Friday, September 9, 2011
(November 1933, U.S.)
It's funny how time can be kind to a film. Considered a classic now and my personal favorite Marx Brothers film of their entire career, DUCK SOUP was a considered a box office and critical disappointment back in 1933. I can't possibly imagine why. The outrageous dialogue and anarchy of Groucho, Chico and Harpo (Zeppo was just simply NOT funny!) must have been a comic miracle during the time of the Great Depression when Americans desperately needed to laugh their troubles away for a time. For my own tastes, this is the film that has the most memorable quotes and it's one of the few where I don't have to sit through Harpo playing the harp. Remember, I'm not to keen on musicals in general.
Besides being a classic comedy, DUCK SOUP is considered to be an anti-war film of its time in which wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (played by Margaret Dumont) insists that Rufus T. Firefly (played by Groucho) be appointed leader of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia before she will continue to provide any more financial assistance. Meanwhile, neighboring Sylvania is attempting to take over the country. Sylvanian ambassador Trentino (played by Louis Calhern) tries to foment a revolution and attempts to dig up dirt on Firefly by sending in kooky spies Chicolini (played by Chico) and Pinky (played by Harpo). As neighboring countries at odds with each other, they will surely inevitably go to war, which I suppose is exactly the point in getting the valid anti-war message across to audiences. War is, in fact, declared and everyone is overcome by "war frenzy", breaking into outrageous song and dance. The message at the time clearly was that war was so ridiculous that it was cause enough to sing, "We go to war!" and play music on the helmets of soldiers. In 1933, the mesaage just might have worked because there were many who thought the United States should not have been involved in World War I. The film would have been ineffective after World War II, though, as America was justifyably gung-ho to go to war against Japan. Regardless, at the time only the legendary Marx Brothers could have pulled it off. They did, in my opinion.
Let's talk about that great "mirror scene" for a moment. Groucho and Harpo, dressed exactly the same, pretend to be each other's reflection in a missing mirror, matching each other's every move — including absurd ones that begin out of sight — to near perfection. In one particularly surreal moment, the two men swap positions, and thus the idea of which is a reflection of the other. It's been copied many times, from Bugs Bunny to I LOVE LUCY (with Harpo as a guest star, I might add).
Rufus T. Firefly: "Not that I care, but where is your husband?"
Mrs. Teasdale: "Why, he's dead."
Firefly: "I bet he's just using that as an excuse."
Teasdale: "I was with him to the very end."
Firefly: "No wonder he passed away."
Teasdale: "I held him in my arms and kissed him."
Firefly: "Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first."
Teasdale: "He left me his entire fortune."
Firefly: "Is that so? Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you!"