Friday, July 11, 2014

Duck Soup

Duck Soup
seen @ "Movies With a View" @ Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY

I hadn't seen Duck Soup in awhile, and what jumped out at me as I watched it last night was how uncharacteristic it looked for a 30s movie. Director Leo McCarey, who would go on to helm a number of other all-timers, including The Awful Truth, Going My Way and An Affair to Remember, engages in some lively - for 1933 - camerawork and editing.

Duck Soup is, of course, the hilarious Marx Brothers film in which they take over a fictitious country and unrestrained, cartoon lunacy ensues - and It is very much like a live-action cartoon; some scenes are pure fantasy. It starts out as a musical, but after the first fifteen minutes or so there are long stretches without songs. 

I'm never certain whether this movie would be better with more songs or less. I'd hate to cut an inspired sequence like that in the "going-to-war" song (I don't know the exact title), which is a great example of the visuals matching the madcap energy of the sequence: frenetic cutting back and forth from medium shots of the Marxes dancing and singing to wider angles of the court and everyone in it, matching the rhythm of the song.

And then in the film's final third act, the war itself, it's like sanity just went south. McCarey lets everything go: clothes change from one frame to the next, bullets and cannons take peculiar trajectories, and the jokes come non-stop. Duck Soup is so funny, I can even forgive Groucho's line about darkies - partly because the joke, in context, doesn't quite make sense. 

McCarey, in a time when film was re-defining itself with the advent of sound, is able to keep up with the lunacy and shape the visuals to match. The Marxes cut their teeth on the stage, in vaudeville, but here, their audience can process their gags, which are visual as well as verbal, in a form that captures their comic timing perfectly, on a larger canvas than the vaudeville stage.

Can I say a word or two about Margaret Dumont? I wonder if she gets as much credit as she deserves for being as game as she was for the Marxes' antics. I took a brief moment last night to examine her career on IMDB - outside of the Marx movies, she didn't do much of note. She was no comic grande dame like Marie Dressler. I wouldn't even go so far as to say she had any kind of chemistry with Groucho. She had a role in the Marx movies and she filled it, letting herself be mocked while trying to maintain a smidgen of dignity - and they must have loved her, because they went back to her time and time again.

I hadn't been back to Brooklyn Bridge Park since last summer. They added some new play space on a couple of the piers on the south end. I didn't have time to check it out, but it looks great. I'll have to come back at some point. This was the first movie in the series at the park this summer, and as usual, the lawn was nearly full two hours in advance of showtime. I bought four small oranges to go with my chips so I wouldn't feel too guilty about munching on snack food. The bugs were particularly annoying. Gonna have to bring bug spray with me to outdoor movies from now on. At least I had Ivan and Page to chat with on Twitter.

Look for photos from Brooklyn Bridge Park on my WSW Facebook page.


  1. I think this is my favourite Marx movie. Just a textbook example of how to be funny and outrageous on celluloid, perhaps because they didn't set out to create something great, they just made it so by accident.

  2. Yeah, this one's probably their epitome.


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