100 Movies to See Before You Die- “Duck Soup”

Duck Soup is a 1933 film directed by Leo McCarey and starring the four Marx brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo). The film was the final one to feature Zeppo. Duck Soup was not a big box office success and fell short of the take that previous films had brought in. It was also not very well reviewed by the critics of the day. They tended to agree that it was not up to their earlier efforts while also being drug down by some of the political satire. The film has certainly stood the test of time and has made a number of AFI lists as well as being referenced many times in television and movies down through the years. The big question is if this zany comedy from the Depression era deserves to be counted among the greats and earn the coveted label “classic?”

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Should this film be considered a classic? The best way that I can think to describe this film is “slapstick with brains.” This was the first time I had seen the Marx brothers on film. I have long enjoyed the old slapstick of The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy. Duck Soup is slapstick on steroids. The gags come rapid fire and are mixed in with musical numbers, risque dialog, and often biting political satire. The film does often feel disjointed as the overarching plot is pretty minimal. The plot seems mostly to exist to advance the gags. However, don’t let that scare you away from this film. It is a fine example of slapstick, zany comedy and the political satire and double entendres make this a great film. Yes, this one is definitely a classic.

Would I own this film? I’m torn here. I really enjoyed the film. However, the much ballyhooed political satire lacks focus. Supposedly it was a satire aimed at Hitler and Mussolini types but I guess sometimes it is hard to laugh at satire pointed at people like them because we know the horrors they unleashed on the world. That said, I enjoyed the film and at the very least will revisit it on Netflix.

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