Duck Soup (1933)
Duck Soup (1933)

Genre: Screwball Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 8 min.

Release Date: November 17th, 1933 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Leo McCarey Actors: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Raquel Torres, Louis Calhern, Edmund Breese

 


 

T

he wealthy Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) has given the majority of her fortunes to the nation of Freedonia. But when the current dictator requests another twenty million to aid in tax relief, Teasdale finally gets irreversibly fed up with the inept government. She demands that another man be put into leadership – the honorable Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx). “Notables from every country have gathered here in your honor,” exclaims Lady Teasdale as she introduces attendees at the grand celebratory reception for Firefly.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of Sylvania is conspiring against the country, tired of waiting for a revolution and hoping instead to gain control by marrying Gloria. His co-conspirator is famous dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres), tasked with seducing the newfound statesman to keep him out of the way. When that fails, largely due to Firefly’s utter insanity and inability to stay focused on anything in particular (a quality of the Marx Brothers’ regular personas), Trentino hires master spies Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) to follow Firefly around until they can find something controversial with which to disgrace the credulous leader.

From here, the story is peppered with little routines, ranging from a popcorn stand feud to a tea party confrontation to two of the brothers trying not to make a sound while attempting to steal war plans – resulting in a racket of accidental noises. Chicolini is given the position of Secretary of War, the altercation continues with a rival lemonade stand owner, Harpo cuts off anything within reach of his giant scissors, and the riotous mirror routine is enacted in full force. “This man’s conduct is inexcusable!” shouts Trentino, who is scorned at the luncheon, putting Freedonia on the brink of war with Sylvania. Firefly absorbs the insult “Upstart!” and is insistent on settling things on the battlefield. As an inevitable armed conflict looms, the brothers award the audience with a barrage of one-liners, with the intention being that some will work and others won’t – but the good ones just might be unforgettable. Groucho frequently speaks to the camera and prattles off dialogue at a breakneck pace, spouting cheap shots while hilariously annoying everyone in his path, driving cabinet members to resign and allies to total perturbation.

“Duck Soup” is also a pseudo-musical, with characters breaking out into spontaneous song and dance, making the whole occasion even sillier – all the more perfect for the tone and message of total nonsense. Babbling absurdity is the main ingredient and chaos is the result, with random jokes, skits, and sketches composing the bulk of the story, similar to most of the theatrical comedy teams of the time. Perhaps what makes this endeavor so funny (or one of the absolute funniest) is the fact that all of the supporting roles are serious (in this film, advisor Roland, played by Zeppo Marx, is also his usual, straight-laced part). Although few side characters are able to react realistically, it’s a clever contrast to see just how zany the Marx Brothers can be when everyone around them struggles to handle somewhat-grounded, politically-charged situations – gone terribly, terribly awry due to their slapstick-fueled presence. And the finale, featuring a change of heart for the victim of an old-fashioned fruiting, is simply masterful.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10