If DR. STRANGELOVE isn't the
greatest war satire
of all time, then DUCK SOUP is. At the very least, it's the
Brothers' best film. Never before or since were they afforded
such literate material or a first-class director (Leo McCarey) who
tested their limits as comic performers. Groucho's
Chico and Harpo's "spy stuff" business with Trentino, Groucho's cabinet
meeting, the battle of nerves with Edgar Kennedy, the mirror
scene... all among the most beloved scenes of American comedy.
even has musical numbers worth listening to, a rarity in Marx
films. The late Cecilia Ager was quoted as saying "The Marx
Brothers have never been in a film as wonderful as they are."
Which makes me wonder if Ms. Ager ever saw DUCK SOUP. - JL
Because of its reputation as an "anti-war" film (we won't go into that here), DUCK SOUP is considered the most important film the Marx Brothers ever made. And it's a hell of a funny picture, packed wall to wall with wacky jokes, horrible puns and imaginative sight gags. If I don't count it as the Marx Brothers best film, it's because I find ANIMAL CRACKERS, MONKEY BUSINESS, HORSE FEATHERS and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA to contain slightly wittier dialogue overall. Quibbling, perhaps, but I am perversely proud to be one of those Marx Brothers fanatics who doesn't rank DUCK SOUP as in the top three or four.
This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with DUCK SOUP'. There are more funny jokes, gags, puns and visual treats in the first fifteen minutes of DUCK SOUP than you will find in the entire running time of most comedies today, and as stated above by Mr. Larrabee, nearly every scene is a comedy classic. To name just a few: Groucho's cabinet meeting, where he keeps everybody waiting while he plays jacks; Harpo pretending to Groucho's reflection, leading to the greatest of all "mirror" routines; and everything from "Freedonia's Going to War!" straight through the end. ½ - JB
Notes by John V. "Jay" Brennan
HERE'S GROUCHO (AND HARPO AND CHICO AND ZEPPO)
All songs by Bert Kalmar (lyrics) and Harry Ruby (music)
Zeppo sings "His Excellency is Due" with
Margaret Dumont and the cast. Groucho sings "Just Wait 'til I Get Through With It" with
Dumont and the cast. All four perform in the
number "Freedonia's Going to War" with the cast. There are no
harp or piano solos for Harpo and Chico.
Chicolini, I want a full detailed report of your investigation!"
"All right, I tell you. Monday we watch-a Firefly's house, but he no come out. He wasn't home. Tuesday we go to the ball game, but he fool us - he no show up. Wednesday he go to the ball game, but we fool him - we no show up! Thursday it was a double header - nobody show up. Friday it rained all day. There was-a no ballgame, so we stayed home, we listen to it over the radio."
"Then you didn't shadow Firefly?"
"Sure, we shadow Fire... we shadow him all day."
"But what day was that?"
HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS
"How about taking up the tax?"
"How about taking up the carpet?"
"I still insist we take up the tax."
"He's right. You've got to take up the tacks before you take up the carpet."
THE WHOLE WIG
Working titles for DUCK SOUP included GRASSHOPPERS and CRACKED ICE.
The famous mirror scene, in which Harpo, dressed as Groucho, pretends to be Groucho's reflection, was not in the script. It was improvised on a whim by Leo McCarey, who had an extensive background in silent comedy, including supervising several Laurel and Hardy films.
The McCarey/Laurel and Hardy influence on DUCK SOUP can also be seen in the hat-switching routine featuring Harpo, Chico and L&H stock company member Edgar Kennedy. And, of course, in the fact that it is titled DUCK SOUP, the name of a very early short in which Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appeared.
Throughout most of his life, Groucho Marx considered
AT THE OPERA and A
DAY AT THE RACES to be the two best Marx Brothers
films. However, in the 1970s, when DUCK SOUP reached classic
status thanks to its popularity with college students who considered it
an anti-war film, Groucho suddenly started claiming DUCK SOUP to be his
favorite. Which fits right in with a line often attributed
to Groucho: "Those are my principles. If you don't
them, I have others."