Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Duck Soup (1933) ***

NR, 68 min.
Director: Leo McCarey
Writers: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin
Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Raquel Torres, Louis Calhern, Edmund Breese, Leonid Kinskey, Charles Middleton

I know I’m committing some sort of critical sacrilege by awarding the Marx Brothers’ classic “Duck Soup” anything less than four stars, or even three and a half out of four; but I have to admit, upon my first ever screening of the comedy, I wasn’t blown away by its critical indictment of a nation’s motivations for war. Certainly at the time, it would’ve been an impressive satire; but today I don’t think it stands up as being nearly as sophisticated as many of its contemporary films.

Yes, Groucho is in great form here. His ongoing commentary on all the other characters is funny and biting. The way he keeps changing outfits during the final battle sequence is a beautiful comedic wonderment. The mirror bit with the three different Grouchos is also a classic moment in comedy. But, beyond Groucho’s contributions, the film has little else to offer. The other brothers are great comedians, but they don’t go beyond what other classic comedians accomplished in other films.

The movie itself does not set any filmmaking standards beyond its satire of a government’s petty reasoning behind going to war. The story is put together by patchwork around the Marx Brothers’ comedy bits. The structure is a shambles. Put it up against a movie like Buster Keaton’s “The General” and it is just silliness for the sake of silliness. Technically other films being released in 1933 were greatly surpassing it in terms of storytelling and overall technical achievement.

Perhaps, I’m just being harsh. Perhaps I’m judging a comedy against standards that have little to do with the genre. But, this is a movie that is dated by its choppy story structure and delivery. It’s certainly a comedy classic. I’m just not sure it has earned its historic high esteem for its overall production qualities.

Watch the movie in its entirety below.

No comments: