Friday, February 17, 2012

#70 Movies on AFI's Top 100 List: Duck Soup

Duck Soup, a Marx Brothers movie, is #85 on the AFI's Top 100 List. I've seen it before, although it was years ago, and I enjoyed watching it again.

This is the last movie that all four Marx brothers did together (that's right, there are four of them!) and it is now considered their best movie, although when it first came out it seems that most people didn't think it was much of a hit. It's kind of a cult classic in that way, as fans grew throughout the years.

Set in the fictional land of Freedonia, Groucho Marx's character Rufus T. Firefly, is appointed President at the insistence of the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale who has just saved the country from financial ruin with a large loan. Consider her the ultimate lobbyist - she threatens to renege on the loan unless the current President steps down and is replaced with Mr. Firefly.

Just why she thinks he's the man to save the country is never quite clear. She ignores all of his zany antics and outright insults unless she finds them amusing and her trust in him never wavers, even when his actions start a war with neighboring country Sylvania.

Granted, it's not entirely his fault. Firefly to the left, supported by Mrs. Teasdale, is being plotted against by Ambassador Trentino from Sylvania and his sexy cohort who makes very little impression throughout the movie. Trentino is trying to woo Mrs. Teasdale (don't worry, she's a widow, it's not that racy of a movie!) so that he can marry her and rule the country of Freedonia. Firefly also wants to marry her, but mostly for her fantastic fortune.

There's not a lot of character depth in this movie, or even characters that you can relate to. There's no one to root for, because even though you think you'd want to root for Firefly, he's such a buffoon that you can't (not to mention his questionable motives for wanting to marry Mrs. Teasdale). Chico and Harpo Marx play spies hired by Ambassador Trentino to undermine Firefly. The fourth (and least known) brother, Zeppo, is Firefly's secretary and fulfills the position of straight man as a foil to the goofy characters of his three brothers.

What this movie is strong on is humor. I always forget that it's a musical, and the music is often short, to the point and the verses are witty. The humor is witty, slap-stick and insulting. Groucho flits from joke to joke, full of sarcasm and verve, and yet he's just as often the butt of the joke when Chico and Harpo are involved. There's a lot of physical comedy, some of which can become tiring because the joke goes on for too long, but a lot of it is very entertaining.

My favorite scene is the mirror scene.
Harpo's character, disguised as Firefly, accidently breaks a mirror. Instead of panicking and running when Firefly appears on the scene, he cunningly mimics all of Firefly's movements - pushing an almost believable imitation into something ludicrous by the end. It's not just good entertainment value, it's also just downright impressive how they manage to mirror each other's movements so exactly throughout the scene. These aren't camera tricks, it's human skill and rehearsal.

All in all, it was fun to watch again. It's a fluffy, occasionally frustrating piece (although sometimes I think I was frustrated because I feel like it's a metaphor for the way modern politicians behave), with good entertainment value and some laugh out loud moments. It's not my favorite so far, but maybe that's why it's back at #85 on the list.

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