Monday, May 12, 2014
2014 Blind Spot Series: Duck Soup
Directed by Leo McCarey and written and scored by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby with additional dialogue from Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin, Duck Soup is the story of a man is named a dictator to a poor country as he declares war on a neighboring country. The film is a comedy where it plays to absurdist humor as it stars the Marx Brothers in Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo in roles that defy description. Also starring Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres, and Edgar Kennedy. Duck Soup is an insane yet roaring film from Leo McCarey and the Marx Brothers.
The film is this odd yet farcical film where a man is asked by a rich woman to lead her country out of poverty as he deals with a neighboring country’s ambassador where a series of misunderstandings and insults lead to the man declaring war. A lot of it is told through some very unconventional humor where it’s about jokes and gags that continue throughout the film as screenwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby throw away the rule book of what is funny and go for something that has an air of satire about government and war.
Especially as the fate of the fictional country Freedonia is in the hands of someone as completely out-of-step and off-the-wall as Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) who often spouts insults and does things to piss off the Sylvanian ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern). Trentino would hire Chicolini (Chico Marx) and his mute brother Pinky (Harpo Marx) to spy on Firefly but things don’t exactly go as planned as it involves more hilarity and gags. Especially as some of the dialogue features some insults and such that adds to the film’s anarchic tone.
The direction of Leo McCarey is just as chaotic as the film’s script where it is about not just gags but the physicality in the performances that goes on that add to the film’s off-the-wall humor. McCarey’s direction does have some simple shots yet some of the wide shots he creates for some of the film’s musical numbers are very vibrant as it adds to the looseness of the film’s humor. The original music and songs written by its screenwriters do play into the frenzy of war, with some traditional songs in the mix, as well as the personalities of the characters. Some of the gags in the film showcase not just the brilliance of the Marx Brothers as comedy performers but also in what McCarey does to keep the humor going such as the much-lauded mirror scene and the climatic battle scene as it just adds to the farcical tone of the film. Overall, McCarey creates a very witty and entertaining film about a man who declares war on another country and create anarchy in every move he makes.
Cinematographer Henry Sharp does excellent work with the black-and-white photography to create some nice lighting schemes for some of the exteriors as well as some vibrant lights for the interior scenes. Editor LeRoy Stone does nice work with the editing as it has some rhythmic cuts for its humor and musical numbers as well as some stylish transitional wipes. Art directors Hans Dreier and W.B. Inhen do fantastic work with the sets from the palace that Firefly lives and work at to the office of Trentino. Sound recording engineer H.M. Lindgren does terrific work with some of the sound effects to play into Pinky‘s gags as well as some of the aspects in some of the funnier moments of the film.
The film’s cast includes some small yet noteworthy performances from Edgar Kennedy as a lemonade vendor who would have unfortunate encounters with Pinky and Chicolini, Raquel Torres as a femme fatale working for Trentino who tries to woo Firefly, Margaret Dumont as the rich widow Mrs. Gloria Teasdale whom Trentino and Firefly compete for her affection and money, and Louis Calhern as the snobbish yet conniving Sylvanian ambassador Trentino as he serves as a great man who often falls for the jokes. Finally, there’s the Marx Brothers in absolutely amazing performances with Zeppo in a small yet very memorable performance as Firefly’s personal secretary Lt. Bob Roland as he plays it straight. Chico brings a lot of wit as the very talkative Chicolini while Harpo is the funniest of the bunch as Pinky as he never says anything while doing all sorts of crazy things. Groucho is great as Rufus T. Firefly as he brings in a lot of witty banter and physicality to his performance as it includes some amazing moments with his brothers as they’re the film’s highlight.
Duck Soup is a magnificent film from Leo McCarey and the Marx Brothers as it’s one of the finest comedies ever created. Particularly in its mix of pantomime, physical comedy, and irreverent humor to showcase a world that is becoming more out-of-step with humanity. Most notably as it makes fun of the idea of war and governments in grand style. In the end, Duck Soup is a spectacular film from Leo McCarey and the Marx Brothers.
Marx Brothers Films: (Humor Risk) - (I’ll Say She Is) - (The Cocoanuts (1925)) - (Animal Crackers (1928 film)) - (The Cocoanuts (1929 film)) - (Animal Crackers (1930 film)) - (The House That Shadows Built) - (Monkey Business) - Horse Feathers - A Night at the Opera - A Day at the Races - Room Service - At the Circus - Go West - (The Big Store) - (A Night in Casablanca) - (Love Happy) - (The Story of Mankind)
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