Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #229 on the list,. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.
“What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh.”
– Groucho Marx talking about 1933’s Duck Soup
Ok, so let’s just go ahead and get the confession out of the way: the Marx Brothers movies really represent a kind of hole in my early comedy film viewing. I grew up watching a lot of Abbott and Costello movies, and honestly more Three Stooges shorts than I really would have preferred, but for some reason, even though I knew about them, and saw and enjoyed a lot of their “bits”, actually just sitting down and watching their movies is something that I have simply overlooked doing over the years.
That said, I have to admit that I was hoping that after watching Duck Soup for this rundown of the best movies ever, I would come away with that feeling of “Wow! I’ve really been missing something here, and can’t wait to watch the rest!”
Yeah, unfortunately, that really wasn’t the reaction that I had. As a matter of fact, I actually wound up splitting my viewing of this movie into two parts, because about halfway through, I was simply feeling exhausted.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like the Marx Brothers, nor that I don’t appreciate their style of comedy. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Groucho, especially, was a true comedic genius. However, I also find that they are so frenetic, and each scene of Duck Soup is so packed with both visual and verbal jabs, that they really are best taken in short bursts rather than as part of a full-length feature film. And when, as is the case here. “full length” only equates to 68 minutes, well, I suppose that’s really saying something.
Hmmm… actually, thinking about it, considering how much is made of the supposedly short attention spans of today’s youth, I wonder if something like Duck Soup, with its constantly changing scenes and short set-up pay-off delivery of the Brothers’ jokes might be perfect for them. Assuming, of course, that you could even get them to watch a black and white film in the first place.
Anyway, in reference to the quote that I started this write-up with, it’s obvious that Groucho and company were certainly not only not looking to make a “significant” film, – not that there was any reason for them to be, after all. I’m sure that audiences of the day were looking only for what the Brothers delivered, which definitely was “four Jews trying to get a laugh” and in that they definitely succeeded – but also that they really didn’t care much for plot, which really simply was a framework upon which they could hang various vaudeville and other comedic scenes.
Okay, bottom line time here, I suppose. Duck Soup is, for me, a perfectly fine comedy for what it is, and I suppose your own personal reaction is really going to simply depend on just how “into” the Marx Brothers’ comedic sensibilities you are. As a showcase for various bits and pieces of their particular schtick it works perfectly fine. Unfortunately, however, for me, I really didn’t find it to be the attitude- or game- changing film that I was hoping perhaps it might turn out to be.
Finally for today, this is where I would usually leave you with a trailer for the film, nut in keeping with the spirit of things, I think instead I’ll give you a taste of it with one of the gags which comprises the film. There are, of course, plenty to choose from, with probably the most famous being the ever-popular “mirror scene”, but instead, I thought I’d give you one that is probably a bit less well-known but still very representative of the type of comedy the movie has to offer.
So what are your thoughts on Duck Soup? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.
- Duck Soup (1933) (dailyconor.wordpress.com)
- Is Punning Dead? (shermancomedy.wordpress.com)
- Anxiety relief now: Duck Soup! (trancepoetics.com)