Duck Soup (1933).
This brilliant political farce from the Marx Brothers features their finest work. And it’s one of those true classics that, if you haven’t watched it in a while, you owe it to yourself to revisit it. And if you haven’t seen it at all, then by all means close this window right now and surf straight on over to Netflix or Amazon to pick it up.
Groucho is Rufus T. Firefly, the new leader of the bankrupt nation of Freedonia, who declares war on a neighboring nation to impress a wealthy dowager (played by that eternal Marx foil, Margaret Dumont). Harpo, Chico and Zeppo are assorted hangers-on who get in on the fun. While the Marxes had had great success in film before this, “Duck Soup” is where they really came into their own as movie stars. It is the first film in which they managed leave behind the staginess of their early productions to combine the lessons they learned from years on the vaudeville stage with the strengths of the film medium.
Besides being one of the funniest movies ever made, with the trademark Marx anarchy in its full flower, it is also one of the most astute political satires ever put on film. The script (credited to four different writers, but obviously heavily expanded upon by the brothers themselves) expertly skewers the contemporary European politics that would eventually lead to World War II. But don’t think it’s dated — it still has plenty to say to us today, because nations at war are not so different from each other, no matter the time or place.
Rufus: “Awfully decent of you to drop in today. Do you realize our army is facing disastrous defeat? What do you intend to do about it?”
Chicolini: “I’ve done it already.”
Rufus: “You’ve done what?”
Chicolini: “I’ve changed to the other side.”
Rufus: “So you’re on the other side, eh? Well, what are you doing over here?”
Chicolini: “Well, the food is better over here.”
At the time of the film’s release, the town of Fredonia, N.Y., complained about the similarity to the town’s name and requested that it be changed in the script. In response, the Marx Brothers insisted that the town change its name instead, and the matter was eventually dropped.
“Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worry and Love the Bomb” (1964) and “A Night at the Opera” (1935).
Take a Look:
Presenting… Rufus T. Firefly!
The mirror scene, a classic of comic timing: