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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Duck Soup (1933)


Cast:

  • Leo McCarey, Director

  • Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Writing and Music

  • Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin, Co-Writing

  • Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly

  • Harpo Marx as Pinky

  • Chico Marx as Chicolini

  • Zeppo Marx as Lt. Bob Roland

  • Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Gloria Teasdale

  • Louis Calhern as Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania

  • Raquel Torres as Vera Marcal

  • Edgar Kennedy as the blustery lemonade vendor

*Recognition:

  • Duck Soup was released on November 17, 1933. It was the last of five Paramount Pictures films released by the Marx brothers.

  • Compared to the Marx Brothers' previous films, Duck Soup was a box office disappointment, though not entirely a "flop" as is sometimes reported. Although it did not do as well as Horse Feathers, it was the sixth-highest-grossing film of 1933, according to Glenn Mitchell in The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia and Simon Louvish in Monkey Business, his biography of the Marx Brothers. However, the film was a box office disappointment for Paramount.

  • The film opened to mixed reviews, although this by itself did not end the group's association with Paramount. Bitter contract disputes, including a threatened boycott by the Marxes, soured their negotiations with Paramount just as Duck Soup went into production. After the film fulfilled their five-picture obligation to the studio, the Marxes and Paramount agreed to part ways.

  • While contemporaneous critics of Duck Soup felt it did not quite rise to the level of its predecessors, critical opinion has evolved and the film has since achieved the status of a classic. Duck Soup is now widely considered among many critics and fans to be a masterpiece of comedy as well as the Marx Brothers' finest film.

  • Most critics at the time disliked it because of its "dated" look at politics. Some modern critics are also unimpressed.

  • Even Groucho himself did not initially think too highly of the film. When asked the significance of the film's politics, Groucho only shrugged and said: "What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh." Nevertheless, the Brothers were ecstatic when Benito Mussolini took the film as a personal insult and banned it in Italy.

  • Revived interest in the film (and other 1930s comedies in general) during the 1960s was seen as dovetailing with the rebellious side of American culture in that decade. American literary critic Harold Bloom considers the end of Duck Soup one of the greatest works of American art produced in the 20th century.

  • In 1990, Duck Soup was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

  • In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Duck Soup the 29th greatest comedy film of all time. It is also one of the earliest films to appear on Roger Ebert's list of The Great Movies.

  • Duck Soup is also frequently cited as a major influence on the comedic side of The Beatles, and The Beatles themselves admitted that it was an inspiration for their film Help!

  • The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – #85

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs – #5

    • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #60

  • Duck Soup currently holds a 91% among critics on RT, a 93 score on Metacritic, and a 3.9/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie about?/Elevator Pitch: The importance of good governance and diplomacy.


Plot Summary: "Duck Soup," a classic comedy directed by Leo McCarey and starring the irreverent Marx Brothers, is a cinematic tour de force that gleefully satirizes politics and war. Released in 1933, the film unfolds in the fictional realm of Freedonia, a nation on the brink of bankruptcy and political chaos. Groucho Marx, in his iconic role as Rufus T. Firefly, is appointed as the country's leader, bringing his signature wit and anarchic charm to the forefront. As Firefly navigates diplomatic relations with the neighboring nation of Sylvania, chaos ensues, leading to a riotous blend of slapstick humor and razor-sharp satire.


"Duck Soup" remains a timeless masterpiece, celebrated for its brilliant wordplay, absurd antics, and a biting critique of governmental absurdity that resonates across generations. The film's legacy endures as a testament to the Marx Brothers' unparalleled comedic genius and their ability to use laughter as a powerful weapon against the follies of the world.


Did You Know:

  • Groucho Marx offered the following explanation for the movie's title: "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup the rest of your life."

  • Screenwriters Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar were standing on the set one day when an extra standing next to them said, "I don't know who wrote this stuff but they ought to be arrested...they should be in a different business." Kalmer, who was known as a rational and calm man, said to Ruby, "I'm going over to hit him. Who does he think he is? He's just an extra!" But before fisticuffs erupted, Kalmer and Ruby were informed that Chico Marx had paid the extra to rib the screenwriters, just for the hell of it.

  • Final film of Zeppo Marx. After the film's premiere, he quit The Marx Brothers, citing a dissatisfaction with movie acting overall, and a weariness with being the butt of jokes regarding him as the "unfunny" Marx brother.

