60 – Duck Soup (1933)

Rufus T. Firefly: Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did.

 

Seen before?

F: Another one that’s new to me.

R: Nope.

 

Thoughts?

F: I was slightly nervous about this as I wasn’t blown away by the previous Marx Brothers film on the list. However, I was pleasantly surprised here. The story is more interesting, the humour more accessible and it actually made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

R: The story is much more original than A Night At The Opera, which helps a lot. Although to be honest, it didn’t really grab me until the later part of the film, when the war kicks off. And I’m not sure I’d say the humour is “more accessible”, just a bit wittier.

F: It reminded me of Airplane. Just constant joke after joke, very fast paced. With so many one liners it’s no surprise some fall flat. But there were enough in there that hit the mark. Along with the famous mirror scene! 

R: No doubt that you can trace Airplane‘s comedic lineage back to this film. But while I love Airplane, I still struggled sometimes here to get past how utterly lame some of the jokes now are. It’s possible they’ve been ruined for me by being copied by deeply unfunny people in the decades since, but knocking stuff out of people’s hands and scattergunning weak puns are not my idea of comedy gold.

F: I think you do have to forgive it on some of the wordy jokes that have been done a million times since and feel tired. I think the slapstick is the key here – I have to say I did not find it as funny as Chaplin and actually was getting quite annoyed at Chico and Harpo at times! That said, the moment where they paint Groucho’s face on the vase stuck on his head is my kind of humour! Chuckling to myself just thinking about it.

R: “Chuckle” is probably the right word to describe the kind of gentle laughs on offer here, and to be fair it did get a decent number out of me. But there is also a lot of mediocrity, such that the film feels overlong despite a running time of only one hour and ten minutes. The film finishes at a raucus tempo, but I wish it didn’t take so long to kick into gear.

F: It ended so suddenly! I was expecting another scene or two. 

R: How about the mention of “darkies” by Groucho’s character Rufus T. Firefly? Did you catch that? He says:

“My father was a little headstrong, my mother was a little armstrong. The Headstrongs married the Armstrongs, and that’s why darkies were born.” 

It’s apparently a reference to a 1931 song that was satirising racism, but it’s another moment where the film suffers from its age. Nothing takes me out of a movie quite like having to question whether the hero is a bit racist, even if properly understanding the context afterwards suggests he’s not.

F: Similar to the black face in Swing Time, a film I did enjoy more, but that part completely took me out of the film. Have to admit the quote you mention above went completely over my head though! 

R: I’d say that tells you something about how engaging the dialogue is across the rest of the film…

F: Since this is the last Marx Brothers on the list I think we should talk about them! I loved how when they all put on the Groucho glasses and moustache they look the same (perhaps not surprising!) Do you think the addition of the 4th brother, Zeppo, changed any of the dynamics in this?

R: To be honest Zeppo didn’t really stand out from the others for me. Should I have noticed him?

F: He’s the other one! But I don’t think he added much. It’s all about the main three really. I really like dynamic between them and can see why they’re so popular. I think Harpo is my favourite!

R: The dynamic between them – the main three particularly – is clearly something special, and I’m happy to accept they are more than the sum of their parts. But I’m also left struggling to see the appeal of this to anyone who isn’t a historian of comedy. The Chaplin we watched, and Sullivan’s Travels, both have much more to offer a modern audience I would say.

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: I liked it much more than the previous Marx Brothers and I’m willing to forgive some of its more outdated moments. It’s a yes from me.

R: Clearly an important film but I don’t think something with such limited appeal to a 21st century audience should be in the top 100. No from me.

 

Up next:
59 – Nashville (1975)
Previously:
 61 – Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
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