Saturday, November 27, 2010

Timelessness: Duck Soup

Well, The Onion can do it more glibly with their review of the Marx Bros. collection and all, but for me and most folks, this is the big one. And I've given a lot of thought to the whole Marx Bros. thing. Or, perhaps not enough... Maybe just the right amount. This was on our TiVo and we all sat down and watched and laughed our asses off.
Anyway, there's two concurrent thoughts here. First of all, this is probably the quartet's thematic pinnacle, having built up to it in their previous four films. Somehow, dealing with a group of disgruntled hotel workers in The Cocoanuts, not as funny. Larger targets were in their sights. Animal Crackers: tackling the myth of the African hunter. Monkey Business: starting with the cruise ship half of A Night At The Opera and ending with a big finale in a barn... okay, bad example. Still, you gotta like Harpo's big scene at the passport checking point. Horse Feathers: college. And college football... right? Of course, for Groucho, playing "God" in Skidoo must've been a slight ego boost.
But secondly, for the brothers Marx, it always comes back to family. And loyalty. Groucho and Zeppo are the establishment, and Chico and Harpo the underdogs, all duking it out comedically. Hard to say who gets the upper hand in these things. Groucho usually wins with his sharp wit, but Chico manages to keep up pretty good, particularly the extended sequence in A Day at The Races where he manages to bilk Groucho out of six dollars selling him books on horse racing. But by the end of the movie, they're all on the same side, teamed up against the stiffs in the movie. In Duck Soup, the stiff is Ambassador Trentino... that lucky bastard! Him and Harold Lloyd, huh? Harpo is the source of two recurring jokes: cutting things with scissors, carrying around a big portable welder, the peanut stand... three... at least four recurring jokes: cutting things with scissors, the peanut stand, the welder/cigar lighter/flashlight, and driving off, leaving Groucho behind, with the comedy motorcycle and sidecar. The songs don't slow down the action too much, and Harpo's "harp" solo is cut short this time, but of course, there's the big comedic climax that's not even the end of the movie! Groucho and Harpo's mirror face-off. Everyone from Sesame Street to The X-Files have done an homage to this timeless bit of frivolity. Apparently, Max Linder did it first, though, in Seven Years Bad Luck. I'm kind of a stickler for originality, but still, in the long run, I think the Marx brothers did it better. Robert Osborne mentioned this time that the film's 77 years old, but I think modern audiences will be surprised by its rapid-fire editing and intelligent content, and I'm pretty sure they'll still be watching it 77 years from now and beyond. Is this not the marker of our era? What will we be watching and listening to centuries into the future? Probably not Wheeler and Woolsey, I'm thinking.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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