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The Marx Brothers: Duck Soup [DVD]
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The Marx Brothers' fifth feature is a zany political satire, which so offended Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini that the film was banned in Italy. Appointed president of Freedonia under the patronage of the wealthy Mrs Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) sets about starting a war with neighbouring Sylvania. To this end he trades insults with Sylvanian ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), unaware that Trentino's spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) are already working to bring down Freedonia from within! The Marxes' final film for Paramount includes the classic mirror sequence, and was also the last to feature Zeppo, who - dissatisfied with his role as straight man to his three siblings - subsequently embarked on a successful career as an agent.
For those who love the Marx Brothers (Animal Crackers, A Night at the Opera), that this movie is side-slappingly funny is a given. For those new to the Marx Brothers, this is the perfect introduction to Groucho, Chico, and Harpo (and even Zeppo), three of the funniest men to ever grace the screen. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is the dictator of the small nation Freedonia. The country is a disaster, in financial disrepair, and the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) is its benefactor and the object of Firefly's shrewd affection. When the leader of the neighboring Sylvania decides he's in love with Mrs. Teasdale, Firefly declares war. The movie, from 1933, is tremendously satirical, a play on politics and war. (As Firefly says to a hapless young solider, "You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are.") Full of witty lines, great sight gags, and even some snazzy song numbers ("Freedonia's Going to War" is the hilarious declaration of battle), this is surely one of the best--if not the best--the Marx Brothers have to offer. --Jenny BrownSee all Product description
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1) The mirror sequence. The finest comic sequence ever committed to film. Sure, it's old-hat vaudeville, but it's professional, beautifully timed and spirals into wonderful absurdity.
2) The one-liners, puns and other jokes. Pick of the crop are the peanut stall interchange, the telephone sequence, the riddles ('what has four pairs of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours?') and the final battle (especially the stock footage of monkeys and elephants running to save the army under siege - the kind of thing the Zucker Bros pinched for their comedies). Oh, yes, and the motorcycle routines.
3) The satire on politics and warmongering. The Brothers simply deflate the pomposity of the whole deal.
4) The fact that Zeppo is actually given something to do.
Anybody who thinks the Farrelly and Wayans brothers are the last word in comedy should be strapped to a chair and shown Marx Bros films over and over again, until they concede.
"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.
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