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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.
It's hard to believe the most highly praised Marx Bros. film today,
Duck Soup, was a disappointment at the box office. I believe it was
Irving Thalberg who said the problem with Duck Soup was that it was too
funny. Audiences weren't used to such fast paced comedy with little
structure. I think there is an element of truth to this. Out of all of
the Marx Bros. films with Paramount, Duck Soup is a contender for the
weakest plot. However, I believe this is why it is praised so much
today. It is sheer, unadulterated Marx Bros. anarchy, without the
romance interludes or intrusive musical numbers. Some of the Brother's
best material is in this film. There are too many hilarious jokes to
mention, but the mirror sequence, Harpo's Paul Revere scene, and
Groucho's opening song are priceless gems. A similar mirror sequence
was featured in the now classic Harpo Marx episode of I Love Lucy. This
film has aged better than all of the Marx Bros. movies. As Roger Ebert
wrote in his book The Great Movies, many of the jokes in this film seem
surprisingly modern. For example, Harpo has a tattoo of a dog house on
his chest, and when Groucho meows like a cat, a real dog pops out of it
and barks. I could easily see something like this happening in any
comedy today, and it would be just as effective.
Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the new dictator of Fredonia. Chico and Harpo play Chicolini and Pinky, two spies from Fredonia's enemy, Sylvania. The two countries go to war for reasons too silly to mention. Zeppo pops up every now and then. This was Zeppo's last film. He never really enjoyed making movies, and I believe it took some convincing to get him to do this film. Unfortunately he was always stuck playing the straight man, and he never got a chance to do anything funny. Zeppo actually was Groucho's understudy when they were on stage, and he supposedly got big laughs whenever he got the chance to play Groucho. Whether or not Zeppo could have been as famous as his other brothers if he had been given the chance will always be one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries.
Duck Soup ended the Marx Brother's contract with Paramount, and they went on hiatus for two years. Chico was able to negotiate a contract with MGM, and they made two more great films, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, before their careers took a major nosedive, from which only Groucho was able to recover.
It is said that there was a real town named Fredonia, and the mayor or town council sent a letter to the Marx Bros. complaining that the movie was ruining the image of the town. The Marx Bros. responded with a letter stating "change the name of your town, it's ruining our movie!"
One of the finest comedies and indeed the wittiest of many.
Witty lines and scenes make this film a fantastic one to watch. It's a laugh riot and does full throttle. It's uncompromising in vision which is a rarity considering 1933 where studios determined what has to be shown. Marx brothers who are considered as comedy giants in their times, gave wonderful performances in this film. From a retort to "Tanks" (which is thought as "Thanks") with a "Welcome" to many many moments where it's tough to hold back our laughs, this film is spanned with nothing but wit and comedy.
I dare say, it is one of the funniest films I watched in a long time. It's hilarious and comical, it's also strongly satirical and political too. It takes on war, politics behind war and what kings or rulers do. The best part is it never takes itself seriously even for iota of a moment and gives out gags where each one is wonderfully joyful.
Groucho Marx as Firefly, gives a wonderful performance probably the finest of his life from the word go. He dances, sings, and utters some of the wittiest lines uttered ever on film screen. His act as a Mussolini like is wonderful and more so as excellency of Fredonia. From his entry till the last frame, he makes this film his own.
He is ably supported by his own brothers Harpo, Chico and Zeppo who give wonderful scenes too. My only crib is that it is too short. At 68 minutes, this film gives out so many wonderful moments that it leaves us yearning for more. Should this have been edited, I would be very disappointed, coz every frame is precious in this film and has to be embraced.
This film is now 80 years old and it is still so young and infectious in wit and the sheer energy on screen. I wish again, to see more than 68 minutes of this. One of the greatest comedies ever, a 5/5 for this. Wit, humor and outstandingly performed this a must watch for every film lover.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Everyone remembers the mirror scene, but in case you've forgotten the
plot, here it is: Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) becomes leader of
Freedonia and decides to declare war on neighboring Sylvania just for
fun. Naturally, Groucho cracks a series of serious-then-wacky jokes,
Chico mangles words, and Harpo is silly every step of the way. Along
with the mirror scene, another hilarious scene is the hat-switching
scene with a short-tempered peanut vendor.
Obviously, the Marx Brothers always engaged in anarchic humor, but this one is so good because of how they mock the power structure, militarism, and everything such. It's an A+.
The last of the Marx Bros. movies to feature Zeppo and the last made at Paramount is also my favorite. The brothers would go on to make some more good movies but, in my view, their Paramount films are when they were at their best. The nonstop zaniness and unpredictability of them was unlike anything else in film comedy at the time. This is a hilarious satire with Groucho in arguably his most famous role, Rufus T. Firefly, the newly-appointed leader of the small country of Freedonia who leads his country into war with neighboring Sylvania. The brothers are all terrific with some of their most memorable gags in this one. Margaret Dumont is back after missing two consecutive movies. Her scenes with Groucho are some of the film's highlights. Louis Calhern makes for a fine villain and Raquel Torres is one of the sexiest women from any of the Marx films. Edgar Kennedy is a hoot as a vendor that has trouble with Chico and Harpo. It's directed by Leo McCarey, who went on to win Oscars and direct some classic films with Cary Grant and Bing Crosby. Duck Soup also has probably the highest quality production values of any of the Marx films at Paramount. The sets and costumes are very nice. It's easy to see why this is considered the Marx Brothers' masterpiece. Aside from being funny from start to finish with hilarious songs and many great gags, it has been highly influential over the years on everything from Bugs Bunny to Woody Allen. One of the greatest comedies ever made and certainly one I recommend everyone see at least once.
