The Marx Brothers are not nice. In DUCK SOUP, the freest and most assured of their Paramount output, all characters exist to be objects of scorn and the butt of the Brothers’ jokes. There is no superfluous plot or gentler moments, which can be found in their other works. The film feels instantly less lighthearted than the other Brothers’ films, which resemble more than DUCK SOUP does other frothy parlor room theatrical comedies of their period. The comedy intersects across disparate venues from the war room to the peanut vendor, and from a wealthy mansion to the battlefield. But each character in the film is subject to the same stripping down by the Marx Brothers. Their varying degrees of pomposity are attacked by all three brothers in an attempt to render what they have to say worthless. Everyone from Margaret Dumont’s (she’s terrific) character to the grumpy street vendor present some pillar of established order, and the Brothers take them to task without mercy for doing so. Groucho gets at his most savage and flatly declares his intentions when, stripping down his main rival and Dumont, exclaims “when you get finished on her feet you can start with mine.” Then, stares straight at the audience, “if that isn’t an insult I don’t know what is.” In this same scene, the recipient of Groucho’s attack makes the closest any character comes to a plea for their own dignity, claiming naively “I didn’t come here to be insulted!” Groucho, jumping on the prior line: “That’s what you think.” A scornful sense of destruction pervades the film. The title of the most memorable musical number from HORSE FEATHERS might serve as the mantra for DUCK SOUP: “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
Tag: Duck Soup
Written by Kris Tronerud
USA, 1933. 70 min. Paramount. Cast: Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo Max, with Margaret Dumont and Louis Calhern; Music: Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby; Cinematography: Henry Sharp; Produced by: Herman J. Mankiewicz; Written by: Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby; Directed by: Leo McCarey
In Woody Allenâ€™s Hannah and her Sisters, Mickey (Allen), contemplating suicide, wanders into a repertory theater showing Duck Soup, and concludes that if life is good enough to produce the Marx Brothers, then it must be worth living. An entire generation of baby boomer moviegoers would not consider that an exaggeration, but the film now regarded as one of the best film comedies of all time had to wait 35 years to be considered as such.