Duck Soup review: Top Marx for one of the greatest comedies ever made

Movies don’t get more sublimely subversive than this 1933 caper from the Marx Brothers

Film Title: Duck Soup

Director: Leo McCarey

Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres, Edgar Kennedy

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 68 min

Fri, Feb 6, 2015, 07:12

   

Forget Angela Merkel. Forget the IMF. If movies have taught us anything, it’s that when a nation is on its knees financially, there’s only one reasonable course of action: draft in the Marx Brothers.

Having coughed up $20 million of bailout monies, Mrs Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, the “fifth brother” as Groucho called her) insists that the inept premier of Freedonia is replaced by Groucho, who soon makes sweeping reforms: he reduces working hours by shortening lunch breaks.

As ever, Groucho hopes to woo the dowager. But he has a rival: Ambassador Trentino of the neighbouring country, Sylvania. There’s only one thing for it: “This means war!” Mayhem ensues. And how.

 

Movies don’t get more sublimely subversive than this 1933 caper from the Marx Brothers. Duck Soup was not the makeshift family’s biggest hit on release but it is now widely recognised as their masterpiece.

The personnel are the finest folk to ever grace classic Hollywood: Make Way for Tomorrow director Leo McCarey, Citizen Kane producer Herman J Mankiewicz and, of course, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo.

An endless series of comic innovations – Harpo aping Groucho in the mirror, the superb confrontation with Edgar Kennedy’s lemonade seller – culminate with a battle in mismatched scout uniforms and Confederacy cast-offs. Finally, nationalism is dismissed by the medium of the minstrel show.

It demands to be seen, if for no other reason, because it’s the One Where Chico Takes Off His Hat.

Duck Soup is at the IFI, Dublin, from February 6th-12th