US Release Date: 11-17-1933
Directed by: Leo McCarey
- Groucho Marx, as
- Rufus T. Firefly
- Harpo Marx, as
- Chico Marx, as
- Zeppo Marx, as
- Lt Bob Roland
- Margaret Dumont, as
- Mrs. Gloria Teasdale
- Raquel Torres, as
- Vera Marcal
- Louis Calhern, as
- Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania
- Charles Middleton, as
- Edgar Kennedy as
- Bald street vendor
Chico, Zeppo, Groucho and Harpo Marx in Duck Soup.
The wealthy Mrs Teadale agrees to loan the bankrupt country of Freedonia a bunch of money if they make Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) dictator. Freedonia's enemy, Sylvania, hires two inept spies (Chico and Harpo) to keep track of Firefly. The two countries end up going to war with each other.
Groucho has many great lines that he throws out faster than a starting pitcher, most aimed at Dumont. "I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows till you come home." "Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did." "Married. I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. But I can't see the stove."
Made in 1933, Duck Soup has a few lines that would not have survived the Hayes Code a few years later. A dancer, who likes to wear very low cut dresses, asks Groucho, "Isn't there something I could do?" "Yeah but I'll talk to you about it later." He also says, "Nothing doing. I'm going back and clean the crackers out of my bed; I'm expecting company."
Although Groucho is the star and gets the most laughs and screen time, Chico and Harpo do some of their best work. In one scene they are pretending to be peanut vendors and end up in a fight with a lemonade vendor. "I' l teach you to kick me!" The other vendor yells, but Chico snaps back, " You don't have to teach me-I already know how." Later they both impersonate Groucho in a great scene that ends with the old mirror image gag. I never realized just how fake Groucho's mustache was.
The movie features a few quick songs and has a very short running time of 68 minutes. All of the Marx brothers get a moment to shine including Zeppo who shares a good moment with Groucho about a dirty joke. He also delivers the setup line to Groucho in the films most classic scene. "You excellency, your shooting your own men." "Heres five dollars keep it under your hat, never mind I'll keep it under my hat."
Duck Soup is my favorite Marx Brother's films.
Can you tell which is the real Groucho?
Although I personally prefer Monkey Business, most critics and fans of The Marx Brothers would agree with you Eric. Duck Soup is widely regarded as their masterpiece. Ironically it was a flop at the box office in 1933 and ended their string of movies at Paramount Pictures. This would be Zeppo’s last movie with his brothers as he decided not to make the move to MGM with his three older, more talented, siblings.
One interesting thing about Duck Soup is that it is the only Marx Brothers’ movie in which Chico and Harpo don’t play their trademark musical instruments of piano and harp respectively. As Eric said there are a couple of songs, most notably the big production number about going to war. But over all this is their least musical movie.
As usual Groucho steals the show, spitting out dialogue like he was born talking. He says the following speech to Dumont seemingly without taking a breath. “Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it - I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing. 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. You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here? You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.”
Speaking of pre-Code dialogue, when Mrs. Teasdale tells Rufus T. Firefly, “Notables from every country are gathered here in your honor. This is a gala day for you.” He responds, “Well, a gal a day is enough for me. I don't think I could handle any more.”
Chico's fractured Italian-English gets laughs as well. One of his most often quoted jokes can be found in Duck Soup. While on trial for espionage the prosecutor asks him, “Isn't it true you tried to sell Freedonia's secret war code and plans?” He answers, “Sure, I sold a code and two pair of plans.”
Not to be left out Harpo brings his unique brand of surrealist humor. In one scene he is showing Groucho his different tattoos. He has one on his chest that looks like a dog house. While Groucho leans in to take a good look a dog’s head appears in the doorway. Harpo then turns around and prepares to drop his pants to show a tattoo of Groucho’s grandfather presumably on his ass.
Not surprisingly it is only Zeppo that fails to get laughs. As in all the movies he made with his brothers his part could have been played by any handsome young actor. The three Marx Brothers soldiered on without him seamlessly but they would never again make a movie as subversively hilarious as Duck Soup.
As usual, Groucho steals the show in Duck Soup.
Eric, you mentioned one of my favorite lines, "Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did." The line I laughed the hardest at was, "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." The line I knew the best though, thanks to The Way We Were, was, "I suggest that we give him ten years in Levenworth, or eleven years in Twelveworth." "I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take five and ten in Woolworth."
Personally I was grateful that neither Chico or Harpo played music in this movie as I've always thought their interludes were the worst parts of all the Marx Brothers movies. Although I didn't mind the few songs included in this movie (apart from the big production number Patrick mentioned, which goes on for far too long), they don't really add that much and actually seemed a bit out of place at first.
I'll just throw in the things that I noticed in regards to this being a pre-code film and those would both be practically spilling out of Raquel Torres' robe in the scene where Chico and Harpo break-in into the house to steal the war plans.
It's a tough call to say which is better, this one or Monkey Business. But then, who says you have to chose between the two of them? Enjoy them both.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1933)