Probably the greatest and funniest film from one of the cinema’s funniest acts, Duck Soup is as absurdly nonsensical as comedy can be and still be about something.
A satire of Fascism, Mussolini-style dictatorship, and the banality of war, the Marx Brothers’ masterpiece is best remembered for Groucho’s blistering throwaway witticisms, a classic broken-mirror scene with Harpo posing as Groucho’s reflection, and a surreal slapstick hat-switching sequence.
The premise involves Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly becoming dictator of Freedonia at the behest of dowager Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s indefatigable foil), whose millions the ailing country badly needs. Groucho’s ideas for running the country consist largely of wooing Mrs. Teasdale in an effort to get the rest of her millions and insulting Trentino (Louis Calhern), the scheming ambassador of neighboring Sylvania. Trentino, meanwhile, hires Chico and Harpo as spies, and sends a sultry Mata Hari (Raquel Torres) to draw Groucho away from Mrs. Teasdale, hoping to marry her himself and gain control of Freedonia’s pocketbook.
A unique product of their era, the Marx Brothers combine silent-era slapstick with Groucho’s trademark verbal comedy ("If you can’t get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that’s too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff"). Their goofiness doesn’t get any better than this.
The fact is, A Night at the Opera is one of a kind, for which we can all be grateful. But it’s also something more. The most successful Marx Brothers film in their day both critically and popularly, A Night at the Opera is one of the two front-runners — along with Duck Soup, which was not successful at the time — for the best and funniest Marx Brothers feature ever. Opera was also reportedly Groucho’s favorite.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.