  • Leo McCarey told Cahiers du cinema in 1967: "I don't like (Duck Soup) so much...I never chose to shoot this film. The Marx Brothers absolutely wanted me to direct them in a film. I refused. Then they got angry with the studio, broke their contract and left. Believing myself secure, I accepted the renewal of my own contract with the studio. Soon, the Marx Brothers were reconciled with (Paramount)...and I found myself in the process of directing the Marx Brothers. The most surprising thing about this film was that I succeeded in not going crazy, for I really did not want to work with them: they were completely mad."

  • The residents of Fredonia, New York, protested because they feared that the similar-sounding nation would hurt their city's reputation. The Marx Brothers quipped in response, telling them to change the name of their town to keep from hurting their movie.

  • It was Leo McCarey's idea to film the mirror sequence, based on an old vaudeville routine. It reportedly took only two hours to film.

Best Performance: Harpo Marx (Pinky)/Chico Marx (Chicolini)

Best Secondary Performance: Groucho Marx (Firefly)

Most Charismatic Award: Harpo Marx (Pinky)/Marx Brothers

Best Scene:

  • Introduction of Firefly

  • Ambassador Trentino

  • Lemonade Stand

  • Secretary of War

  • War Plans

  • Mirror Exchange

  • Trial of Chicolini

  • To War

Favorite Scene: Lemonade Stand

Most Indelible Moment: Mirror Exchange


In Memorium:

  • Elliot Silverstein, 96, American film and television director (A Man Called Horse, Nightmare Honeymoon, The Car, Cat Ballou).

  • Phil Quartararo, 67, American music industry executive (former President of Virgin Records and Warner Bros. Music)

  • Marty Kroft, 86, American children's TV producer (Land of the Lost, HR Pufnstuf)

  • Frances Sternhagen, 93, American actress (2x Tony Winner for The Good Doctor and The Heiress, Emmy nominated for appearances on Cheers and Sex and the City)

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?

Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he's dead.

Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he's just using that as an excuse.

Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.

Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.

Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.

Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder.


Rufus T. Firefly: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot. I implore you, send him back to his father and brothers, who are waiting for him with open arms in the penitentiary. I suggest that we give him ten years in Leavenworth, or eleven years in Twelveworth.

Chicolini: I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll take five and ten in Woolworth.


Ambassador Trentino: Now, Chicolini, I want a full detailed report of your investigation.

Chicolini: All right, I tell you. Monday we watch-a Firefly's house, but he no come out. He wasn't home. Tuesday we go to the ball game, but he fool us: he no show up. Wednesday he go to the ball game, but we fool him, we no show up. Thursday it was a double-header, nobody show up. Friday it rained all day, there was no ball game, so we stayed home, we listen to it over the radio.


Ambassador Trentino: I didn't come here to be insulted!

Rufus T. Firefly: That's what you think!


Secretary of Labor: The Department of Labor wishes to report that the workers of Freedonia are demanding shorter hours.

Rufus T. Firefly: Very well, we'll give them shorter hours. We'll start by cutting their lunch hour to 20 minutes.


Minister of Finance: Your Excellency, here's the Treasury Department's report, sir. I hope you'll find it clear.

Rufus T. Firefly: Clear? Huh! Why a four-year-old child could understand this report.

[to Bob Roland]

Rufus T. Firefly: Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head or tail out of it.


Lemonade Vendor: I'll teach you to kick me!

Chicolini: You don't have to teach me, I know how!

[He kicks him]


Ambassador Trentino: I am willing to do anything to prevent this war.

Rufus T. Firefly: It's too late. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield.


Mrs. Teasdale: As chairman of the reception committee, I welcome you with open arms.

Rufus T. Firefly: Is that so? How late do you stay open?


Rufus T. Firefly: Now that you're Secretary of War, what kind of an army do you think we ought to have?

Chicolini: Well, I tell you what I think, I think we should have a standing army.

Rufus T. Firefly: Why should we have a standing army?

Chicolini: Because then we save money on chairs.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6.5

Impact/Significance: 6.75

Novelty: 9

Classic-ness: 9.25

Rewatchability: 7.25

Audience Score: 8.75 (84% Google, 91% RT)

Total: 47.5


Remaining Questions:

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