Watch the full movie in the link above.
Before I get into the meat of this thing, for any of you guys and occasional gal who wants to do an interesting double feature, pair this one up with the Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, DIPLOMANIACS (1933). It's just as bizzare, it's a political satire, it's from the same year, and they both even have Louis Calhern in fairly similar roles. Search for it on DVD. By the way, it also has one short Stooge ladies Marjorie White (WOMAN HATERS), and Phyllis Barry (THREE LITTLE SEW AND SEWS).
Now that the commercial is done, let's discuss DUCK SOUP. Part of me wants to say it's DUCK SOUP, if you've seen it, you already know how great it is. If you have never seen a Marx Brothers movie, start here. This is as pure comedy as you are ever going to get in a Marx Brothers film. There are musical numbers, but they are all comical. Chico and Harpo have no instrumental solos, and there is no romantic subplot whatsoever. Starting next week we dive into the MGM era, and the frills will be incorporated more into each film, but not this week.
I don't want to get too political, as I like to keep my comedy and politics separate, but sometimes it's unavoidable. DUCK SOUP is a blatantly political film. As a commentary on war, it's brilliant. First off, the reason they go to war has nothing to do with national defense and everything to do with the egos of two leaders from Fredonia and Sylvania. Firefly is called an upstart by Trentino, Firefly slaps Trentino with a glove, both men's egos are bruised, and a war begins. Not exactly a valid reason to send your son off to die, but therein lies the commentary. How does the war end? Why, at the end of the film, Trentino's head is stuck in the door and the brothers get to throw produce at him. Forget the fact there are civilians from both sides fighting each other, Firefly has Trentino trapped, war is over. The Fredonia going to war musical bit shows the ridiculous nature of civilians reacting to war. Want commentary on who holds the true power? That would be Margaret Dumont's Ms. Teasdale. She is the one with the money, and Firefly gains power at her insistence because the only way the government gets her money is if Firefly is appointed leader. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
OK, politics out of the way, there's a ton of great pure comedy in this one. The scenes with Harpo, Chico, and Edgar Kennedy are comic gold. Edgar Kennedy is to Laurel and Hardy fans what Bud and Vernon are to Stooge fans. A shame Edgar didn't get a shot with The Three Stooges. He is known for his slow burn reaction and puts it to great use here. Laurel and Hardy have a famous routine where each character has their own respective hat being put on the wrong head, and as they try to get the correct hat on, they'll find a lot of different ways for the wrong hat to continue to be worn. Harpo and Chico milk this gag intentionally with Edgar Kennedy in several variations, only for poor Edgar's hat to end up in a fire! For those of you that haven't seen this I won't give the gag away, but what Harpo does to Edgar's lemonade stand in retaliation for having his peanut stand destroyed is one of my all-time favorite comic visuals. Really funny stuff.
After two films with Thelma Todd, Margaret Dumont is back, and Groucho gets to be more blatantly money grubbing and giggiloisgh than ever! Watching those two work together is always a pleasure, and we even get Ms. Raquel Torres, a younger, gorgeous Latin lady who wears really shiny gowns across her curvaceous figure. Groucho gets a few good sexual lines with her as well, so we get to see both Groucho the giggilo and Groucho the perv in one setting! It's like the best of both worlds.
We also have the classic mirror scene between both Groucho and Harpo. The rehearsal it must take to do such a scene must be Hell, but the results are well worth it. Another all time classic scene, and later done with Harpo and Lucille Ball, and to a lesser extent, Curly and The Wolf Man in IDLE ROOMERS.
The Hail Fredonia build up song to introduce Groucho is another highlight. They go through this huge ordeal with hundreds of people lined up perfectly, ballerinas throwing pedals on the ground, swords raised in a perfect arch for Groucho to walk under, a song sung in ten million part harmony, and how does Groucho repay them? He over sleeps his entrance, quickly gets out of his pajamas, and enters the receiving line in the wrong spot. Now that's my kind of lack of reverence. That kind of attitude would completely disappear at MGM. For the better or worse? We'll get to that next week.
What we won't get to next week or any other week is Zeppo. This is his final appearance as a Marx Brother, at least professionally. He's not given all too much to do here, so you can understand his disillusion. I understand he made out very well in life financially, so it probably wasn't a total loss for him.
The final "battle" scene is another favorite of mine. I love the way Chico switches sides back and forth, coming back to Fredonia because the food is better. I also love the way the uniforms the brothers are wearing change from shot to shot. This kind of lack of continuity would be a staple of a film makers years later, except The Marx Brothers do it on purpose!
A true classic. If you haven't seen it, make it the next film you see.