REVIEW: Duck Soup (1933)

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1933, Paramount Pictures

Director:
Leo McCarey
Producer:
Herman J. Mankiewicz
Writers:
Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby
Arthur Sheekman
Nat Perrin
Cinemtography:
Henry Sharp
Editing:
LeRoy Stone

Cast:
Groucho Marx (Rufus T. Firefly)
Harpo Marx (Pinky)
Chico Marx (Chicolini)
Zeppo Marx (Bob Roland)
Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Gloria Teasdale)
Louis Calhern (Tretino)
Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal)

The Marx Brothers showcase their penchant for comedy in this pretty hilarious classic that revolves around a fictional country about to go to war.

Gloria Teasdale is the widow of the founder of the small country of Fredonia. Unhappy with what has transpired since her husband’s passing, she decides to help with the country if former statesman Rufus T. Firefly becomes their new leader. While she has eyes for Firefly, Sylvanian ambassador Tretino tries to woo Mrs. Teasdale in an effort to annex Freedonia under the Sylvianian flag.

In an attempt to make sure he gets what he wants, Tretino hires two spies, Chicolini and Pinky, to follow Firefly and get any dirt on the new leader. In addition, he has another spy, the famous dancer Vera Marcal, to attempt to woo Firefly but to no avail. When Firefly goes against Tretino, Freedonia and Sylvania eventually go to war despite a last minute attempt by Pinky to frame up Firefly by disguising as him. Chaos is inevitable when the war begins.

One just has to love the Marx Brothers’ style of classic comedy. It is clear that comedy has somewhat gone downhill with today’s brand of nothing but raunchiness. What is great about this classic team is the one liners and the chemistry between the brothers. A perfect example is the scene that introduces Rufus T. Firefly when Mrs. Teasdale tells Firefly to “follow in the footsteps of her husband”. Firefly looks at the screen and replies, “Would you believe that? I’m not even on the job five minutes and already she’s making advances at me.” It is this brand of comeback humor that tends to be lacking in loads of today’s comedies. The classic comeback jab is what makes these comedies still stand the test of time.

Whenever you see Chico and Groucho on screen, you know you will be in for a hilarious good time. When these two are on screen together doing a dialogue, in this case Chico causing a public disturbance by selling peanuts, the results are always what one does not expect and that is a hysterical thing when it comes to these two. As for the mute Harpo, he lets his body language do all the work as always and he seems to the be randiest of the group, spying on a young blonde and making his way to her house before the war begins knowing her husband is in the house as well. As for Zeppo, he plays it mainly straight in the role of Freedonia’s secretary of staff Bob Roland.

In one of the greatest classic scenes that has been emulated in various forms of media, Pinky, disguised as Firefly, becomes a literal reflection of Firefly. It must have taken quite a while for Harpo and Groucho to match move for move, even with the crazy moves. Nevertheless, this is truly the highlight of the film, much like the famous “hard-boiled eggs” scene in A Night at the Opera.

Duck Soup is truly a classic for the Marx Brothers. While it may not have the same success as some of their later films, this is definitive Marx Brothers-style comedy with a trademark sequence that stands out.

WFG RATING: A-

DVD

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