Duck Soup

 
(i)

 

Classic comedy film with lots of mayhem, slapstick humor.
  • Review Date: August 2, 2007
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Classic
  • Release Year: 1933
  • Running Time: 68 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Positive messages

As a classic slapstick comedy satirizing government, espionage, and warfare, there isn't much in the way of positive messages, except that "laughter is the best way to get through difficult times."

Positive role models

The Marx Brothers mine laughs out of any and every situation, and their comedy, as a whole, is timeless.

Violence & scariness

Explosions, gunfire, and mortar shells during a comical battle sequence. Slapstick roughhousing throughout by Chico and Harpo -- characters are often kicked in the rear end.

Sexy stuff

Some mild innuendo from Groucho. Various young women, one in lingerie, are chased around by Harpo.

Language

Some dated and tame sexual innuendo. In the middle of a series of quips, Groucho Marx says, "My father was headstrong. My mother was armstrong. The Armstrongs met the Headstrongs...and that’s how darkies were born!" Although the reference in the punch line is to a song satirizing the African-American experience (a song performed by Paul Robeson, among others), it's easy enough to take this out of context and interpret it as racist.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Unsurprisingly, in a movie starring Groucho Marx, there is frequent cigar smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the Marx Brothers are the epitome of anarchy in this movie. They're rude, insulting, pranksterish, and loyal to nobody. Later, tamer features usually would cast them in some good-guy roles, their destructive mayhem having a secret agenda to help out a pretty girl in distress or the like, but not in this movie. There is some dated and tame sexual innuendo. There are explosions, gunfire, and mortar shells during a comical battle sequence. There is slapstick roughhousing throughout by Chico and Harpo -- characters are often kicked in the rear end. Parents who think the Three Stooges are a bad influence may feel the same applies here. Also, the opening-credit image of live ducks floating in a pot with a fire under it is a little disturbing.

What's the story?

DUCK SOUP is set in a mythical country called Fredonia, a place so poor that its financial existence depends on the charity of rich widow Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont). She's smitten with the disreputable Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), and on her orders he's put in charge of the government. Never mind that Groucho still insults Gloria (and everybody else) with his rapid-fire verbiage ("You know you haven't stopped talking since I got here; you must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle!"). The ambassador of the neighboring country of Sylvania wants to take over Fredonia, preferably without bloodshed, by marrying Gloria. His inept spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) try to follow Firefly, but nothing much comes of the scheme -- even when Firefly spontaneously hires Chicolini as his new secretary of war. Instead the temperamental Firefly leads Fredonia into war against Sylvania in a crazy climax with stock footage of wildlife -- and all logic -- going out the window.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Duck Soup is considered a masterwork of comedy, and yet it was not a success in the 1930s. In fact, there was some doubt that the Marx Brothers would do another movie ever again after this Paramount release laid an egg at the box office. It was indeed the last time that Zeppo Marx, usually a straight man, appeared on-screen with the troupe. From this film on, the brothers were a threesome.

It wasn't until the more anarchy-happy '60s that Duck Soup was appreciated as a bona fide comedy classic. In practically all their other movies, the brothers had to share screen time with snail-paced musical interludes or love stories that had little to do with their wild comedy. Not here. Just laugh and enjoy.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how a movie this hilarious could have failed at the box office when it opened in the '30s. Other, more popular Marx Brothers movies had boring musical numbers and straight-faced romantic subplots to interrupt the comedy. Should they have been inserted here? What kinds of comedies that you see today are like Duck Soup, or is this brand of comedy unique?

  • When does the comedy of the Marx Brothers seem timeless, and when does it seem dated?

  • If Duck Soup were to be remade today, how do you think it would be different, and who would star in it? Do you think Duck Soup could even be remade?

  • Allegedly, real-life dictator of Italy Benito Mussolini took¬†Duck Soup¬†as a personal insult and banned the movie. Whether there's a serious point being made in all the foolishness is pretty questionable. But if some of the gung-ho military madness and government misfits on-screen remind you and your kids of people in today's newspaper headlines, that's something to discuss!

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 17, 1933
DVD release date:January 28, 1998
Cast:Chico Marx, Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont
Director:Leo McCarey
Studio:Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Genre:Classic
Run time:68 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

This review of Duck Soup was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written bydminer January 1, 2011
 

great first B&W film to share with kids..

the younger kids will love harpo and the tweens will love groucho being a smart alec. plus, it's only an hour long, so that helps them get over the whole black-and-white of it all ...
Teen, 15 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 December 10, 2013
 

Fantastic, old-fashioned comedy will make you crack up

This hilarious black and white comedy from 1933 may not interest kids at first, but once you get past the intro and get to Firefly's first appearance, the laughs will come hard and will not stop. Anyone will enjoy this, but it does have some content that is not suitable for really young kids. Throughout the movie, Firefly smokes cigars. There are images of people undressing, although no nudity is seen. The climax features intense war violence, with explosions, gun shots, bombs, and fighting, though it is all done with a comedic undertone.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 2 and 8 year old Written byM.R. in L.A. February 17, 2014
 

A Nice Change of Pace

We chose this for the 8 year old's movie night thinking the slapstick would catch his interest and draw him in. It was a success and we all enjoyed it. That said, there were a few things that gave us pause. The sexual innuendo in the opening scene and the sex-as-currency nature of it concerned me. Fortunately it went over the 8 year old's head. There's also a scene of implied bestiality that also went over his head. There are a few women who are scantily clad by 1930s standards but are quite tame compared to your average American Apparel billboard. Still, the eight year old did describe them as "naked ladies". The aspect of the film that seemed to stick with the boy most was the general meanness of Harpo with his frequent burning of other's hats and cutting their neckties, belts and other personal objects. Overall a good viewing experience, but I did want to highlight some content that isn't detailed elsewhere.

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