IMDB #202 Duck Soup

Hold on to your sides and trim your eyebrows and mustasches everybody, for today is our one and only encounter with the fantabulous Marx Brothers! Out of 14 feature-film collaborations, only 1933's Duck Soup is deemed countdown-worthy by the internet at large.

And what a shame, imdb users. Now I'm going to have to catch up on the rest of the Marx oeuvre on my own time. In Duck Soup alone we get a classic mirror gag, a great quote every other second, and we're all instilled with a desire to carry scissors around in our pockets by the time it's through.

So let's hop to it as soon as you tell me what has four pairs of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours.

The Key Players:

Director Leo McCarey, by far the most luminous name the Marx brothers worked with, would go on to win three Oscars for The Awful Truth and Going My Way, and is best-remembered for the hit An Affair To Remember.

Since we'll never see them again, let's run down the Marx Brothers:

Groucho, or Julius Henry Marx is the iconic face of the actm with the quick wit and novelty-glasses inspiring countenance. After rising through vaudeville and cinema with his signature persona, Groucho hosted the game show "You Bet Your Life" for 11 years, essentially being paid to make wisecracks about the contestants for half an hour.

Harpo was born Adolph Marx, but changed it to Arthur in 1911 because he disliked the name- well before any German Adolphs made it unpopular. His nickname came from his skill as a harpist- a self-taught style of tuning and playing. Never once speaking in a film, he played the mime in the act, with his bug-eyed expressions and props providing all the laughs you could need. For me, the real MVP of the Marx brothers.

Chico, or Leonard Marx, was the oldest of the brothers and the only one to carry the vaudeville tradtion of ethnic characters into the films, with his exagerrated Italian mannerisms.

Zeppo (Herbert) Marx appears in his last film before leaving to become a talent agent. Despite being a reputedly hilarious performer, he never developed the distinctive character of his older brothers and played mostly straight-men.

Duck Soup aslo stars Margaret Dumont, a seven-time humorless foil in the brothers' films.

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The Story:

Are we really that concerned? Dumont plays a rich widow endowing the treasury of a fictional country called "Freedonia"- as a condition, she insists that Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) be made president.

A plodding ambassador from neighboring Sylvania plans to marry Dumont and depose Firefly, with the help of Harpo and Chico as incompetent spies. Zeppo plays Groucho's aide-de-camp, and many hilarious things ensue. Let's hit some quotes:

"You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon you can leave in a minute and a huff."

"-Haven't we seen each other somewhere before?
-I'm not sure I'm seeing you now. Must be something I ate."

"My partner here's got a nose just like a bloodhoung. And the rest of his face don't look so good either."

"I wonder whatever became of me? I should have been back here a long time ago."

"-Why should we have a standing army?
-Then we save money on chairs."

The Artistry:

Blah blah, songs, mirror gag, street vendor, and so on. More quotes!

"I've got a good mind to ring his doorbell and run!"

"This is the fifth trip I've made today and I haven't been anywhere yet."

"-He's had a change of heart.
-A lot of good that'll do him. He's still got the same face."

"I'll see my lawyer about this as soon as he graduates from law school!"

"I suggest we give him ten years in Leavenworth or eleven years in twelveworth."

"-General Smith reports a gas attack- he wants to know what to do.
-Tell him to take a teaspoonful of bicarbonate soda and a half a glass of water."

"-I wouldn't go out there unless I was in one of those iron things. What do you call those things?
-You're welcome."


So they go to war after Groucho slaps the ambassador one time too many, and then they trap the guy in a stocks and throw fruit at him until he surrenders. Victory!


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

So much higher. And where's A Night At The Opera? Or Animal Crackers? come on, imdb. Get the vote out.

The Legacy:

Certain iconic images live on from Duck Soup, though the Marx brothers films tend to run together on the whole, plots being more than beside the point. But it has been added to the National Film Registry and so forth, and makes the middle of the AFI's top 100 comedies every time.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Mirror scene, with Harpo dressed as Groucho and posing as his reflection. Though this idea originated with the Chaplin short film The Floorwalker, Duck Soup remains the most well-known instance of the oft-referenced sight gag.

Leftover Thoughts:

-There was a fifth Marx brother named Gummo that was never in any of the films. Also one more brother died in infancy.

-The secret to Groucho's look? Greasepaint.

-I once did a charity walk in a city called Fredonia, Wisconsin. That is all.

Coming Up...

201. The African Queen

200. Brief Encounter

199. Stalag 17

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