Monday, May 30, 2011

No. 85: Duck Soup

Writer’s block: the bane of my existence. I like writing, but when I have no idea what to write, I tend to put it off until I feel more inspired. This post is only…oh…5 months late, thanks to ten volleyball tournaments, end-of-the-year finals, and one seriously time-consuming History Day documentary. But now it’s summer, and you know what that means? Consistent blog posting. And I was quite inspired by this movie.

With that lengthy excuse – um, introduction - let’s talk about film. I’m so excited to write about today’s movie, AFI No. 85: Duck Soup. The 1933 comedy, directed by Leo McCarey, stars the always fantastic Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo, as well as the fabulously campy Margaret Dumont. The movie wasn’t exactly a box-office smash when first released, but time has turned it into a cult classic. Today it stands out as one of the Marx Brothers’ best, and one of the funniest films of the 30’s - an era known for its surplus of comedies because of the Great Depression. More important: it’s my favorite of all their films.

Wealthy, misguided widow Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont) is infatuated with wisecracking, cigar-chomping Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho). She persuades him to become the leader of a tiny country, Freedonia - great idea, right? Within hours of his appointment, Firefly does several song-and-dance numbers, insults the ambassador of nearby Sylvania, and causes general chaos. After more insults, a slap in the face, double agents, mistaken identities, and the famous Harpo-Groucho “mirror scene”, the two countries go to war. The comedic, crazy-quilt war features Napoleon hats, Davy Crockett fur, Civil War uniforms, battle-axes and tomato-throwing. In a scene that never fails to make me laugh, Mrs. Teasdale tries to celebrates the war’s end by singing the Freedonian anthem - and what do the brothers do? They pelt her with the tomatoes.

It seems that I say this about every movie - but in this case, it’s completely true: there are so many things to love about Duck Soup. The four brothers always have impeccable comic timing, but in this particular movie, they work together like clock gears. And they’re not the only ones who get laughs - the fantastic supporting cast (including Dumont and Louis Calhern) are equally entertaining. What do you get when you mix great actors, hilarious songs like “Just Wait ‘Til I Get Through With It” and “The Freedonia National Anthem,” an expert blend of sarcasm and slapstick? Near-perfect comedy.

So, if you like:

* The Marx Bros at their collective finest - even Zeppo!
* Margaret Dumont’s random outbursts into operatic song
* Slapstick, slapstick, and more slapstick (with a healthy dash of sarcasm)
* Bumbling secret agents
* Barely-disguised political satire
* Hilarious songs that will stick with you forever. If you watch this movie and don’t walk around singing the Freedonian National Anthem for weeks, there’s something wrong with you.

..then I highly recommend running, not walking, to watch Duck Soup. You’ll love it.

Next on the list: Fargo (1996) - directed by the always brilliant Coen Brothers, and starring William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard great things - stick around and read about it!


  1. "His Excellency's car!"

    You know I love this movie, Zeppo and all. Great review.

  2. "They work together like clock gears"—an outstanding analogy for the Marx Brothers. And wouldn't you love to meet Margaret Dumont and find out what she really thought about all those shenanigans going on around her? What a trouper. So happy to have your blog back, Josie. It's as good a summertime treat as ice cream! (P.S. Good luck and HAVE FUN at the nationals!)

  3. Sabinaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.June 1, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    OH YOU. I love you and your reviews, cool cat. And don't wait several months before posting again this time.