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Duck Soup

(1933, McCarey)
A film with a bird's name in its title

"You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are."

The term "duck soup" refers to an easily accomplished task or assignment; something that should be easy to succeed at. In the film, it is a kind of ironic jab at Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), who has just been appointed as leader of the troubled country of Freedonia, but we can also use it to ironically refer to the Marx brothers task of making a comedy that succeeds at parodying government and war. The thing is that the brothers make it seem easy indeed; duck soup.

Groucho is joined by his three brothers in various roles. Harpo and Chico play a couple of bumbling spies for the rival country of Sylvania, while Zeppo plays Firefly's assistant. Firefly's task of governing is complicated when he starts a grudge with Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania, something that threatens to lead them to war. But the truth is that the plot, even though it's there, matters little as it serves primarily as a vehicle for the brothers barrage of jokes, gags, slapstick, and musical montages.

This happens to be my first Marx brothers film, but I can happily say that it was a pleasant watch and a lot of fun. As someone who really hadn't had any experience with the brothers, I was surprised at how dry and slightly risky the jokes were. I guess I was expecting something more a-la Chaplin, with a bit more heart and charm, but I adjusted my gauges quickly and found myself enjoying the biting satire of things like war and politics.

Sure, some of the routines felt like, well, routines; like they were already established and were just transposed to this film and slightly adjusted to fit the narrative, but that doesn't make the jokes any less clever, and the frenetic and lively energy of the cast makes up for it. I also found the musical numbers to be real treat. Knowing of its reputation, I wasn't expecting less, but I was still surprised by how effortless and easy the comedy and fun felt here; you know, duck soup.