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Duck Soup

Year: 1933
Studio: Paramount
Director: Leo McCarey
Writer: Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby
Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont

Like James Bond, the Marx Brothers are an acquired taste. But if you don't find their hokey mixture of sarcasm and slapstick charming, a relic of a time when you not only couldn't swear but couldn't even employ camera angles that are possible today, you need an adjustment to your sense of humour.

Thankfully – and whether it just applies to good comedy in general because laughter is as universal as it is timeless – Duck Soup is (like all the films from the Marx golden era), very, very funny. Nowadays Harpo's childlike antics can grate a little bit after awhile, but all three get the stage equally, and the real magic happens watching the fast-talking Groucho. The dialogue when he's on screen is as endlessly quotable as that of the classic Zucker Brothers movies.

While not nearly as sweeping as Chaplin's The Great Dictator, it deals with similar themes of international relations, government and war. But where in Chaplin's film they were devices to make points alongside his Little Tramp show, to the Marx Brothers it's all narrative fodder to give them all a stage to do their thing.

Regular co-star Margaret Dumont is Mrs Teasdale, a rich socialite who's been underwriting the bankrupt country of Freedonia but refuses to donate any more unless the morally doubtful Rufus T Firefly (Groucho) is installed as leader.

Firefly issues dictums that makes no sense ('How would you like a job in the mint?' 'I no like-a mint, what other flavour they got?') when the whole time his plan is to marry Teasdale and get his hands on her wealth. But when the leader of neighbouring Sylvania threatens to undermine his plans Firefly promptly declares war on them.

Groucho's gatling gun wit is on full display, and (again, maybe just because of the timelessness of comedy, but probably more that it's just very funny), it's a testament to a film from the era that you want to watch it again and again.

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