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This is Considered the Marx Brothers Best Film. That is if A Night at
the Opera (1935) isn't. It's Completely Objective (just like all
Comedy) and it Matters Not Because Both are Great Films and Great
This One is Lean, Trimmed of All Excess (even Chico's Piano and Harpo's Harp), and Moves at the Speed of a Bullet with No Lag Time. The Movie Never Seems to Drag or Stall and has a Momentum All Its Own and that is, It Never Stops Moving.
Someone, Somewhere, Sometime Probably did the Math and Figured Out that Duck Soup has More Laughs Per Minute than Any Other Film Ever Made. If No One Did, They Should, and If It Doesn't, the Math is Wrong, Because This is One Funny Film.
The Subject, a Satire of War, is Alone Worth the Price of Admission. One of the Few Musical Interludes is a Swinging, Jazzed Up Minstrel "All God's Chillun Got Guns" (cut in some versions), and Groucho Makes a Joke About a Popular Song of the Time "That's How Darkies Were Born".
The Point is, that the Marx Brothers were Never Politically Correct or Reverent and Duck Soup is Full of Their Edgy, Sometimes Nasty Humor. Maybe More than Any of Their Films. It Never Capitulates Like "Opera" for Others to Perform or to Lessen the Bite. So Overall, if One Had to Choose the Best Marx Brothers Movie, the Recommendation is Duck Soup for Everyone.
These days "Duck Soup" is generally considered the best of the Marx
brothers comedies. However, at the time of its original release, its
poor reception was one of the contributing factors to the brothers'
split from Paramount. It was also the last of their films to feature
Zeppo, who never really stood out much due to his role as a straight
man to his brothers' zany antics.
In this movie Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the newly appointed leader of the fictional country of Freedonia. Zeppo plays his secretary while Chico and Harpo team up as spies for the Sylvanian ambassador, who is attempting to incite a revolution.
The brothers were all in good form for this picture and were joined by frequent comic foil Margaret Dumont. Louis Calhern was also effective as the villain of the piece. Verbal comedy is where the film shines and all of these individuals worked quite well together. On the other hand, I found that some of the physical comedy bits just went on too long.
Future Oscar winner Leo McCarey directed the film and I have no complaints about his work here. For the most part, he avoided the staginess of the earlier films. The musical numbers are pretty well done, too, though I would have liked to have seen the brothers themselves show off their instrumental skills as they often did in their movies.
Ultimately, I consider this my second favourite Marx brothers comedy after "A Night at the Opera". There seem to be differing viewpoints on which one is superior. Personally, I find that this film's anarchic quality is endearing but it doesn't produce as cohesive an experience as their MGM productions that were soon to come.
Duck Soup is the climax of of everything the Marx Brothers tried to do
while in their early years of performing. With a fine director (Leo
McCarey) and more polished writing, the 4 brothers were able to finally
make a movie most worthy of their talents and blend in some political
satire along the way. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who somehow
becomes the head of the tiny nation Freedonia. Zeppo continues to play
it straight in his last role with his brothers as Bob Roland, the
secretary, and Chico and Harpo play spies trying to overthrow Firefly.
This is certainly the best of early Marx Brothers and one of their best works ever. Groucho dominates the screen with all his one-liners and Chico and Harpo providing nice supporting comic relief. This is a movie for anybody, not just fans of the Marx Brothers' lesser work. It appeals to all that can laugh. Anybody can find this humor funny, which is what makes it so good. It is timeless and lasts forever. Long live the Marx Brothers.
After seeing an infinite number of films, I can honestly say that "Duck
Soup" is the only comedy I've seen where there isn't a single joke that
falls flat. Hell, I'd go so far as to saying its the finest comedy
writing ever (yes, I am including Shakespeare in that statement). It's
just that brilliant.
An explanation of the plot is pointless. As with every Marx Brothers movie, any "story" is simply an excuse to showcase the Brothers' incredible comedic talents. Groucho is a the best verbal comedian ever. Rarely is there a day when I don't find myself quoting him. Harpo is possibly the best pantomime (only Buster Keaton gives him competition). Chico was an incredibly skilled dialect and almost as good at verbal humor as Groucho. Zeppo often gets a bad rep because he was rarely given nothing to do, but even he is great in "Duck Soup". It often seems he didn't really contribute anything, but once he left, something was missing.
As far as picking my favorite sequence in the film, there are far too many candidates. The mirror gag may have been devised by Chaplin, but the Marxes perfected it. Any sequence between Ms. Teasdale or Ambassidor Trentino contains Groucho's best insults. Plus, the bizarre musical number "We're Going to War" perfectly demonstrates the comedic anarchy of it all. I'm really not doing justice to this film, I'll just say its one of the very few films anyone with an interest in cinema should check out. (10/10)
In the movie, Sylvania is the town of Loja, in Granada, Spain.
Does somebody know reason?
The Marx Brothers' greatest and funniest masterpiece - the classic comedy Duck Soup (1933) is a short, but brilliant satire and lampooning of blundering dictatorial leaders, Fascism and authoritarian government. The film, produced by Herman Mankiewicz, was prepared during the crisis period of the Depression. Some of its clever gags and routines were taken from Groucho's and Chico's early 1930s radio show Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel. Working titles for the film included Oo La La, Firecrackers, Grasshoppers, and Cracked Ice.
It was the Marx Brothers' fifth film in a five-picture contract with Paramount Studios, before they went on to MGM. It was their last and best film with the studio. The film was directed by first-class veteran director Leo McCarey (who would go on to direct The Awful Truth (1937), Love Affair (1939), Going My Way (1944), and An Affair to Remember (1957) - a remake of his 1939 film), and its screenplay was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin). Originally, it was to have been directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The film was devoid of any Academy Award nominations.
DUCK SOUP (Paramount, 1933), directed by Leo McCarey, is hailed as a
Marx Brothers comedy masterpiece and regarded the best of their five
features for Paramount. Not precisely a movie about the restaurant
business with the special of the day being duck soup, but a political
satire that needs to be seen more than once in order to get the jokes
involved and understand the humor missed the first dozen times around.
A forerunner to latter spoofs of this nature as THE GREAT DICTATOR
(1940), and DOCTOR STRANGELOVE (1964), or public television's oddball
sense of humor from "Monty Python's Flying Circus" of the 1970s, DUCK
SOUP followed the similar pattern of Paramount's MILLION DOLLAR LEGS
(1932) with WC FIelds, spoofing both government and the Olympics. As
for DUCK SOUP, it's in a class menu by itself.
Set in the mythical kingdom of Freedonia, the government asks wealthy widow Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) for another $20 million in order to reduce the taxes. Feeling the money has been mismanaged, she agrees to the loan only if Rufus T. FIrefly (Groucho) is appointed leader. Wanting to gain control of Freedonia by marrying Mrs. Teasdale, Trentino (Louis Calhern), the ambassador of Sylvania, has famous dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres), also his mistress, to distract Firefly by flirting with him while at the same time having his hired spies Chicolini (Chico Marx) and partner, Pinky (Harpo Marx) to get enough information to discredit him. When all else goes wrong, a revolutionary war between Freedonia and Sylvania begins, especially since Firefly has already paid a month's rent on the battlefield.
From the very beginning with the opening title and credits superimposed over four ducks swimming in a pot of soup, to Mrs. Teasdale singing "Hail to Freedonia" as the four brothers pay homage by throwing fruit at her, DUCK SOUP is solid comedy to the extreme, which can be categorized as stupid, insane or hilarious. Regardless of what's thrown in, everything about DUCK SOUP works, and never slows down for an instant during its 68 minutes. While this could be very well be a reworking of a Marx Brothers Broadway play, DUCK SOUP is an original, in spite of reinventing itself with gags taken from earlier works, including Groucho's "love making" to Dumont, or the inauguration opening lifted from ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930) as the public awaits for their guest of honor, repeating the lyrics to "Hail to Freedonia" as with the earlier "Hooray for Captain Spaulding," until he eventually does.
The Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby include: "The Clock on the Wall Strikes Ten" (sung by Zeppo Marx and Margaret Dumont); "His Excellency is Due" (sung by cast); "Pop Goes the Weasel" (sung by Groucho Marx); "Hail to Freedonia" and "Freedonia's Going to War."
DUCK SOUP breaks away from its traditional time out for piano and harp interludes by Chico and Harpo, possibly ending up on the cutting room floor to tighten the pace, along with Edmund Breese (best known as Doctor Wong on 1933's Paramount comedy, INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, with W.C. Fields) credited as Zandor, is seen at a glimpse as one of the cabinet members.
While a mythical kingdom, this is no land of Oz. The Marx Brothers retain their traditional costumes and overly familiar personalities: Groucho, the king of insults ("Remember we're fighting for this woman's honor which is more than she ever did!"); Harpo, the silent instigator; Chico, the Italian accented peanut stand vendor accompanied by his dog, Pastrami; and Zeppo, the straight man/ secretary in his farewell screen performance. Aside from Margaret Dumont playing Groucho's foil for the third time, other notable performances include Louis Calhern as the debonair villain, Edgar "Slow Burn" Kennedy as the lemonade seller, finding that he is no match for his neighboring vendors, Harpo and Chico; and Charles Middleton as the court martial prosecutor.
Great moments of site gags seem to all belong to the quiet one, Harpo, acting as Firefly's chauffeur whose motor cycle equipped with attachment seat passengered by Firefly which never seems to go anywhere (Groucho: "This is the fifth trip I made today and I haven't been anywhere yet."); Harpo showing Firefly his bodily tattoos, one which comes to life; Harpo doing a Paul Revere ride after war is declared; and of course, the legendary mirror scene between yours truly and Groucho. Chico gets his quota of laughs with his puns, either with Groucho or Harpo. That all noisy on the battle front finale, which must be seen to be believed, rightfully belongs to all four of the Marx Brothers.
Considering its initial failure at the box office in 1933, DUCK SOUP may not be for all tastes, yet did find everlasting popularity in later years due to frequent revivals on commercial television enjoyed by the Baby Boomer generation. It became one of the first Marx comedies to be distributed on video cassette in the early 1980s, and from 1991-92, found a new audience with the cable TV generation on American Movie Classics; later resurfacing on cable again on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 18, 2001), where it later became part of its Essentials.
Currently on DVD, DUCK SOUP remains a timeless classic, now that it's become American Film Institute's top 100 best comedies of the twentieth century. With laughter being the best medicine, DUCK SOUP may not be the best remedy for all, but at least the effort for fun entertainment is there. (****)
It's funny, but not all the time. The introduction, while we are
waiting for Groucho entering the ball, takes it time. The scene were
Harpo and Chico is harassing their fellow vendor is more mean than
amusing. But the rest still goes.
In fact anything goes here and many of the jokes have not grew old. The mirror scene is of course genial and the brothers making fun of war and putting it in a much more severe anarchy than it is even in reality, is really propaganda for disarmament, if anything is.
That is definitely not 1933, but goes for all times to come. And you don't have these, for some people anyway, annoying music numbers on piano and harp. This is a good soup.
They say that in the world there are two kinds of people: Those who
like Elvis, and those who like The Beatles. (Don't ask what category
those who don't like either fall into.) A similar analogy that I like
to use involving classic film comedies is that there are Marx Brothers
people and there are Three Stooges people, and ne'er the two shall
meet. Being a Marx Brothers person myself, I watched Leo McCarey's 1933
film "Duck Soup" with great delight.
Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is named the president of a small city/state called Freedonia, which has just been hauled out of bankruptcy by the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (longtime Marx Bros. foil Margaret Dumont). Firefly has been appointed the president because of Mrs. Teasdale's devotion to him, much to the chagrin of Ambassador Trentino (Calhern), a man who wants control of Freedonia and the hand of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. He hires Chicolini (Chico, natch) and Pinky (Harpo) to spy on Firefly so that Trentino can not only become Mrs. Teasdale's husband, but president himself. Because they are the Marx Bros. alliance lines are blurry, and Chicolini and Pinky end up on both sides of the fence. War breaks out and hilarity ensues.
