Friday, 23 December 2011

Review - Duck Soup (1933 - Dir. Leo McCarey)

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a bit of the Marx Brothers. Many years ago, Channel 4 had a Marx Brothers Season at Christmas, showing about four of their films late at night. Hence their inclusion in our Christmas Season.

If you've never seen a Marx Brothers film prepared to be baffled, especially by the black painted rectangle that is supposedly Groucho's moustache. The jokes come thick and fast, particularly from Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly. Try to have an ear rest for five seconds and you've probably missed about eight jokes. You've got to work to keep up with him. Here's a sample bit of dialogue from Groucho after hearing that Mrs Teasdale's husband was dead:
Firefly: Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
Mrs Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.
Firefly: Is that so? Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you!

Chico and Harpo are more at home with slapstick. The completely unnecessary scene where they are selling peanuts and fighting with a rival lemonade seller is comedy genius: hats are swapped repeatedly, things are cut off with a large pair of scissors (a recurring occurence throughout the film) and many legs are put into hands (you'd have to watch it to understand).

That's not to say that Groucho can't partake in a portion of silent comedy. Another standout scene is where Harpo is pretending to be Groucho on the other side of a smashed mirror and has to copy his every move. It involves many funny walks and dances. You can see the family resemblance in this scene as Chico also tries his hand at a Groucho impersonation.

By the end Duck Soup descends into something resembling one of Ernie Wise's plays as the four brothers go to war. Everything gets very frantic and random. Not that it hadn't been fairly random before that. But this is as good a place to start as any if you haven't seen any Marx Brothers films. 

(If you have seen Duck Soup you will be aware that I've seriously contradicted my last review where I had a rant about musicals. It does contain a few songs, but they are funny, especially when Groucho whips out a little piccolo mid song. The musical numbers subvert tradition. In one scene, the four brothers do some really stupid dance manoeuvres that the rest of the cast then copy. Anyway, you need an exception to prove a rule, so leave me alone.)

If you like this you could also try:
Animal Crackers, A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera.

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