The country of Freedonia is in the middle of a financial crisis and on the brink of revolution. In order to gain a bail-out from the wealthy Mrs Teasdale, the government appoints Rufus T Firefly as its president. However, Mr Firefly shuns the pomp and pretentiousness of government; along with the prudence and rationality of it too. Meanwhile, the neighbouring country of Sylvania is plotting to overthrow Freedonia and sends Pinky and Chicolini to spy on Firefly. War seems inevitable. Written by
The surprising sight gag of the live dog barking out of a tattooed doghouse on Harpo's chest was originally a little different. Possibly because of censorship reasons, the sight gag was changed from a tattoo of an outhouse on Harpo's chest, whereupon Groucho slaps him on the back, causing the door of the outhouse to swing open and a little hand to reach out and shut it again. See more »
When Pinky runs into the mirror, it doesn't actually shatter until he's fallen onto the floor. See more »
Hail! Hail Freedonia! Land of the Brave and Free!
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"Tell 'Em The Enemy Comes From Afar With A Hey-Non-Nonni And a Hot-Cha-Cha!"
There are two groups in the "Best Marx Brothers Movie Ever" debate. One favors the Marxes integrated into the traditional Hollywood formula: the excellent "A Night at the Opera"; the other insists it's the film where Hollywood is helpless while the boys unleash their anarchistic, trademark lunacy against conventions to new heights: "Duck Soup." I am in the latter group.
The plot in a nutshell: The Marx Brothers go to war.
The government of Fredonia has been mismanaged to the point that it must borrow $20 million from Mrs. Chester Teasdale to stay afloat. She, with single-minded termination, refuses unless the president resigns and hands the government to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) who proceeds to bring the nation to a grinding halt. Adding to the national woes, neighboring Sylvania has been plotting to have the Fredonian government overthrown so that they can overrun it and this mission has been headed by Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), with Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) handling Mrs. Teasdale and his two crack spies Chicolini and Pinky (guess who) shadowing Firefly. It is presidential assistant Bob Roland(Zeppo) who suggests Firefly insult Trentino who will strike Firefly and they can force the ambassador to leave the country. Sounds good on paper, but Firefly winds up being insulted by Trentino then slapping him, which leads to a declaration of war! And what a war it is: Groucho is able to be uniformed as a southern general, northern corporal, boy scout, fur trapper and drum major -- and that's during the first assault! By the time the short-wave radio cries "Help is on the way!" what follows will have you rolling on the floor!
Duck Soup is the dazzling, frenzied, unrelenting, full-steam-ahead, no-holds-barred trademark brand of nose-thumbing, up-yours comedy that the Marx Brothers created in vaudeville, honed to razor sharpness in bus and truck tours, and finally exploded onto 1920's Broadway, making them national treasures. Where W.C. Fields had his muttering, cynical way of tilting at windmills with a pool cue, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo stormed the windmills with surface-to-air missiles. No convention was too big, no icon too treasured, no societal norms too entrenched to be blistered by these madmen of surreal comedy. As with most classics, "Soup" bombed at the box-office and Paramount didn't re-sign the Brothers. But time and succeeding generations have elevated this film to one of the best movies in the annals of American film making.
Within "Duck Soup" is a treasure trove of priceless routines. To mention a few: Firefly's coronation and musical offering of how he'll run the country; Harpo and Groucho with a motorcycle and sidecar; Chicolini and Pinky's spy report to Trentino; Groucho's cabinet meeting; Harpo's phone conversation, the three (count 'em three) encounters with a lemonade vendor; three night-gowned Fireflys racing around the Teasdale mansion seeking the secret war plans, which leads to the legendary and Dali-like Mirror Sequence (Continuity be damned. Who cares if shattered glass disappears or a complete reversed room is behind that wall mirror -- this routine is CLASSIC); Chicolini's court-marshal and trial, all leading to the musical embodiment of national hysteria for warfare: "The Country's Going To War".
Scripted by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (they composed the music for the Marxes Broadway show, "Animal Crackers") with Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin, the story is a smörgåsbord of laugh lines and hysterical visuals that skip merrily into surrealism. Kalmar and Ruby's music here (their "Hooray for Captain Spaulding," became the theme music for Groucho's quiz show and the popular standard, "Who's Sorry Now?" was theirs. MGM made them the subject of "Three Little Words") is enjoyable, albeit unmemorable and their lyrics an homage to Gilbert and Sullivan. The break-neck direction and pacing is courtesy of fabled director Leo McCarey (best remembered for directing Going My Way). Margaret Dumont returns as "the fifth Marx Brother" with her oh-so-refined and dignified Mrs. Gloria Teadale, Groucho's perfect foil for his mangy-lover/insult barrage. There are superb supporting cast members, too. Louis Calhern (Annie Get Your Gun) is dignified and oily as Ambassador Trentino (what better target for Chico and Harpo?). Also in tiny roles are Leonid Kinsky as the agitator in Trentino's office prior to the entrance of Harpo and Chico (Kinsky went on to be best remembered as Sasha the bartender in Casablanca) and Charles Middleton the prosecuting attorney best remembered as Ming the Merciless in the old Flash Gordon serials. Finally, there is the brilliant Edgar Kennedy, crowned "The Master of the Slow Burn," as the lemonade vendor. Kennedy was a staple of the silent film era, appearing in and directing hundreds of silent comedies and also producing them. A master craftsman and his work here with Harpo and Chico is a fitting tribute to his significant contribution to the movies. This film marked the farewell of Zeppo. Tired of playing the straight man and overshadowed by his brothers, Zeppo stepped behind the cameras after Duck Soup to become a Hollywood agent. He wasn't missed. Also, this is the only Marx movie where Harpo has no harp solo and one of two movies where Chico doesn't play the piano and it doesn't matter. You're laughing too hard to care.
Despite an unintended racial slur that mars the film this is a movie to treasure. I introduced my six year old niece to the Marx Brothers last summer. Having been weened on a diet of TV kiddie shows, computer animated cartoon films, and the pablum and sludge that passes for comedy today, she fell in love with the Marx Brothers! Yes, Harpo is her favorite, but she enjoys them all. So please, please, please, sit your kids down in front of the TV, get this movie and enrich them with unrestrained, genuine laughter, and introduce them to the funniest comedy team this nation ever produced and arguably the funniest movie ever made.
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