It’s hard for a comedy to be considered one of the best movies of all time, because critics often don’t take them seriously (which is the whole point of comedies, of course, to escape from the harsh reality of life by leaving seriousness behind). However, every now and then a comedy comes along that is so funny that it just cannot be overlooked. ‘Duck Soup’ is definitely such a comedy.
The Marx Brothers are at their zany best in this madcap comedy about the dictator of Freedonia (played by Groucho Marx, of course). The visual and verbal gags never stop, with Groucho and Chico constantly running their mouths and Harpo pulling all sorts of wonderful props from his amazing magical-seeming coat. This is by far my favorite Marx Brothers film, despite the fact that it didn’t do well at all at the box office. It’s the only film by the quartet of brothers (brother Zeppo always played the straight man) that didn’t try to throw in a cheesy romance as a side note. There’s never a dull moment, and it’s a fast-paced film that can be watched multiple times (you almost have to watch it more than once to catch all of the great gags), and it never fails to make me laugh, no matter how many times I watch it.
This film is responsible for the famous mirror scene where Harpo tries to fool Groucho into thinking he’s his reflection. This gag has been done so many times since, but it’s still executed best here.
Groucho’s favorite foil Margaret Dumont makes the film even funnier as the clueless straight woman who often didn’t get any of Groucho’s jokes off-camera, either, but with lines like “Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did,” and “Married. I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. But I can’t see the stove,” it’s probably best that she didn’t always understand what was going on.
The storyline is pretty simplistic, but the film manages to bash war and dictatorship pretty well. So well, in fact, that Mussolini banned the film, something that surely pleased Groucho. A small town called Fredonia also complained about the film, since the country portrayed had a name so similar to its own. Groucho’s response to the town? “Change the name of your town. It’s ruining our picture.”
So if you enjoy a whole lot of satire, visual and verbal gags, and laughing nonstop, you absolutely have to see this film. It’s one of the only comedies I’ve chosen as one of the best movies of all time, and that’s because it is a film that is, perhaps, the best of this genre.