Despite its relative box-office failure upon initial release (a fact that remains shocking to this day), Duck Soup has become one of the best-loved comedies in cinema history and perhaps the preeminent Marx Brothers film—in addition to the most cinematic, foregoing the asides and interludes normally characteristic of their work and due in part to the directorial artistry of Leo McCarey. The focus of the film is the republic of Freedonia, a failing state upheld by the wealthy donor Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) on one side and a war-hungry neighbor, Sylvania, on the other. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is the newly-installed leader of Freedonia, Zeppo is his right-hand man, while Chico and Harpo play Sylvanian spies out to ruin their rival at the behest of the Sylvanian head-of-state Trentino (Louis Calhern), who has eyes for Mrs. Teasdale and her riches. War breaks out, nationalist fervor reaches fever pitch, and chaos reigns—presciently familiar to observers of the remainder of the 20th century. “The primary reason Duck Soup transcends the rest of the Marx [brothers] output is its target—Groucho’s Escher-like language contortions never found a better foil than governmental bureaucracy, and the hall-of-mirrors conversations dominating this war spoof rank alongside Heller and Vonnegut. For all their good intentions, contemporary antiwar filmmakers might do well to take a page from this, which, in its gleeful skewering, reminds us what about humanity might be worth saving.”—Mike King, Cine-File Chicago.
Appears in: Print the Legend
Other Films by Leo McCarey
In one of her most radiant roles, Ingrid Bergman stars as good-natured Sister Mary Benedict, a Catholic nun at the dilapidated St. Mary’s school, which faces abrupt closure. Enter newcomer Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), with whom Sister Mary immediately strikes up a friendly rivalry. The two must band together, however, to find a new …