Before Great Movies – 100 Years of Film introduced me to A Night At The Opera with the Marx Brothers, this film, Duck Soup was my favorite of their work. Re-watching it as one of the recommendations that came from Night, I still enjoy it, but Opera has definitely usurped it.
Still Duck Soup has some brilliant bits, and a lot of laughs.
This time around Groucho portrays Rufus T. Firefly, the newly ensconced leader of the bankrupt country of Freedonia, with Zeppo at his side as his secretary, Roland.
The leader of neighboring nation Sylvania, Trentino (Louis Calhern) is scheming to take over Freedonia and focusses his attention on Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) who only has eyes for Rufus, who is, in turn being pursued by Vera Marcal (Racquel Torres) at Trentino’s request.
Into this political mess, comes Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), recruited by Trentino to spy on Firefly and steal any plans or info they can get their hands on. However, once Groucho gives them positions in his cabinet, the foursome become inseparable as Freedonia is plunged into war with Sylvania.
During a getaway at Teasdale’s home, Chicolini and Pinky attempt to steal Firefly’s plans from the safe, and consequently, they all dress up as Groucho, leading to the most famous sequence, the mirror scene, which sees Groucho and Harpo, and then Chico, face to face to face as they mimic one another.
Another fun bit is during the climax as Freedonia fights, Firefly’s uniform constantly changes, from full military, to boy scout, to British Beefeater. Nothing is ever said, but every time the story comes back to him, he’s in another costume.
There are fewer musical numbers this time around, and happily none featuring prolonged sequences of Harpo sitting at his harp. In fact, the boys themselves may be getting tired of the songs if their reaction to Mrs. Teasdale at the end of the film is any indicator.
Clocking in at a barely 78 minutes, this one was enjoyable, watching Groucho lead a country, and still get in a number of witty asides and insults, watching Harpo give the gears to a poor lemonade salesman, his hat and his wife.
Apparently, when the film came out Mussolini banned it in Italy, as he believed the film was mocking and attacking him. This delighted the Brothers to no end.
Still, after having watched this one as a follow-up to A Night At The Opera, which came along 2 years later, it is now very easy for me to see which one is the stronger film, but I don’t think that will dissipate any of my love for Duck Soup, watching the gags, both verbal and visual continue to be a joy some 80 years on, and I’m highly enjoying this revisit with The Marx Brothers.
I’m quite looking forward to what comes next after this as I continue my travels through the comedy genre, not to mention all the other amazing films I get to take a look at.
What do you think of the Marx Brothers and who is your favorite comedy team?