Nope, there's not much to the plot, but "Duck Soup" is an absolutely riotous film that was almost as surreal as it was funny. Enormous musical numbers that seem to come out of nowhere certainly contribute to the bizarre theme, and this film is even more manic than other Marx Brothers films. Part of the appeal of their brand of comedy is their rapid-fire delivery, sometimes so fast that you don't realize that you've actually heard what you just heard. Teeming with double entendres, (" ") and featuring the wonderful "mirror gag" that somehow gets me every time, I find that there isn't actually a lot to say about the film because it is truly a simple little gem. Barely an hour long, I suspect it contains the most gags in ten minutes that are truly funny than an entire two hour comedic production from the last twenty years. And this comedy is whip-smart and damned funny. This may not be the best Marx Bros. film to initiate someone with, ("A Night at the Opera" may be just a tad less manic and a little more "user-friendly) but it is a bona fide comedy classic that exudes relevancy a whopping 72 years after its original release. 7/10 --Shelly
I'm too cheap for cable, or to rent or buy videos, but I was lucky to
be in a motel with cable the night Buck Henry co-hosted a TCM
presentation of his favorite films.
As a young child I watched Groucho on 'You Bet Your Life', which I saw recently in reruns on a PBS station. I've always enjoyed his particular brand of humor. And in this movie he was fantastic. His combination of wit and rapid-fire delivery is rarely seen these days--Lauren Graham on 'Gilmore Girls' comes close, though her humor is different. Jim Carrey and Robin Williams have their own unique styles but they don't really match Groucho. If he wasn't ad-libbing--and it sure seemed like he was but that was apparently part of his talent--the writing was outstanding. The film was rated TV-G but came very close to being bawdy, though that's part of Groucho's charm. Yes, he got laughs by insulting people; Groucho and Don Rickles were masters of that. To me, both comedians are too easy to like for the insults to seem hurtful.
Chico and Harpo were quite good too. Chico could have been a fine comic actor on his own, with a delivery that ALMOST matched that of his zany brother.
At first I thought Harpo was every bit as talented as Tony Papenfuss and John Voldstad of 'Newhart', but later I realized I had that backwards. I finally saw how truly gifted Harpo was at facial expressions, and he made his character truly likable. Then there was the dispute with the lemonade vendor (including the trading of hats which I wasn't paying enough attention to), and of course the great mirror routine, which I had seen with Lucille Ball but didn't really appreciate.
Most of the characters were not supposed to be funny, and it added to this movie's quality that these characters were done completely straight. I never even noticed who Zeppo was, and while all the actors seemed talented, he evidently didn't match his brothers' particular skills.
This is definitely one of the great movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Clocking at 68 minutes, Duck Soup ended a bit too quickly for
I really enjoyed this film, shortcomings nonwithstanding: Very poor
editing in some spots, a couple of gags are poorly constructed or
are orphaned halfway through.
However, there are three great set pieces: The lemonade stand
(parts 1 and 2), the mirror scene (pure genius) and the war
sequence (packed with insane rapid-fire gags, Airplane!-style).
I find it amazing just how much Looney Tunes ripped off from
these guys. Having grown up with Looney Tunes, Duck Soup is, in
a manner of speaking, like going full circle and finding myself
Another thing I really like about Duck Soup (or any Marx Brothers
film) is Harpo, doing his silent movie character in a world
surrounded by sound. This creature from another era gives a
surrealistic depth to the comedy offered on screen.
It is said that Duck Soup's anarchic style is what makes it current
and relevant. I beg to differ. I rather think Duck Soup remains
timely because of "We God's chillun an' we got guns, so let's go to
war". Sounds absurd, doesn't it? Well, it's how it happens, isn't it?
How a people, any people, can be whipped-up into a war frenzy for
no excusable reason (such as Firefly's war-at-all-costs mentality),
is the ultimate essence of this film. The fact that Duck Soup does
this in an absurd manner makes the observation easier to digest,
putting up a mirror to us all without offending so easily with the
truth. The message, in some level, makes its' way through.
Tapping into universal truths and skewering them, Duck Soup was
timely when it was made, and remains timely today.
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