Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Duck Soup (1933)

Duck Soup (1933) ★★★★★ 4/5

Duck Soup starts immediately with an extremely current topic. The government of the fictitious Fredonia has gone Bankrupt and is looking for funding from alternative sources. In this instance, the extremely wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) plans to donate millions of dollars, but only if the current leader steps down and allows the country to be run by Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx).

The leaders of Fredonia agree that the present leader should step down and soon Firefly, along with his assistant Bob Roland (Zeppo Marx), is heading the country. While the budget issue is resolved, there is a new threat of war from a neighboring country of Sylvanian lead by Trentino (Louis Calhern). In an effort to gain the upper hand as the threat of war approaches, Trentino hires two spies. These spies, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) are completely incompetent. Eventually they become associates of Firefly and when battle ensues, they help Firefly win the war.

The plot of this movie is nothing more then a stage for the Marx Brothers to use witty dialogue and fast paced gags. The movie is quick. Constant movement and play on words comprise the bulk of the movie. It's a film you can't look away from because you might miss something. Chances are even if you are watching you will miss something. One liners delivered through the film are play on words that in some cases are so subtle that you might not get them until after they have been slung. Poor enunciation of several words is used to further bring along dialect unexpected. Many times I was actually throw back as to how sexual in nature some of the comments were. While today, sexual dialogue in movies is nothing new, the implied meanings of some of the lines seem quite bold for 1933. Clearly, this film was years ahead of it's time in the medium of film.

Physically, the comedy is a combination of what the Marx Brothers learned in their Vaudeville days with a new twist as a result of editing. Smooth choreography and constant motion allow for antics to be performed throughout the film. Chico Marx and Harpo Marx work well together in scenes where they antagonize a third part. There are two scenes in particular here. One involving their report to Trentino on Firefly's activities. Another involving a lemonaid salesman
(Edgar Kennedy) who the duo annoy beyond belief. Amazingly, Harpo Marx does it without speaking a work . . . or even blinking. Halfway through the film I realized Harpo Marx never blinked. I then became fixed on trying to find a moment where he blinks. I failed to find that.

There are subtle things throughout the film which help to make it a classic in the sense that you will never see the same film twice. Everytime you watch it you will pick up on something new. Whether it be a missed one liner, a subtle physical movement or the references. Throughout the film, the music used comes from other sources. It is a primitive form of sampling and for those of you who know music well, you should be paying attention to what is playing in the background during different scenes. The music picked correlates to the scene. Another thing you may notice the second time around is the costume changes. This holds particularily true in the war scene. I also couldn't help noticing how fit Zeppo Marx was.

Of course the most famous scene in the movie is the mirror scene. In this scene, a giant mirror is broken. This happens while Groucho Marx chases Harpo Marx. In having no place to hide, Harpo Marx goes on the opposite side of where the mirror would have been and mimicks Groucho Marx move for move. A very well done and entertaining scene.

The influences of this movie can be seen even in comedies of today. Whether it is playing music related to a scene, editing in/out props, slapstick, one liners, gags, or whatever, this movie really did have an impact. Let's not forget that each of them played a character and stayed true to that character from film to film, and even from film to television. While true it is not a great movie in terms of story, it is a fine exmple of why the Marx Brothers were such a powerful force in entertainment from the 20's to the 70's. This movie solidifies their existence as major stars. Every movie buff and pop culture junkie knows who these brothers are. Admittedly, if it wasn't for this book, I probably never would have seen this movie. I am glad I did because it helps to see why the Marx Brothers are held in such high regard. You must see this movie to appreciate how the Brothers transformed from Vaudville to Film, as well as how comedy was intially presented in the medium.

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