Duck Soup (1933) Poster

(1933)

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  • No. Duck Soup began life as a screen draft entitled Oo La La. By the time the song- and script-writing team of Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar were called in (October 1932) to produce a workable script, the title had changed to Firecrackers. Two months later, the title was again changed to Cracked Ice, and screenwriter Grover Jones had joined the writing team. In February 1933, the title was changed once more to Grasshoppers, but the basic script was fairly well-fixed by then. The script was finally completed by July 1933 and the title became Duck Soup. The resulting script was a continuation of Ruby and Kalmar's Firecrackers/Cracked Ice drafts, but contained more elements lifted from Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, a radio show written by ex-newspaper columnist Arthur Sheekman and comedy writer Nat Perrin on which Groucho and Chico had worked the previous year. Consequently, Perrin and Sheekman were given "additional dialogue" credits. Director Leo McCarey is credited with the scene in which Harpo and Chico stage a break-in at Mrs Teasdale's house, as well as with adding the now-classic "mirror scene", a revival of an old vaudeville act that had previously been used in Charlie Chaplin's 1916 silent film The Floorwalker (1916) and Max Linder's 1921 short Seven Years Bad Luck (1921).

  • In the 1930s, "duck soup" was a common American slang phrase referring to an easy-to-do task; an equivalent expression today would be "piece of cake." When Groucho was asked during an interview for an explanation, he quipped, "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup for the rest of your life.".

  • It was a variation on the many old childrens' games where kids would put out their hands in a circle, and each hand would be tapped in order while a rhyme was recited. Chico was using a rhyme of vaguely Italian-sounding nonsense, but some similar rhymes in English start with "one potato, two potato, three potato, four.." or "eeny, meeny, miney, moe." Whoever's hand was hit on the last syllable of the rhyme was usually "out" or "picked". The joke here was not only that Chico was using a schoolyard game to pick who would go out into the battlefield but that he kept changing the rules to avoid being picked.

  • The Floorwalker (1916) (1916). Chaplin mistakes the store inspector for his mirror image.

    Seven Years Bad Luck (1921) (1921). Max Linder thinks his cook is his mirror image.

    Duck Soup (1933) (1933). Harpo (dressed as Groucho) accidentally breaks a large mirror. When Groucho enters, Harpo pretends to be his mirror image.

    Lonesome Ghosts (1937) (1937). A ghost is in the mirror and Goofy thinks its his reflection.

    Double Chaser (1942) (1942). A cat repeatedly tiptoes past a gap in a fence, and is "reflected" alternately by a mouse, a bulldog and an identical-looking cat.

    Hare Tonic (1945) (1945). Bugs Bunny removes the glass from a mirror to trick Elmer Fudd into believing that he (Elmer) looks like a rabbit.

    Lucy and Harpo Marx (1955) (1955). Lucy is dressed like Harpo. Harpo enters; she pretends to be his mirror image.

    Mine Your Own Business (1969) (1969). Scooby Doo looks into a mirror and sees the image of the Miner 49er.

    Never Ape an Ape Man (1969) (1969). The Ape Man puts on a Scooby mask and pretends to be Scooby Doo's mirror image; but his hands give him away.

    Big Business (1988) (1988). Bette Midler plays twins separated at birth. They meet in a hotel bathroom and do the same routine until one Midler pulls the nose of her supposed mirror image.

    The Meeting (1994) (1994). Two twins meet for the first time when they each try on an identical outfit at a clothing store. They walk up to either side of an empty frame, believing it to be a mirror, and inspect their "reflections."

  • A punchline by Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) which appears startling to modern viewers is "My father was a little headstrong, my mother was a little armstrong. The Headstrongs married the Armstrongs, and that's why darkies were born." This is a dated reference to a popular song released in 1931, "That's Why Darkies Were Born." While "politically incorrect" by today's standards, the song was originally intended as a satirical view of racism, and a version was in fact recorded by the black singer/actor Paul Robeson.

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