Duck Soup – 1933
Director – Leo McCarey
Starring – The Marx Brothers
Somehow, throughout all of my film school career, and on into my life as an avid film-goer, I’ve managed to avoid the entire Marx Brother’s catalogue. I had the vague impression that you were either a Stooges guy or a Marx Brothers guy. There existed a separation. Fans of either series simply ran in different circles, like people who like Elvis, and people who like the Beatles. Well, now that I’ve finally seen one, I can say that I really enjoyed the experience.
The country seeking a new ruler plot is fairly ludicrous, but serves as a decent enough vehicle for the absurd behavior that the Marx Brothers are known for. Groucho plays the man taking over for the ousted leader of Freedonia at the behest of the country’s wealthiest woman. Chico and Zeppo Marx play men either trying to bring Groucho down or in support of his regime, respectively. Far and away though, the greatest comedian of them all is the malicious, gleeful, maniacal Harpo Marx, as the silent foil to anyone standing in front of him. Harpo steals the show with his love of scissors, hats, and a general zeal for making trouble.
The ins and outs of the story aren’t really of consequence, except to note that they put each of these characters at odds with one another enough times to provide plenty of comic opportunity. The peripheral characters serve a similar purpose. It’s fun to watch the stodgy lemonade man deal with Harpo, who keeps burning his hats, or the wealthy older woman who is consistently reacting to Groucho’s continual come-ons and put-downs.
At just over an hour long, there was plenty of material, but not so long as to allow the premise to wear thin. The one down side, and it’s not even really a downside, it just didn’t fit in with the rest of the picture, was the 3 or so song and dance routines. They all happen near the beginning, and it doesn’t seem as if there is any real reason to have them, nor does the trend continue throughout the rest of the movie. They seemed tacked on at the last moment, almost as if through some sort of studio intervention to capture multiple demographics.
In terms of sophistication, The Marx Brothers run the gamut from The Three Stooges style of sight gags and violence, to W.C. Fields style articulation. Some jokes are so blatant that you can’t help but see them coming, and others are completely out of the blue and take a minute to get. Either way, most all of the jokes are funny, making this movie completely worth the watch. Highly recommended!
“The Mark Brothers, helping people in the thirties feel a little less depressed. – Ashley