Duck Soup (1933)
Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres, Edgar Kennedy
Directed by: Leo McCarey
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Synopsis: Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) has just been assigned to be leader of Freedonia, and is set on ruling it in a way that only makes sense to him (and barely at that). Rival country Sylvania is plotting on taking over, and is using its top spies Chicolini (Chico Marx) and his partner (Harpo Marx).
Review: There's no such thing as perfection in film. Yet, I may be as bold as to call Duck Soup the perfect comedy film. It's silly, highly irreverent and just plain stupid. It's one of the best comedies ever produced. This in part is thanks to the amazing talents of the Marx Brothers. Had this film been done with incompetent performers it would have been a , unfunny comedy. Luckily, this isn't the case. The Marx Brothers employ every type of comedy there is to create something fun and very unique. Rarely do you see all kinds of comedy blended together in one project and be successful at it.
Groucho Marx's brand of comedy involves acting silly while employing ridiculous phrases, comments and word plays. You can expect the best lines from him and he's the glue that holds the entire ensemble together. Chico Marx is the wiseguy of the group, a mock Italian guy often changing alliances for his convenience and being completely unreliable when you most need him. Zeppo Marx is the straight man of the group. While you do get some good lines for him, he acts as the group's sane member and the only one actually playing along with the story (a role he takes on in the Marx movies). Finally, there's the mute Harpo Marx. I guarantee you that the biggest laughs will come from him. His style of comedy is one strictly based on props and pantomime. He doesn't utter a word, but his facial expressions perfectly convey his innocence and mischief, while at times he is able to leave behind the rules of logic for the sake of comedy (when he starts showing his tattoos to Groucho you'll see what I mean).
The four of them combined create a very anarchistic but hilarious series of events that move the story forward. Speaking of which, the plot merely exists to give the Marx Brothers a reason to act against logic and reason. It may involve politics and war, but you won't find any serious drama here. But just because the movie lacks a strong plot it doesn't mean that it's just dumb comedy. There's a surprising amount of depth and intelligence behind the comedy. While at times it appears to be random, the comedy exists to enhance the events. It makes fun of clichéd storylines and characters and is aware that the whole thing is a farce. Even the war scene manages to steal some laughs, regardless of all the destruction and violence going around.
Perhaps the best thing about the movie is the Marx Brothers themselves. These guys are truly talented performers. They know how to deliver their lines and get the most out of even the tiniest jokes. Harpo, for example, knows how to play his horns in order to simulate talking in the phone in one scene in the film. Yes, this is a very silly scene, but the combination of his honking and the facial expressions he makes confirms to the audience that they knew what they were doing, and it makes the film a fantastic comedy experience.
The history behind Duck Soup is an interesting one. In was released at the height of the Great Depression, making it one of the least successful of the Marx Brothers film because, according to film experts, the audience wasn't in the mood for such a silly comedy, despite being the most ambitious at the time. This disrupted the relationship the troop had with Paramount Pictures, forcing them to go to MGM. The change of studios affected their comedy style, "A Night at the Opera" being the first film to display it. Regarded as the best Marx Brothers film, it actually toned down some of the crazy antics seen in the previous film. So Duck Soup marked the end of the highly hyperactive, anarchistic style that made the Marx Brothers household names.
Of course, comedy is a very subjective thing, and subjectivity is Duck Soup's only flaw. While I personally found this to be great, the comedy may prove to be too much for some. Even if it tries to successfully blend in all kinds of comedy, the overall result is very frantic and fast paced, making it an exercise in patience for some.
Still, I simply cannot state enough how great Duck Soup is. There's a lot going on in the film besides its machine gun pace. These men had talent and knew comedy very well, and Duck Soup is their greatest achievement in pictures. If you are able to turn off your mind for around an hour and take in all the madness, you'll have a great time.
Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5
This review is dedicated to my nephew, Jesus Valentin. We saw the film together and had a blast. I was, however, surprised that he loved the film despite being a classic from the 1930s. He proved to me that great filmmaking surpasses decades, trends and eras and remain relevant for a long time.