Duck Soup(1933) is the funniest and most entertaining comedy that I've seen in my life. It was the last film the Marx Brothers would do for Paramount before going over to MGM. Duck Soup is an anarchic comedy where the main characters never live by the rules and rebel as a result. The Marx Brothers put out some of the greatest comedies that rarely has been matched. It is a satire about the nature of war, politics, and affairs of the state. Duck Soup(1933) is a great example of a film that can easily induce a person into bursts of laughter.
The nation of Freedonia is in dire financial situation and wealthy
widow Mrs. Teasdale is willing to help if only Rufus T. Firefly
(Groucho Marx) is appointed the new leader. Sylvanian Ambassador
Trentino and Raquel Torres are trying to incite a revolt. Sylania sends
Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) as spies. Firefly
appoints Chicolini as Secretary of War. As the crazy situation spins
out of control, war is declared between Freedonia and Sylvania.
Groucho is relentless in his fast rolling jokes. It comes so fast that it's impossible to laugh at it all. Harpo is pure slapstick genius. This is pure comedic chaos. There is the great mirror scene between Groucho and Chico. It's not simply mirroring. It's that they go beyond and start changing places. It is simply a classic and so is this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"If you think this country's bad off now, just wait till I get through
with it", Groucho sings while being sworn in as President of Fredonia
(no relation to the small New York city in Chautaqua County) where he
actually rules as dictator. Ironically the same year as the rise of
Hitler in Germany, this parallels the absurdities of dictatorships with
Groucho not apologizing in any manner for his promise of "We stand them
up against the wall and pop goes the weasel" for breaking any law he
passes. Of course, he can't get out of his house because every time he
does, his chauffeur (Harpo!) takes off in the motorcycle, leaving
Groucho behind in the sidecar, and later switching places with
With a name like Rufus T. Firefly, you know what kind of character Groucho is going to be, especially when he makes a pass at his benefactor, the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, back with the boys after a two-picture absence), all the while insulting her at the same time. He creates an instant rivalry with the ambassador from another country (an imperious Louis Calhern) and when war is declared, all zany hell breaks loose. There's even a minstrel show musical number about the declaration of the war, and with Harpo and Chico as spies, you know that the spying game is going to be downright hysterical.
Chico and Harpo take up in a zany argument with fellow street vendor Edgar Kennedy which has some truly outrageous visual gags. Raquel Torres takes over for Thelma Todd, vixen from the previous two entries here, but no vixen, no matter how sexy, can get one over on Groucho. Ironically, the director this time around is Leo McCarey who usually went for sentiment. Here, the atmosphere is downright parody of an unsettled world on the verge of another war, perhaps a little ahead of its time, but a film that today is considered ingenious and probably the most famous of the Marxx Brothers' films. It was so controversial in its day that the politicians from the real Fredonia, New York wrote to Groucho in protest. You know who came out the winner.
This is mayhem, and, chaos, and nutty, and havoc, and very funny. It proves once and for all that Duck Soup, if it is made by a great chef.......tastes wonderful. Made in 1933, this Marx Brothers classic is the funniest movie in motion picture history. Groucho delivers his one liners with machine gun precision.....and always hits the target. There will simply NEVER be any "funny guy" who will even come close to The Grouch. Its a fact.....during the past 79 years no comedy has bettered this. The last 25 years have been really bad....badly written, terribly acted....and NOT funny. Its all so pretentious, today. Will Ferrell ?? are we kidding ?? The guy is awful. And "the others" are only marginally better. Writers should remember a simple rule..........people who go to the cinema to see a comedy........expect to laugh.
When the Marx Brothers decided to leave Paramount, they did in the
words of the old expression leave them laughing. In fact with Duck
Soup, they left them rolling in the aisles.
Duck Soup is helmed by the greatest director the Brothers ever worked for in their film career, Leo McCarey. He guided this anti-war lampoon of Ruritanian pictures with a sure hand. It's the shortest film the brothers ever did, but there's hardly a minute in it without a gag or three.
I think that Leo McCarey had in mind a satire on the Merry Widow, where if you'll recall the plot has the richest widow in Marovia ready to leave the country bag and baggage for Paris. It's up to Count Danilo to woo her for the country. People have done worse for patriotic motives.
A silent version by Erich Von Stroheim was already made of The Merry Widow and next year Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier would do it for MGM. But here we have Freedonia's richest citizen, Margaret Dumont not willing to underwrite her little country unless she names its prime minister. And of course she names the man wooing her, Groucho Marx.
Of course that foils the plans of Louis Calhern, the ambassador from neighboring Sylvania. War eventually breaks out between the two countries over some absurdities you'll have to see to believe.
Harpo and Chico play a pair of hapless spies who change loyalties at the turn of a dime and seem to wind up doing more good for whoever they're working against at the moment. They even take time to have a battle with poor Edgar Kennedy. Note that scene in the bathtub with Edgar Kennedy and Harpo, it may be Harpo's best moment from their films.
This was Zeppo's last film, he did not make the journey to MGM with his three brothers. I'm not sure too many people noticed because his contribution seem mostly to act as a foil for Groucho's barbs. He became an agent and as a comic he was a good agent.
Duck Soup is only 68 minutes long, but you cannot believe how many laughs you can get in a picture that short.
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