Starring: The Marx Brothers, Margot Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres
Not Rated (contains nothing offensive)
Of all the genres of film, comedy is the one that ages the least. Due to culture changes and world events, not to mention personal taste, what was once cutting edge and hilarious has become quaint and old-fashioned. Such is the case with "Duck Soup," the final film with all four of the brothers that went to Hollywood.
I won't say that the movie isn't funny. It is, although not in a way that we're used to. While "There's Something About Mary" shocked us with its frankness and explosively funny situations and "Ted" had hilarious dialogue and a truly original premise, "Duck Soup" is more gentle. Watching it is like listening to a harmless stand-up comic. You both know he's too quaint to be truly funny, but you're too caught up in his energy to sit there stone-faced. You can't not laugh.
The story is thin and doesn't make a lot of sense. Frankly, it's just a way for the Marx Brothers to let loose with their comic talents. In any event, the tiny country of Freedonia is in dire financial straights, and a wealthy benefactor named Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont) won't give them the $20 million to get out of it (if solving our country's financial problems was this easy...) unless there's a new leader in office. She picks Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx). Trouble is brewing when the diplomat from the neighboring Sylvania named Trentino (Calhern) and a dancer named Vera Marcal (Torres) are plotting to marry the two and take over.
Just like the guy I mentioned above, the film is funny. But comedy needs to evolve in order to sustain itself, and when it's so thin on plot, character and situation, it runs out of steam very quickly; even at just a hair over an hour. The first 20 minutes are funny. The second are passable. The final act is a real trial.
It's not for a lack of trying, however. The Marx Brothers, plus their frequent co-star Margot Dumont (Groucho jokingly dubbed her "the fifth Marx Brother") give it their all. Groucho in particular is funny. The minute he shows up on screen you know he's going to do something amusing. Harpo and Chico aren't as funny. Their slapstick routines, featuring a street vendor played by Edgar Kennedy, are well-timed and energetic, go on for far too long.
The film was directed by Leo McCarey, who went on to great acclaim with "Love Affair" and it's better known remake, "An Affair to Remember," and the Father O'Malley movies starring Bing Crosby, "Going My Way" and "The Bells of St. Mary's." His method for shooting this film is probably the best for comic teams: point the camera and let the comics do their thing.
"Duck Soup" wants to be a wacky farce, but it's just not that funny.