Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: Duck Soup 4 ½ Stars

The farcical comedy Duck Soup stands among the Marx Bros.’ finest and certainly showcases them at the pinnacle of their career together. The Marx Bros., along with screenwriters Bert Kalmar, Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman, and legendary comedy director Leo McCarey, strung together many hilarious bits and routines first worked out in vaudeville theatres to weave the threadbare plot of Duck Soup.

The fictional nation of Freedonia’s coffers are completely spent and the nation is on the verge of revolution. The impoverished country’s principal benefactor, Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) promises to lend $20 million, but only on the condition that the president resigns his post and the government is handed over to Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho).

Trentino (Louis Calhern), ambassador of the unfriendly neighboring country of Sylvania, is plotting to oust Firefly and wrest control of Freedonia for himself by winning the confidence -- and the hand -- of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale. Trentino issues his most trusted spies, Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) to discredit Firefly. Upon their arrival in Freedonia, Firefly immediately assigns Chicolini and Pinky to his Cabinet. He eventually declares war on Sylvania.

Of course, the actual storyline is not nearly as important as the outrageous gags permeating Duck Soup. Harry Ruby provides two terrific musical numbers -- in the first, Firefly proudly announces he will abuse his power to the thunderous encouragement of the people of Freedonia; in the second, a reprise, he declares war. Duck Soup is filled with ribald jokes, biting satire and wonderfully apropos nose-thumbing at the absurdities of government and the war machine.

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