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Duck Soup (1933) Poster

(1933)

Trivia

Harpo Marx's character was originally called Skippy, but this was changed to Pinky after his role in Horse Feathers (1932), making him one of only two of The Marx Brothers to reuse a character name in their films (not counting when they used their own names).
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini banned the film from Italy because he thought it was a direct attack on him. When news of this reached The Marx Brothers, they were reportedly ecstatic.
Shortly before this film premiered, the city of Fredonia, New York, complained about the use of its name with an additional "e". The Marx Brothers' response was, "Change the name of your town, it's hurting our picture."
Groucho Marx offered the following explanation for the movie's title: "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup the rest of your life."
Firefly (Groucho Marx) says, "The Headstrongs married the Armstrongs, and that's why darkies were born," a reference to a 1931 popular song "That's Why Darkies Were Born", written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown and originally sung by Kate Smith (and later by Paul Robeson).
One of the very few films featuring Harpo Marx in which he does not perform a harp solo.
When asked what the political significance of this film was, Groucho Marx reportedly said, "What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh."
Screenwriters Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar were standing on the set of one day when an extra standing next to them said, "I don't know who wrote this stuff but they ought to be arrested...they should be in a different business." Kalmer, who was known as a rational and calm man, said to Ruby, "I'm going over to hit him. Who does he think he is? He's just an extra!" But before fisticuffs erupted, Kalmer and Ruby were informed that Chico Marx had paid the extra to rib the screenwriters, just for the hell of it.
The fictitious country of Sylvania was called "Amnesia" in early drafts.
In the original script, Chicolini and Pinky were cousins and Bob was Firefly's son.
An early draft of the script introduces Freedonia's new dictator Rufus T. Firefly as an agent for an ammunition company, which led to lots of ammunition-salesman jokes and intertwined with the movie's war theme.
Final film of Zeppo Marx. After the film's premiere, he quit The Marx Brothers, citing a dissatisfaction with movie acting overall, and a weariness with being the butt of jokes regarding him as the "unfunny" Marx brother.
The hat-swapping routine performed by Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, and Edgar Kennedy, was reportedly the inspiration for a similar scene in the French stage play "Waiting For Godot" by Samuel Beckett.
Leo McCarey told Cahiers du cinema in 1967: "I don't like (Duck Soup) so much...I never chose to shoot this film. The Marx Brothers absolutely wanted me to direct them in a film. I refused. Then they got angry with the studio, broke their contract and left. Believing myself secure, I accepted the renewal of my own contract with the studio. Soon, the Marx Brothers were reconciled with (Paramount)...and I found myself in the process of directing the Marx Brothers. The most surprising thing about this film was that I succeeded in not going crazy, for I really did not want to work with them: they were completely mad."
According to The Marx Brothers biographer Joe Adamson, the elaborate "All God's Chillun Got Guns" musical number was mostly improvised on the set, as there is no reference to it in the movie's final script. It's likely Groucho Marx was referring to the old Negro spiritual "I got Shoes", which repeats the line "All of God's children got..." filling "a song", "a robe", "a harp", etc. Groucho just added "Guns".
Two Paramount contract writers, Grover Jones and Keene Thompson, were both eager and willing to be assigned to the film. They were each hired at different intervals, but both had disappeared from the production after two weeks' work. They simply did not have the stamina and perseverance in dealing with The Marx Brothers.
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Harpo Marx's character Pinky went through several name changes in pre-production. In a 1933 Paramount press-book ad, he's known as Snoopy. For a radio trailer, his character's name was changed to Skippy.
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Early drafts of the script included scenes in an opera house and aboard a zeppelin.
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The surprising sight gag of the live dog barking out of a tattooed doghouse on Harpo's arm 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.
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Vera was Trentino's niece in early drafts.
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The Marx Brothers chose Leo McCarey to direct after seeing his film The Kid from Spain (1932).
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To help sell the film to theatre exhibitors and the public, the Paramount press department featured a number of contests to get the word out about the newest The Marx Brothers laugh fest. In addition to "Name the Four Marx Sisters," there was also a proposed duck-hunting contest, in which hunters across the fruited plain would bring back their catch to be cooked in one big duck dinner, beginning with duck soup, of course. And then there was the duck parade. Just imagine, to paraphrase the Paramount press materials, after you round up four ducks (preferably from a poultry market or a farmer), dress them as the Brothers, and let them lead the parade, you, the faithful theater manager, could then create more nonstop hilarity by tying the ducks together with a long string. "The ducks will not stay in line but that will only add to the confusion and the excitement," the press materials helpfully added.
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In the original script, there was to be a romance between Vera Marcal and Bob Roland but it was cut before the picture's release.
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"Duck soup" was American English slang at that time; it meant something easy to do.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Groucho Marx attributed the film's strong satire on war to director Leo McCarey.
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Breaking with their usual pattern, neither Harpo's harp nor Chico's piano is used in the film, although Harpo briefly pretends to play harp on the strings of a piano, strumming chords in accompaniment to a music box that is playing the unlikely chime tune, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" from rival studio Disney's Three Little Pigs (1933).
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Filmed partially on location at Jewett Estate, 1145 Arden Road, Pasadena, California.
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The film was influenced by two other projects that tangentially involved Marx Brothers alumni. Producer Herman J. Mankiewicz had just supervised the shooting of another Paramount comedy, Million Dollar Legs (1932), starring W.C. Fields. Herman's younger brother Joseph L. Mankiewicz had written that film's original story about a fictional country, Klopstokia, beset by chaotic foreign intrigue, nutty spies, and internal political strife. The cast even featured a young actress named Susan Fleming, playing the President's daughter, who was to become Harpo Marx's betrothed two years later.
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The film was influenced by a political play called Of Thee I Sing, by George S. Kaufman (who wrote two of the Marxes' stage plays) and Morrie Ryskind, which took satirical swipes at French and U.S. relations. The Marxes briefly flirted with the idea of adapting the play for the screen. Instead, they incorporated many of the same themes into early drafts of the script.
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Leo McCarey came up with Harpo's slyly snipping scissors, the lemonade seller sequence and Harpo and Chico's attempted break-in of Mrs. Teasdale's house.
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Leo McCarey reportedly came up with the title for the film, having previously used it for an earlier directorial effort with Laurel & Hardy.
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The introductory scene, showing ducks swimming in a kettle and quacking merrily is also the only scene in the film that has anything remotely to do with ducks or soup.
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The "Sylvania theme" sounds vaguely like "Rule, Britannia!"
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Popular belief holds that the film was a box office failure, but this is not true. Although it did not do as well as Horse Feathers (1932), it was the sixth-highest grossing film of 1933. One possible reason for the film's lukewarm reception is that it was released during the Great Depression. Audiences were taken aback by such preposterous political disregard, buffoonery, and cynicism at a time of economic and political crisis.
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Comparing the original scripts with the finished film, most of the characters' initial scripted names were later changed. Only the names of Chicolini and Mrs. Teasdale were kept. Groucho's character-originally named "Rufus T. Firestone"-eventually became Rufus T. Firefly, while the name of Harpo's character-named Pinky in the final product-was given in the pressbook as "Brownie".
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #60 Greatest Movie of All Time.
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Working titles for the film included Cracked Ice, Firecrackers and Grasshoppers.
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