The Marx Brothers Duck Soup (1933) Review

 

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An easily accomplished task or assignment is how the dictionary defines duck soup. An American slang expression, like saying something will be a breeze. It’s also a 1933 Marx Brothers film. To call this a mere film is almost an insult. This is the Marx Brothers masterpiece, the crown jewel of their collection and achieved more than anyone ever thought possible. The United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1990 as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” In 2000, the American Film Institute included this gem in the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list of the 100 funniest American films. Out of the 100 films selected, Duck Soup came in fifth.

At the end of January 1933 Adolph Hitler became Reich Chancellor of Germany. In November of that year, Rufus T. Firefly became leader of Freedonia. I’m not sure if the first had anything to do with the second, but you never know. However, this isn’t a full blown spoof of Hitler. This is more of a satire that lampoons all dictatorships, and the men who sail them. Unlike the Three Stooges shorts where Moe Howard directly spoofs Hitler. Those are my favorite Stooge shorts, and could be a reason I enjoy Duck Soup as much as I do. Not the main reason, just a little something for comparison.

This is also the final Marx Brothers film to include all four brothers. Groucho, Harpo, and Chico would continue to make movies without Zeppo. Speaking of Harpo, how great is he? Most people would say Groucho is their favorite, but I’m a Harpo guy. I should write something about him one day. In an ironic scene Harpo plays the strings of a piano like a harp while a music box plays. The song was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Disney’s Three Little Pigs released the same year. Here’s an interesting thing to ponder. Three Little Pigs was a favorite of none other than Adolph Hitler, and he would often whistle the song. He named his submarine fleet, or U-boats, the wolf pack. Here is Adolph “Harpo” Marx playing the song, and he’s Jewish. How’s that for an odd occurrence?

Duck Soup differs from the several of the previous Marx Brothers films. Those films feel like collections of bits and sight gags strung together. The plots are weak to non-existent and hard to follow. In Duck Soup the bits and sight gags are still here. Both are strong offerings and some of the funniest stuff in any movie. Ever. The story, the plot, makes this film. This is as strong a story as a 1933 slapstick comedy can have. The story flows at an even pace and is easy to follow. The comedy adds to and enhances the story, not rise above and look like random acts of silliness to get a laugh. A well written film in all aspects. Story, bits, and sight gags are interwoven into a single piece of comedic genius.

Sometimes a film from yesteryear can seem dated. References are made you don’t know, it’s gone out of style, any number of things. Duck Soup avoids these pitfalls. The fictional setting of Freedonia might help. Another reason could be it’s presented as satire. Amongst the anarchy on the screen, the subjects lampooned are as easy to spot now as they were in 1933. It’s a running theme throughout history. As long as there have been governments, people have had issues with how they’re run and the people running them. I think that’s another reason this film holds up over the years.

If you’ve never seen this film before, I suggest you do. This is satire everyone can identify. That said, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. If at all. This is fun a fun film, and a short one. If you can spare 65 minutes, spend it with this classic. Yeah, I said classic. It’s earned the title and is a masterpiece as well. If for no other reason watch it to say you have, and chances are you’ll enjoy it. It’s duck soup to watch.

Copyright © Drew Martin 2016

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