Duck Soup



Even if unbeknownst you have more likely than not been exposed to the influential far-reaching comedic prose of the Marx Brothers. If you haven’t been privy to their work directly than you have experienced Marxist comedy indirectly in your comedy idols. The legendary Adam Sandler recalls being awoken at 1 a.m. by his father Stan to catch Marx films playing on the T.V. Comedic auteur Woody Allen’s most successful film “Annie Hall” quotes Groucho Marx and attributes the whole theme of the film around the late genius’s quote “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” If either of these references has had no impact on you than the most apparent cultural influence the mirror scene from Duck Soup has. Even the viewer unfamiliar with the Marx brothers will know this scene once it begins. It begins with an empty door frame where two people, dressed similarly mimic one another movement to play off the characteristics of a mirror. It is one of the comedy classics. This famous scene has been parodied by countless popular medias such as Disney and Mickey Mouse, Lucielle Ball, and Family Guy. The Marx Brother’s quick one-liners, slapstick humor, and elegant deliveries have aged like a bottle of wine with the added benefit of being able to be understood, appreciated, and enjoyed by those of all ages.

For anyone who is not familiar with the Marx brothers or political satire Duck Soup is a wonderful introduction to the genres. Even for the viewer uneasy with politics, the perspective of fascism, socialism, and the government's effects on civilian life is delivered comedically and more importantly, understandably. Where most films in the political genre would choose to focus on either government or civilian life, Duck Soup is refreshing with a splash of both. A scene that encompasses the civilian ramifications of socialism is in the third act when Cheeko Marx spots the wife of his business rival. The average viewer may see this scene as nothing more than a young man who notices a beautiful woman but this scene is tempered by the oppression of socialism on small businesses. Cheeko’s reality as a businessman in a socialist European company is lackluster. He acts out throughout the film against his rival who runs a successful business. Due to the constraints of socialism Cheeko is in a position where his hands are tied and there is not much he can do to compete with his rival. He, in turn, strikes out the only way he can arbitrary pranks and jokes. For me, Duck Soup is a clear criticism of the European fascist socialist government and its limitations on small businesses.

When asked to explain the significance behind the title Groucho had a unique explanation. “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste you’ll duck soup for the rest of your life.” Ruppert. T Firefly (Groucho Marx) is given control of the fictitious European country of Fredonia. His loose and uninformed approach to running the country leads directly to war. My opinion is that the tempered scenes of Duck Soup are allegorical for the faults of a fascist socialist government, diplomacy, and war, which after you get one taste of you’ll want to duck for the rest of your life. In traditional satire fashion, the goal here is to provide commentary on the current state of world affairs. Duck Soup was banned in Italy by Musseli and released 10-months after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. The most obvious commentary to come out of Duck Soup is it’s Parallel to Europe at its time of release.

The most dated visual component of Duck Soup is it’s transition and establishing shots. The opening shot foreshadows the age of the film as it uses a traditional fade and noticeable linear wipe to a wide establishing shot of a random European villa which is followed by a diagonal wipe to its interior. For me, a viewer familiar with the film industry and film studies. The impact of Duck Soup is clearly not seen in its technical aspects or impressive cinematography.


© 2023 by Giorgio Citarella II