Leo McCarey

Sog.: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby. F.: Henry Sharp. M.: LeRoy Stone. Scgf.: Hans Dreier, Wiard Ihnen. Int.: Groucho Marx (Rufus T. Firefly), Chico Marx (Chicolini), Harpo Marx (Pinky), Zeppo Marx (Bob Roland), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Teasdale), Edgar Kennedy (venditore), Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal), Louis Calhern (Trentino). Prod.: Herman J. Mankiewicz per Paramount Pictures · 35mm. D.: 68’. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Considered by many to be the purest distillation of the Marx Brothers on film (no piano playing or harp solos), Duck Soup, along with The Awful Truth, is probably McCarey’s most frequently viewed film today. That said he actively tried to avoid working with the team, having just had some ups and downs with producer Samuel Goldwyn while doing the Eddie Cantor vehicle The Kid from Spain (1932), and ultimately didn’t have fond memories of the shooting – citing that it was impossible to get and keep all the Marxes on the set at the same time, plus feeling that too much of the humor was based on dialogue. Despite his initial trepidations he did enjoy working with Harpo and created strong sight gag sequences with him – the most celebrated being the famous ‘mirror routine’. A sketch that dates back to stage plays of the 17th and 19th centuries, as we saw with Sittin’ Pretty (1924) it was filmed many times before, with the best known previous version done by Max Linder in his American feature Seven Years Bad Luck (1921). It was also performed by Harold Lloyd, Max Asher, and used by director Alice Guy in her 1912 Solax comedy His Double.

Not content to just be a traffic cop for the mad Marx antics, in addition to the trimming of the instrumental interludes McCarey’s influence can be strongly seen in the addition of Hal Roach regular Edgar Kennedy to the mix. Kennedy’s signature slow-burn and ‘tit for tat’ hat and peanut stand routines with Harpo and Chico, plus their extended doorbell difficulties getting into Margaret Dumont’s house, have echoes of his work with Stan and Ollie from the late 1920s. Even the title may have come from his Roach days as it was used for one of Laurel & Hardy’s first teamings in 1927. Despite its status today as a classic, Duck Soup was a boxoffice failure on its original release, leading the Marxes to leave Paramount and start a new phase of their career under the aegis of Irving Thalberg at MGM with A Night at the Opera (1935).

Steve Massa

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