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Duck Soup

1933 film directed by Leo McCarey

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The Marx Brothers; making both pre and post-war funny!

  • Feb 5, 2012
**** out of ****

If the Marx Brothers can't make you laugh, then I don't know who - or what - can. Since the beginning of time, comedy cinema has been dominated by the purely physical comics, some of whom mixed a little bit of verbal humor into their mix; the brothers were such people. While they were in their prime, they had many fine films; although I feel that "Duck Soup" is among the most important, if not the most important, period. Inside this delightful confectionary; you shall find some of the most relevant, hilarious commentary on politics, people, and their respective social classes alike - as well as a few of cinema's greatest sight gags and spoken insults. The film is a perfect representation of when comedy was neither too crude nor too subtle; it's funny enough to charm even the sourest, most cynical of viewers, so long as the person is open-minded to comedy that today might feel just a tad bit dated.

"Duck Soup" is a straight-up satire of the people that might be leading our nations as we speak; it portrays the ruling class to be at the intelligence level of an underdeveloped ape. The story is simple and very easy to follow. Here's how I would put it: the nations of Freedonia and Sylvania are to wage war against one another. Or at least that's what their collective, current situations seem to suggest. Freedonia has just appointed a new dictator/ruler; by the name of Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx). On first sight, Firefly is far too arrogant to run a country, and don't let that fool you; he really isn't cut out for the job.

The leader of Sylvania, Trentino (Louis Calhern), is of much higher intelligence. He is worried that Firefly will get in the way of his plans to take over the opposing country of Freedonia; and he actually believes that his wits have been matched with the newest addition to the long-running list of rulers. Of course, he is wrong; but given this is a war satire, there must be coverage of the ever-infamous paranoia of leaders and those who simply follow them. Out of his paranoia, Trentino hires two spies - Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) - neither of them consistent enough to retrieve the information from Firefly that Trentino so eagerly desires.

As you can see, "Duck Soup" is not a film that was remembered for its plot. It's a short movie (running at about only 70 minutes), but it makes every second count. The Marx Brothers infuse their signature wit into the story, making it worthwhile; although it's the satire and commentary that counts, not so-much the structure of the plot. You want complexity; you should look elsewhere. But why should you expect such a thing out of classic comedy? In a sense, the comedy itself is meant to have multiple layers rather than the story that contains it; which is fine by me, so long as the intent to provoke laughter is not sacrificed.

While the characters portrayed by the Brothers and their co-stars are memorable and cleverly-written, I think what most people will take out of the movie is the plethora of memorable scenes to be unearthed when one approaches it. There are a few scenes in particular that I feel most people will not soon forget; such as one involving the spies operating a peanut vendor-stand, only to pick fights with the competition in the business, and another in which Firefly walks the premises of his home in nightgown; while the spies linger nearby, also donning similar clothes. The scene is made instantly memorable when Firefly's mirror first comes into view; Pinky (dressed as Firefly) runs into it and it breaks on contact, although when the real Firefly approaches the scene, he's able to trick him by making him think that he's seeing himself in an un-broke mirror. I suppose it proves that the dimwitted spies have one thing going for them: consistency.

Then, of course, there is the war scene that ends the film; a showcase of some early special effects work (such as a bullet that goes through walls, and a house that explodes), and also the home of some of the film's other scenes worth mentioning. For example: who can forget the "help" montage? If you've seen the film, then you know what I'm talking about; on the battlefield, Firefly calls in for assistance, and we get prolonged images of squad cars, elephants, baboons, athletic swimmers, and track runners. There's a surprising sense of relevance that this scene alone brings to the film; the kind that hasn't changed to this day. So there, you see; "Duck Soup" has not aged entirely. But in my opinion, "age" should not be a complaint of any cinephile. Greatness is forever.

I loved every minute of "Duck Soup". You'll likely laugh until you cry when you watch it; this is a very, very funny film. From the wise-cracking Firefly to the uptight Trentino, it's filled with fun characters and humor that can range from potentially offensive (mostly to woman; not much racially or otherwise that could cause alarm) to jokes that are very easy to swallow. It's one of the best comedies reliant on what we see, hear, and feel; and I think that it broke a lot of ground for the future of comic filmmaking. And whether you acknowledge that or not is completely up to whether you buy in to the Marx Brothers' grand feathered brew.

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February 05, 2012
Very detailed review !
More Duck Soup reviews
review by . May 20, 2009
I'll see my lawyer about this as soon as he graduates from law school.
Duck Soup is the best Marx Brothers film (in my opinion). Not only do you have all four of the brothers in action, but the humor is sharp, witty and relevant in this day and age. Groucho spits out the one-liners, Harpo and Chico do all of the sight gags and pratfalls whilst Zeppo plays the straight man. I wish all four of them continued to make more movies (Zeppo would soon leave the group). What I like about this film is the musical numbers are few (and when they do occur they're quite funny …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Duck Soup is a 1933 Marx Brothers anarchic comedy film written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin, and directed by Leo McCarey. First released theatrically by Paramount Pictures on November 17 1933, it starred what were then billed as the "Four Marx Brothers" (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo) and also featured Margaret Dumont, Raquel Torres, Louis Calhern and Edgar Kennedy. It was the last Marx Brothers film to feature Zeppo, and the last of five Marx Brothers movies released by Paramount.[1]

Compared to the Marx Brothers' previous Paramount films, Duck Soup was a box-office disappointment,[2] although it was not a "flop" as is sometimes reported.[3] The film opened to mixed reviews,[4] although this by itself did not end the group's business with Paramount. Bitter contract disputes, including a threatened walk-out by the Marxes, crippled relationships between them and Paramount just as Duck Soup went into production. After the film fulfilled their five-picture contract with the studio, the Marxes and Paramount agreed to part ways.[5][6]

However, critical opinion has evolved and the film has since achieved the status of a classic.[7] Duck Soup is now widely considered to be a Marx Brothers masterpiece.[8][4]

In 1990 the United States Library of Congress deemed Duck Soup "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film ...

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Director: Leo McCarey
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: November 17, 1933
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Harry Ruby, Nat Perrin, Bert Kalmar
Runtime: 68 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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