots with Groucho to goad Trentino, who will strike Groucho and he declares war. Feedonia good, Sylvania bad. Great plan, only Groucho gets Trentino to insult "him" (with the term "upstart" of all things) and Groucho declares war! It's insane tom-foolery unparalleled! Chico and Harpo have several low paying jobs starting as Sylvanian spies against Groucho ("You give us a pixchure of this man and say follow him? Well we lose-a da pixchure!"); peanut vendors outside the Fredonian palace (dueling with the late, great Edgar Kennedy over lemonade, peanuts and hats -- this gets so surreal you'll spit up laughing); and ultimately Harpo is Groucho's driver ("This is the fifth trip I've made today and I haven't been anywhere yet!") and Chico becomes Secretary of War ("I say we have a standing army - that way we save money on chairs."). It is the unabashed visual and verbal commentary on the senselessness of war that just shines in this, however (look for Chico to punch the timeclock as he enters the war and Groucho's brilliant retort to Trentino's stopping the war: "It's too late, I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield.") Priceless, timeless and always watchable. If there is one sour note, it is the sensitivity of our time colliding with the insensivity of the 30's with the "darkies" comment. Ignore it. I do.
on September 6, 1999
Although the Marx Brothers are always worth watching, the core situation of Duck Soup gives this particular film a drive which sets it apart from such other classics as Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, A Night at the Opera, and A Day at the Races-- for while these films often focus their riducule on the pretensions of high society, Duck Soup takes on the subject of war. What is perhaps most striking about the film from a historical perspective is that film was made squarely between World Wars I and II, and very intentionally mocks the trivial European rivalries that sparked the first World War, which in turn set the stage for the second World War.
A dismal failure at the time of its original release, Duck Soup spelled finish to the Marx Brothers association with Paramount-- and given the tenor of the times it isn't hard to see why the film failed at the box office; the film's intent is openly and outrageously subversive. But historical perspectives aside, it was and remains a hilariously funny film, featuring the Marx Brothers at their best with some of the best comic dialogue and situations ever put on film.
on July 12, 1999
If you like situation humor, disjointed connections, spontaneous one-liners, and sight gags, then the Marx Brothers in general, and "Duck Soup" in particular are are made to order for you!
Groucho, of all people, is called in to save the financially troubled country of Freedonia. Little does he know, its neighbor, Sylvania, wants to stir revolt in Freedonia and then overrun it. But that's mostly in the background, designed to provide situations for the four Marx Brothers to interact with each other at the expense of various and sundry respectable people.
This movie has it all -- romance (sort of), intruige (I suppose), international conflict (after a fashion), and a poor woman who in real life didn't get most of the jokes and gags surrounding her.
If you pay attention to this movie you'll see the magic of Marx Bros' comedy and how bits and pieces of it have made it into films made by the likes of Monty Python.
And, last, but not least, you've got to LOVE Freedonia's national anthem!
5+ stars all the way! Definitely the Marx Brother's best movie ever!
on August 29, 2000
WHILE BROWSING THE VIDEO STORE ONE DAY, I STUMBLED UPON A MOVIE BY THE TITLE OF "DUCK SOUP" IN THE CLASSICS SECTION. I ALWAYS HAD AN INTEREST IN CHECKING OUT THE MARX BROTHERS, BUT I JUST NEVER GOT AROUND TO IT. I WAS IN FOR A REAL TREAT WITH THIS ONE! NEVER IN MY ENTIRE LIFE HAVE I EXPERIENCED A COMEDY AS INSANE AND BRILLIANT AS "DUCK SOUP". THIS MOVIE MOVES AT AN EXTREMELY FAST PACE AND THE FIRST TIME I WATCHED IT I MISSED SOME OF THE JOKES BECAUSE I WAS STILL CRACKING UP FROM THE PREVIOUS JOKES/SCENES. GROUCHO MARX PLAYS A CHARACTER BY THE NAME OF RUFUS T. FIREFLY WHO IS THE LEADER OF A COUNTRY CALLED "FREEDONIA" AND DECIDES FOR NO GOOD REASON TO GO TO WAR WITH A RIVAL COUNTRY CALLED "SYLVANIA". THE FILM IS A COMPLETE RIOT FROM THE BEGINING TO THE VERY END. THIS IS BY FAR THE GREATEST COMEDY EVER MADE. A MUST SEE FOR ALL MARX FANS AND A MOVIE THAT WILL ENTERTAIN ALL FANS OF COMEDY. SEE THE KINGS OF COMEDY AT THEIR BEST!