A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the Marx Brothers are the epitome of anarchy in Duck Soup. 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.
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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?
This zany film 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.
Talk to your kids 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!
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