Duck Soup

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(1933, directed by Leo McCarey)

- inducted 2015 –

"Together the Marx Brothers made 13 features, ranging from classics like Monkey Business to shrugs like The Big Store. What is it that separates Duck Soup from their other films and elevates it into the comedy pantheon?

"For one thing, there’s the subject matter. The Marxes were at their best when lampooning elevated society, and there are few things more elevated than national politics. In the early ‘30s, under the shadows of Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and a dozen other of the lesser tyrants, making a movie about the madcap affairs of a small, quasi-European nation must have seemed both risky and impossible to resist. Thankfully, the jokes aren’t altered for the occasion – Margaret Dumont’s political kingmaker is exactly the same character here as the art-collecting society matron of Animal Crackers.

"Next (and not to get all auteurist on you), there’s Leo McCarey. The future Oscar-winner would go on to make Ruggles of Red Gap, Make Way for Tomorrow, The Awful Truth – and that’s just the rest of the ‘30s, which is something that can’t quite be said for the likes of Victor Heerman or Edward Buzzell. McCarey wasn’t just a great director of comedy, but also a great director, period, knowing how to combine the silence of the 'mirror' sequence with the raucous intensity of the 'Freedonia’s Going to War' musical number. McCarey also knew that the final battle sequence didn’t need to make narrative sense. You can tell that they must have filmed enough footage in that sequence to make a standard, logical set of gags, and then McCarey and his team trimmed it down to just a few manic minutes, each shocking leap in logic contributing to the overall mad rush.

"Finally there’s the Marxes themselves, who were hitting on all cylinders by this point in their careers, hot off the successes of their previous films and enjoying just enough hands-off support from Paramount executives. Absent are the extensive musical numbers or romantic subplots of earlier and later films – instead, this movie catches the Marxes at just the right point in time for a hit of pure, undiluted anarchy."

~ Jeff McMahon

Principal cast: The Four Marx Brothers (Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx), Margaret Dumont, Raquel Torres, Louis Calhern, Edmund Breese, Leonid Kinsky, Charles B. Middleton, Edgar Kennedy
Original story by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby
Additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin
Photographed by Henry Sharp
Music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby
Art direction by Hans Dreier (uncredited), Wiard Ihnen (uncredited)
Film editing by LeRoy Stone (uncredited)
Additional music by John Leipold (uncredited)
Sound by Harry Lindgren (uncredited)
Produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz (uncredited)

Duration: 68 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced and released in USA by Paramount Pictures
Premiered in USA on 17 November 1933

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1990

- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 9 July 2000