DVD Reviews · Film

DVD Review: Duck Soup (1933)

Everyone’s heard of the Marx Brothers – even if you don’t know them by name, you’ve seen Groucho glasses with moustache and nose attached, you’ve heard quotes from their films or you’ve watched comedians that were heavily influenced by the Marx Brothers’ zany style of comedy. The Marx Brothers were known for their quick delivery, quotable lines and terrible puns. It’s a stressful time of year for lots of students and staff members, so why not lose yourself in the weird and wonderful world of the Marx Brothers?

marx brothers
The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers were born in New York between 1887 and 1901, performing together from an early age. The second youngest, Gummo, joined the army, and his four brothers, Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo, went on to make some of the most famous comedies in film history. Of course, these weren’t their real names – Groucho’s birth name was Julius! They all had exaggerated onstage personas, with wigs, props and even accents, but having grown up together they could all imitate each other near perfectly, which Chico and Harpo put to good use in the mirror scene in Duck Soup.

Duck Soup (DVD LOBBY 791.43) is one of their most famous films, the hilarious story of a tiny country called Freedonia. A wealthy American socialite, Mrs Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) persuades Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) to become the leader of Freedonia. Meanwhile, an ambassador called Trentino (Louis Calhern) is trying to undermine Firefly and cause a revolution in Freedonia, sending in two bumbling agents (Chico and Harpo Marx in a fantastic double act) to spy on Firefly. As Firefly and Trentino both try to woo Mrs Teasdale, Firefly’s secretary Bob Roland (Zeppo Marx) tries desperately to keep the country from descending into war. It’s impossible to convey how this plot manages to create such a perfectly wacky film, but with slapstick aplenty, recognisable characters and brilliant one-liners that skirt what was acceptable under film censorship at the time, Duck Soup well deserves its place in the National Film Registry.

Duck Soup is of its time, so be warned that there are jokes and songs in the show that are somewhat offensive by today’s standards, but it’s interesting to see how things have changed. Indeed, the film deliberately challenged what was acceptable at the time, with scenes that seemed like they would violate the restrictive Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) only to reveal that they were completely innocent.

mirror scene
The famous ‘mirror scene’ in which Harpo dresses up as Groucho and pretends to be his reflection when caught

The most famous scene from the film is the ‘mirror scene’, in which Harpo Marx is dressed as Firefly (Groucho), only to have the real Firefly turn up – at which point, Harpo pretends that the doorway they see each other through is a mirror to try and get away with it. It’s one of the most famous comedy scenes ever and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, as Harpo’s mirroring of Firefly becomes increasingly absurd! While the Marx Brothers weren’t the first to use this joke, their version is the most famous and you can see it referenced by Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, the Pink Panther and even in The X-Files!

Older comedy films are often discounted because they were made for such a different audience from modern films, but Duck Soup is a wonderfully funny bit of escapism.

If you need a good laugh to de-stress…

Check out some more Marx Brothers films such as A Night at the Opera and Animal Crackers or, if the Marx Brothers aren’t to your taste, try some other classic comedies, such as Laurel and Hardy’s films and shorts and Ealing Comedies such as The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets (all in the DVD LOBBY at 791.43).

Everyone’s favourite animated family made a film, and it was actually really good! (I was as surprised as anyone.) The Simpsons Movie is silly but lots of fun, and a great bit of escapism. You won’t be able to get Spider Pig’s theme tune out of your head for a long time! Find The Simpsons Movie in the DVD LOBBY at 791.433, along with plenty of great animated films.

Edgar Wright is a great comic writer and director: try Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (all in the DVD LOBBY at 791.43). We also have the definitive collection of Spaced (DVD LOBBY 791.453617), the TV show that made people take notice of Wright and first showcased his ability to make the boring details of people’s lives quirky and hilarious. His films often show ordinary people struggling with unfulfilling jobs, unemployment and romantic embarrassment while also dealing with wacky and extraordinary situations (zombies, a village-wide conspiracy of murder, battling your girlfriend’s evil exes…).

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