Duck Soup: Classic romp is satire gold


Francesca Macera, Vice President


Elisabeth DiAngelis, Secretary and Historian

of the English and Communications Club


At the start of the twentieth century, actors Chico, Groucho, Harpo, and Zeppo Marx performed hilarious slapstick comedy routines that had audience members begging for more.  One of their funniest films is Duck Soup (McCrary, 1933), which tells the story of dictator Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), who runs a poverty-stricken land called Freedonia. It faces bankruptcy due to mismanagement and is on the verge of a revolution when Dowager Gloria Teasdale (Jean Durmont) promises to donate $20 million to the government if Firefly assumes leadership. His rival, Trentino (Louis Calhern), the Ambassador of Sylvania, a neighboring country, sends two spies, Pinky (Harpo) and Chicolini (Chico), to oust Firefly so that Trentino can take over Freedonia. After Pinky and Chicolini fail to collect noteworthy information about Firefly, the latter is appointed Secretary of War when Firefly sees him on the street selling peanuts. Soon, Bob Roland (Zeppo), the personal assistant to Firefly, suspects the motives of Chicolini and counsels Firefly to expel him by insulting him. War is declared upon Sylvania after Firefly learns the identities of the two spies in his household.

The title Duck Soup refers to a 1927 short film of the same name that director Leo McCrary made with comedians Laurel and Hardy. In addition, it is an archaic American phrase that means anything simple or easyor, alternately, a gullible individual. Duck Soup can be viewed as a political satire that demonstrates how a population succumbs naïvely to dictatorial rule. This herd instinct, which was prevalent in Europe in 1933, enabled fascist leaders to gain control and unleash chaos and brutality.  Accordingly, the movie acts as a caveat for what happens when people blindly trust their leaders, who may be corrupt and greedy for absolute power.

Although Duck Soup floundered at the box office upon its initial release, it went on to garner a cult following in the decades to come. In fact, in 1990, this culturally significant film was added to the Library of Congress. Throughout the movie, viewers will enjoy amusing scenes of the funniest and most popular routines that the Marx Brothers performed, routines which inspired comedians such as Lucille Ball. Pick up Duck Soup in Gabriele Library, and watch it to be entertained by the hilarious Marx Brothers.


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