During the depression era, while the world struggled to deal with poverty and war was inevitable, many could still afford to go to the cinema to lift their spirits with a few laughs. The Marx Brothers were among the finest humorists of their day, their supercharged blend of slapstick and satire causing people to roll on the floor, crying with laughter. While today some may not find the humor of the 1920s and ‘30s as hilarious as it once was, there is always something to be said for the Marx Brothers.
With war, natural and economic disasters (Royal Weddings included) around the world in the 2000s, there is no doubt that we need some laughs of our own. Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo Marx are sure to provide plenty in what many consider to be the brothers’ finest moment, “Duck Soup” (1933).
Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is appointed dictator of the fictitious nation Freedonia by the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) after the government has asked to borrow another $20 million from her. She believes that he will lead the country to prosperity. Firefly is full of jokes and probably not at all suited to run a country, even the tiny Freedonia. Mrs. Teasdale cannot see this through his contradictory advances and silliness,which make her laugh.
Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania (Louis Calhern) wants to take over Freedonia. He plans to do so by getting Mrs. Teasdale to marry him and by distracting Mr. Firefly with Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal), a lovely Latina dancer. Trentino also has two of his spies, Pinky (Harpo) and Chicolini (Chico), following Firefly’s every move. The conflict between Firefly and Trentino ultimately leads to war which is satirized all the way to the end. Despite coming from a movie made prior to WWII, the Marx’ send-up of war is still compelling in today’s world.
The story mocks the absurdity of war and dictatorship with the Marx Brothers’ vaudevillian, slap stick style comedy. Groucho sings, dances and runs around the sets while making wisecracks at and about everyone present. Chico delivers his lines poker-faced with an Italianesque accent. Zeppo, in his last Marx Brothers film, is the faithful Lt. Bob Roland, Firefly’s aide. He is the fourth brother who lets the top three bananas lead the way.
And while “Duck Soup” does not feature Harpo’s usual harp solo, he is on point with his charming physical comedy. The film also features the classic silly mirror charade where Harpo and Chico believe they are seeing their own reflection in the mirror when really they are seeing each other while one mocks the other.
As the quarter’s finale is fast approaching and stress is on the rise, take a break from your studies and watch “Duck Soup.” The great thing about it is it won’t keep you from your studies too long, being a mere 68 minutes long. Then again, maybe that is not such a good thing. We need all the laughs we can get.
“Duck Soup” is on Netflix to watch instantly or you can purchase “The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.” The box set includes, “The Cocoanuts,” “Animal Crackers,” “Monkey Business,” “Horse Feathers,” and “Duck Soup,” and an entire DVD of bonus material.