Duck Soup (1933): Marx Brothers Best Film, Zany Absurdist Comedy

Made in 1933, Leo McCarey’s Duck Soup is still one of the greatest comedies of the Marx Brothers–and one of the zaniest American satires ever made.

The sharp, unsentimental screenplay is by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, and Nat Perin, who also wrote the songs.

The target is not just the U.S., but any monarchy and tyrannical institutions. Harpo parodies Paul Revere, but Groucho, his commander in chief, wears symbols of  American military–of glory and/or defeat.

A semi-surrealist farce about war, Duck Soup is the Marx Brothers’ most sustained bit of insanity–some critics see it as precursor of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove…in 1964.

In hindsight, the film’s commercial appeal suffers due to the fact that it was released several months before the election of Roosevelt as resident, when American viewers were ready for more optimistic uplift, which would be reflected in comedies made in 1934 and 1935..

In postage-stamp-sized Freedonia, Prime Minister Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) declares war on neighboring Sylvania, just for the fun of it.

It’s hard to believe, but Duck Soup was a flop when first released, but over the past decades, it’s been reevaluated and is considered to be nothing short of a satirical masterpiece.

This comedy contains enough gags for five movies, but one of the favorite sequences is the mirror sequence.

Overall, Duck Soup shows that the humor of the Marx Brothers is ageless.

With Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo Marx. It was Zeppo’s swan song with his brothers.

Also starring: Margaret Dumont, Edgar Kennedy, and Louis Calhern.

Running Time: 70 minutes

 

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