Sunday, October 6, 2019

CONSENSUS #58 - Duck Soup (1933)

SYNOPSIS: This is the Marx Brothers' movie about war. Groucho is appointed ruler of Freedonia and chaos ensues. Chico and Harpo play spies for the rival country of Sylvania. Groucho's lack of tact leads to war with Sylvania. Zeppo is not funny.

BACK-STORY: “Duck Soup” was the last Marx Brothers’ movie made for Paramount. It was the last film where all four brothers starred. Zeppo gave up his fabled acting career after the film was finished. The Marx Brothers were never funny again. The movie was released in 1933, coincidentally (and I do mean coincidentally) the year Hitler came to power. The movie was banned in Italy because Mussolini was personally offended (you can’t buy publicity like that) and in Germany (as with all their films) because the brothers were Jewish. It was directed by the only decent director that dealt with them – Leo McCarey (who did not enjoy the experience). The movie underperformed at the box office possibly because its irreverence did not fit the Depression-era mood of the populace and its anti-government satire ran up against the optimistic mood of the early New Deal. Critics were pretty brutal and the movie was not highly thought of until a revival in the 1960s. Today it is considered to be the Marx Brothers’ masterpiece and is ranked #60 (up from #85) on AFIs most recent list of great American movies. It is #5 on the Comedy list.
TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, TCM
1.  It was Zeppo’s last movie.  He finally had enough of people describing him as the unfunny one.
2.  The original name of Firefly was to be Rufus T. Firestone. 
3.   The term “duck soup” was slang for something that was easy.
4.  It was not the bomb people think, but it was a disappointment after the success of “Horse Feathers”. 
5.  The director Leo McCarey was by far the best the Marx Brothers ever worked with.  He suggested the famous mirror scene based on an old vaudeville act.  It was not the first time the scenario had been played on film, however.  Harold Lloyd had done something very similar in a short called “The Marathon”.  McCarey was most responsible for the anti-war satire.  The Brothers were only interested in laughs.
6.  The movie did not coin the term “This means war!”, but it popularized it.  The phrase was often used by Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.
7.  One of the few Marx Brothers’ movies where Harpo does not play the harp.  And Chico does not play the piano.  Some theater owners complained that this was the reason the movie underperformed.
8.  The mirror scene took only two minutes to perform.  Amazingly, Groucho does not crack a single joke in the scene.
9.  In the battle scene, Groucho switches uniform five times:  Union general, Confederate general, Boy Scout troop leader, British Revolutionary War general, and Davy Crockett.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A 
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  N/A
War Movies         =  N/A
Military History  =  #27
Channel 4             =  no
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no
Rotten Tomatoes  =  no 

OPINION:  This is without a doubt the best Marx Brothers’ movie, in my opinion. I am not a big fan of the musical interludes and romantic subplots that tend to bring their films to a screeching halt. “Duck Soup” has less of those weaknesses. The movie is manic with its mix of sight gags, slapstick, one-liners, and puns. Many of the jokes are laugh out loud funny which is unusual for a movie that goes back to the 1930s. Of course, you also have a few groaners. However, the percentage of jokes that work is surprisingly high. Many of the lines are classics.  I do not buy that the Marx Brothers intended the movie to be recognized as a great anti-war movie. I take Groucho at his word that they were trying to make a funny movie without a deep meaning.  However,  “Duck Soup” is overrated as the 5th best comedy of all time according to AFI, but it certainly is in the top 100 comedies. It is very funny (or specifically, Groucho and Chico are funny). I am not sure it belongs in the 100 Greatest War Movies, especially when the much better “To Be or Not to Be” did not make it.

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