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Hail, Hail the Marx Brothers! The Marxist view on war,
This review is from: The Marx Brothers: Duck Soup [VHS] (VHS Tape)
My favorite Marx Brothers movie is "A Night at the Opera," but this political satire, which was banned in Italy by Mussolini, is a very close second. It is definitely the best (and last) Marx Brothers movie with Zeppo, for what that is worth. As Groucho later pointed out, Zeppo's roles as the group's straight man were thankless. It was not that Zeppo lacked talent, but rather that he had three older brothers.
"In Duck Soup," the mythical nation of Freedonia is in trouble and Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) insists that the reigns of power be turned over to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho). Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of the neighboring country of Sylvania employs a couple of spies, Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), to shadow Firefly. Oh, and Firefly has a secretary, Bob Rolland (Zeppo). Many of the most famous sequences by the Brothers Marx are found in this film: (1) The mirror sequence between Groucho and Harpo (if it had been Groucho and Chico instead Groucho would have asked "Are you my reflection" and Chico would have answered "Sure"); (2) Harpo's encounter with street vendor Edgar Kennedy, master of the slow-burn (" "); (3) The "We're Going to War" take off on 1930s musicals ("They've got guns, we've got guns, all God's chil'en got guns"); (4) Groucho offering Chico the position of Secretary of War ("Sold!"); (5) Harpo offering Grouch a ride in the sidecar of his motorcyle ("This is the third trip I've taken today and I still haven't gone anywhere"); (6) Zeppo introducing the new leader of Freedonia, Rufus T. Fireflay ("Whatever it is, I'm against it."); and much, much more, including the lovely Rachel Torres as the lovely Vera Marcal!
"Duck Soup" was helped by several factors. With director Leo McCarey the Marx Brothers finally had a first rate director who understood how to stage and shoot the action. The Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby screenplay does one of the better jobs of integrating the various comic routines into the overall story. After an absence of two films Margaret Dumont was back where she belonged, trying to stay above the insanity with no success whatsoever. Louis Calhern is arguably the ideal villain for the Marx Brothers because in scene after scene he plays it absolutely straight, without losing his dignity or becoming laughable (similar to the marvelous job by Kitty Carlisle in "A Night at the Opera").
Final tidbit: When the town of Fredonia, New York complained about its name being used in the film (the extra "e" did not matter for some reason," Groucho shot back: "Change the name of your town, it's hurting our picture." And, as always, please remember that the correct pronunciation of Leonard's stage name is "Chick-o" not "Cheek-o." The man liked the ladies and was not a young Hispanic male.