Duck Soup: The Film of a Billion Puns

Onward to Duck Soup, the 1933 Marx Brothers classic.  It's the last Marx Brothers film to feature Zeppo, and scores a frankly shocking position at #104 on our list.

Great...because I needed those nightmares.

I'm sure I'm not the only one in the world who's never seen a Marx Brothers film.  For those of you equally uncultured, here's a breakdown.

There's Groucho, the intellectual one; Chico, the Italian one; Harpo, the silent one; and Zeppo, the attractive straight man.  That's oversimplifying things, but there it is.

So Duck Soup.  The land of Freedonia is facing some problems, not least of all their mortal enemy: the land of Sylvania.  Mrs Teasdale promises to lend the ailing country some money, but only if Rufus Firefly (Groucho) can be their new prime minister.  The leaders agree, only to discover that Rufus...well, he's not exactly the kind of guy you want leading a country.

Meanwhile, the Sylvania ambassador wants to invade Freedonia, so he sends in a pair of highly inept spies, Chicolini and Pinky, to dig up dirt of Firefly.  This fails miserably.  Firefly repeatedly insults the ambassador, leaving the two countries no choice but to go to war.

And onward to war they go.  A battle rages, but then they manage to catch the Sylvania ambassador, and he surrenders.  Thus Freedonia lives to pun another day.  Yay.

So here's my deal.  And I'm sorry that I'm going to massively disagree with popular opinion, but it is what it is.  I don't find Groucho Marx amusing.  He's all "pun pun punnity pun" and I'm like:

It's not a question of the material, because I guess most of it's pretty clever.  I just don't get the delivery.  Also, it's weird to have someone cracking jokes a mile a minute and no one's laughing.  They just continue on with the conversation like he's not a human pun machine.  Maybe it's me.  24/7 puns are not really my kind of humor.  However...I am willing to make allowances, because humor is one of those bits of culture that changes drastically even over the period of a few decades.  So maybe I should just accept that as a 2011 viewer of this film, this style of humor is just not relevant to me, and move on.

There are some things I like about the movie, though.  I find Harpo pretty entertaining, because he's just the most absurd character I've ever seen.  I really like his feud with the lemonade man, and his random kleptomania.  And his utility belt.

And is it just me or are Chicolini and Pinky the original Jay and Silent Bob?  It's entirely possible that it's just me.

I like the bit where Harpo and Chico both dress up as Groucho, because in real life those three brothers look ridiculously similar, and it's cool that they kind of hang a lampshade on it.  I mean, here's Harpo, Gummo (their other brother), Chico, and Groucho:

I can find Harpo, but that's pretty much it.

"Well who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" Classic.  Good going, you actually made me smile there.

I am consistently intrigued by Zeppo, but mostly because of everything I've heard about him rather than what's portrayed on screen.  Legend has it that Zeppo was the funniest out of all the brothers, and that he was frustrated that he always had to play the least interesting characters.  When they did stage shows, Zeppo would fill in for all of his brothers, and he usually got more laughs.  Poor dude is the unsung hero of the group, cursed by his prettiness, forced to play the boring, romantic character.  They should make a movie about him.  I would go see it.

So anyway...that's Duck Soup.  I don't get it.  I'm comfortable with the fact that I'm in the minority: life's too short to pretend that things are funny when you don't think they are.  This film is very much a child of vaudeville, and the level of outrageousness and manic energy are a credit to the performers.  But the puns...oh the puns.  I feel like I just OD'ed on word play.  I think I'm going to avoid any linguistically significant humor for the next week or two, just to be on the safe side.

That's all for me.  Sorry for the delay, I was out of town over the weekend and wasn't able to stick to my one review a day.  It shan't happen again.  Thanks for reading, and be sure to pop back for The Spirit of the Beehive!

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Anonymous said...

The delivery is simply the Marx Bros. There never was before and never will be again a set of comedians like these. They were a product a vaudeville, very much of their time, and probably would be difficult to understand if you didn't know the history. But it doesn't matter. They were brilliant, crazy, immigrant Jews from vaudeville. You will never see anything like them ever again. Treasure them.

Audrey on a Mission said...

I do understand the history, but I guess for me The Marx Brothers are kind of the same as the Three Stooges: I get why they're significant and incredibly important, but I just don't think they're all that funny. Different strokes, and all that. Thanks for reading! :)

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