Duck Soup is a 1933 American pre-Code black comedy film directed by Leo McCarey. It stars the Marx Brothers: Goucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo in final Marx Brothers’ movie. It also features Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres, and Edgar Kennedy. Groucho plays the newlt elected president of the mythical country of Freedonia. Zeppo is his secretary, while Harpo and Chico are Sylvanian spies. Realtions between Groucho and the Sylvanian ambassador disintegrate and they go to war.
The wealthy Mrs. Teasdale insists that Rufus T. Firefly be appointed leader of the small, financially struggling country of Freedonia before she will continue to provide financial aid. Meanwhile, the neighboring country of Sylvania is plotting to append Freedonia. Sylvanian ambassador Trentino tries to bring about a revolution and court Mrs. Teasdale as he tries to dig up dirt on Firefly by sending in spies Chicolini and Pinky.
After failing to collect any useful information against Firefly, Chicolini and Pinky are able to pervade the government when Chicolini is appointed Secretary of War after Firefly notices him selling peanuts outside his window. A little while later, Firefly’s secretary, Bob Roland, tells Firefly he suspects Trentino’s incentives and advises him to get rid of the touchy Tretino by insulting him. Firefly agrees and to the plan, but after a series of personal insults exchanged between Firefly and Trentino, the plan backfires when Firefly hits him. As a result, the countries go to war. Adding to international strife is the fact that Firefly is also pursuing Mrs. Teasdale, and, like Trentino, hoping to get his hands on her late husband’s fortune.
Trentino learns from the very attractive spy Vera Marcal that Freedomia’s plans of war in Mrs. Teasdale’s safe and he tells her to assist Chicolini and Pinky in stealing them. Chicolini is eventually caught by Firefly and put on trial, during which war is officially declared, and everyone is overcome by war frenzy, breaking into song and dance. Chicolini and Pinky join Firefly and Bob Roland in anarchic battle, resulting in general mayhem.
This film was not a box office failure, but it recieve lukewarm reception, because it was released during the Great Depression. Audiences were stunned by such absurd polical negligence, foolishness and cynicism at a time of a political and economic crisis. Some didn’t like the comedic Mussolini types in the film and found that offensive. Benito Mussolini found the film to a personal attack at him and banned it Italy, though the Marx Brothers were delighted about it. Despite the so-so response at the time, Duck Soup is now seen as a classic politcal comedy. Many critics today see it as one of the best war comedies along with Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. The only difference with Duck Soup, is that it doesn’t seem to realize it is nothing more than innocent drivel.
This a hilarious political comedy and very smartly written and acted. The brothers make this film laugh out loud funny, though Groucho is the comedic ringleader as he always was in their movies. With the political theme and many of the jokes, this film most likely couldn’t be filmed in the current era. Being this was made before the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines, it got away with a lot of things it wouldn’t have after it was really enforced.
This film is filled with political, Jewish, flirty and random humor. The slapstick comedy and Groucho’s puns make it a really entertaining film for the most part, though this one is a tad more serious with the diplomatic theme. Though I don’t think this is the Marx Brothers’ best film, it is still a comedic masterpiece that goes down as one of the greatest films of all time.
Groucho’s jokes will go over young childrens’ heads, but teens and adults will probably get them, so this one is better suited for older children and above. There is smoking as usual, Grouch and his signiture cigar, and others smoke cigars. There is no sex or nudity, only a woman a bra and man watching her undress. There is slapstick violence, though young kids will not understand it’s fake and for laughs. There is out of date derogatory nicknames for certain types of people used a few times, but no really foul language other than that.
There is a very racist joke that references a hit 1931 song that satirizes racism and it is unexpected upon first watch, so you have to look out for things like that in this movie, but you also have to realize times were different then. There is sexual innuendo in the opening scene, so it starts out with adult humor, though some may find this a bit much, especially if this is their Marx Brothers movie and don’t realize this is common for the brothers.
Some scenes are focused on too much like the scene where Chicolini is selling peanuts and tormenting another vender. Despite the adult innuendos, it is still a great film with great musical numbers and choreography. The film is very pessimistic to the point of preachiness and that might turn viewers off, especially after seeing it many times. The film criticizes arbitrary, brutal policies that created disasters, Prohibition, World War I and The Great Depression. Some may think that this movie is making light of the issues at the time and it is, but it is also showing that it is better to sing, dance, laugh, fall in love and try to get along with your enemies, rather than fight, cause chaos, or make terrible laws that tear people apart.
Overall, a comedy masterpiece that everyone should see at least once in their life. It has its flaws, just like any movie, but it will not cease to bore you or make you laugh. Its out of date farce can be overlooked if you see the film for what it really is. A genius musical comedy with both grit and hilarity. 10+ 4.5/5