Duck Soup

Duck Soup

Synopsis of Movie

“These are the laws of my administration…”

Beaten down by the Depression and not at all accustomed to blatant political satire, audiences and critics didn’t quite know what to do with Duck Soup, a 1933 madcap farce. Neither did Paramount, which wasn’t exactly getting rich off the brothers Marx, who had a five-picture deal there at the time. But nowadays, we know exactly what to do…watch it as much as we can (there’s a lot of comedy packed into these seventy minutes) and crack up again and again.

To stave off bankruptcy and potential revolution, rich dowager Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, a Marx movie frequenter) agrees to donate twenty million dollars to her country’s coffers—but only if Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is appointed as Freedonia’s new president. She’s tired of all the corruption in politics, and she carries a bit of a torch for him besides. At his inaugural ball, Firefly shows up late and then bursts into a song about all the ways he hopes to abuse his power. And at his political functions—a cabinet meeting (sweepingly doing away with business both old and new) and a Mrs. Teasdale tea party—he gleefully dispenses puns, insults and all around anti-politics.

While Firefly wreaks havoc, the evil Trentino, an ambassador from neighboring country Sylvania, is scheming to win Mrs. Teasdale’s hand and her money, so that he can usurp Firefly’s throne and reign over all the land. He orders his two best spies, Pinky (Harpo) and Chicolini (Chico), to gather discrediting dirt on his nemesis. Of course, in the course of this duo’s vaudevillian reconnaissance, they are chosen as important members of Firefly’s administration, they famously torment a helpless lemonade vendor, and Pinky famously imitates Firefly as he vogues wildly in front of what he thinks is a real mirror.

Firefly and Trentino huffily declare war on each other, after which the four Marx brothers and assorted Freedonia citizenry join together for the gleeful ditty “The Country’s Going to War.” Firefly swaggers around headquarters in an array of military ensembles, and the war machine rages (well, clunks) on, dispensing bullets to the rump and fruit to the noggin.

None of the usual Marx Brothers romance angles or harp solos here…just classic gags, classic banter and shrewd satiric jabs at little things like politics, government institutions, the legal system, despots, warmongers and your everyday lemonade vendor. Made in the years that Hitler and Mussolini were rising to power, and in a world that was no stranger to war, they were topical targets indeed.

But politics aside, Duck Soup has always been, first and foremost, a comedy. And along with the classic A Night at the Opera, it is considered by most to be the Marx Brothers' best.

Movie Release History

1933 - Duck Soup

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Rufus T. Firefly  Groucho Marx
Pinky  Harpo Marx
Chicolini   Chico Marx
Bob Rolland  Zeppo Marx
Mrs. Teasdale  Margaret Dumont
Vera Marcal  Raquel Torres
Ambassador Trentino  Louis Calhern
Zander  Edmund Breese
Agitator  Leonid Kinskey
Prosecutor  Charles Middleton
Street Vendor  Edgar Kennedy
Bit Part  E.H. Calvert
Second Minister of Finance  Davison Clark
First Judge  George MacQuarrie
Secretary of War  Edwin Maxwell
Third Judge  Eric Mayne
Second Judge  Frederick Sullivan
First Minister of Finance  William Worthington

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