Welcome to Marx Brothers Mondays! I’ll be watching and reviewing the Marxist oeuvre over the next several weeks.
Title: Duck Soup
Release Date: November 17, 1933
Director: Leo McCarey
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
The Marx Brothers did not set out to parody Mussolini, Hitler, or any other autocrat, but nevertheless this film’s satire of a corrupt government going to war to enrich its leader remains topical and astute. The wealthy widow Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, returning after a two film absence) insists on appointing Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) as the leader of the country of Fredonia. Harpo and Chico are spies for the rival nation of Sylvania. And Zeppo is Groucho’s secretary.
At a lean 68 minutes, Duck Soup is packed with gags. There is no romantic subplot, and even Harpo’s harp solo and Chico’s piano recital are excised. The movie includes gags such as Harpo & Chico tormenting a lemonade vendor while swapping hats and the famed mirror sequence where Groucho and Harpo mirror one another. I particularly liked the musical number “All God’s Chillun Got Guns” which is the rare occasion where all four brothers sing and dance together (and the last one too, as Zeppo would step down from performing after this movie). The war scenes that complete the movie are full of references and puns and visual gags (such as Groucho’s uniform changing in every shot) that it’s worth rewatching to see all the things you missed.
This movie is definitely the Marx Brothers at their best and nearly 90 years hasn’t made it any less relevant.