Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Monthly Movie Review - Duck Soup by Jeff Cohen

DUCK SOUP (1933)
Starring The Four Marx Brothers
Margaret Dumont
Louis Calhern
Edgar Kennedy

Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin Directed by Leo McCarey

Certainly in the running for "Funniest Film Ever Made," this is the purest expression of Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. In fact, it's the last time Zeppo appeared with his brothers on film or onstage. After this film, he left the act and opened a talent agency, prompting Groucho to tell their next producer during salary negotiations, "without Zeppo, we're worth twice as much."

The plot, such as it is, gives us the country of Freedonia, being run into financial ruin by the current prime minister. Enter Rufus T. Firefly (Mr. G. Marx), appointed at the inexplicable insistence of Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Dumont, the best straight man a comedian ever had), and determined to line his own pockets and play around at being the head of a government as long as there isn't much work to do. But the "evil" Ambassador Trentino (Calhern), from neighboring Sylvania (no, really) is plotting against Firefly and trying to start a revolution. Trentino (once again, without good reason) sends two spies to dig up some dirt on Firefly, which you wouldn't think would be difficult. But the silent Harpo and the you-wish-he-were-silent Chico, as the spies, are not all that interested.

Of course, war ensues. That's the only realistic thing in the whole movie.

The story is negligible, anyway. The movie is a 68-minute excuse for the Bros. to make excruciating puns (I'll have a nice cold glass eliminate"), perform impossible pantomimes (the mirror sequence is among the best anyone has ever shot on film) and sing the occasional song. Groucho, as head of the country, gets to sing "If you think this country's bad off now/just wait 'til I get through with it," and while that might seem a little too close to too many historical events, he makes it funny.

No description can do this movie (or the Marxes, for that matter) justice. Rent it, TiVo it (Turner Classic Movies runs it about once a month), buy it, just SEE it. It is a wall-to-wall collection of gags that in some way make up a movie, and the sheer energy of the four comedians at its center is both irresistible and overwhelming. It's damn close to perfect.


  1. I hang my head as I admit I have never seen a Marx Brothers movie in its entirety. So am adding this to Netflix queue now.


  2. Terri: Your world is about to change.


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