Sunday, June 24, 2007

Duck Soup: The Marx Brothers go to war.

The government of Fredonia has been mismanaged to the point that it must borrow $20 million from Mrs. Chester Teasdale to stay afloat. She, with single-minded termination, refuses unless the president resigns and hands the government to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) who proceeds to bring the nation to a grinding halt. Adding to the national woes, neighboring Sylvania has been plotting to have the Fredonian government overthrown so that they can overrun it and this mission has been headed by Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), with Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) handling Mrs. Teasdale and his two crack spies Chicolini and Pinky (guess who) shadowing Firefly. It is presidential assistant Bob Roland(Zeppo) who suggests Firefly insult Trentino who will strike Firefly and they can force the ambassador to leave the country. Sounds good on paper, but Firefly winds up being insulted by Trentino then slapping him, which leads to a declaration of war! And what a war it is: Groucho is able to be uniformed as a southern general, northern corporal, boy scout, fur trapper and drum major -- and that's during the first assault! By the time the short-wave radio cries "Help is on the way!" what follows will have you rolling on the floor!
Duck Soup is the dazzling, frenzied, unrelenting, full-steam-ahead, no-holds-barred trademark brand of nose-thumbing, up-yours comedy that the Marx Brothers created in vaudeville, honed to razor sharpness in bus and truck tours, and finally exploded onto 1920's Broadway, making them national treasures. Where W.C. Fields had his muttering, cynical way of tilting at windmills with a pool cue, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo stormed the windmills with surface-to-air missiles. No convention was too big, no icon too treasured, no societal norms too entrenched to be blistered by these madmen of surreal comedy. As with most classics, "Soup" bombed at the box-office and Paramount didn't re-sign the Brothers. But time and succeeding generations have elevated this film to one of the best movies in the annals of American film making.

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