Duck Soup (1933)

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

The late 1920s until the early 1930s was an era of debauchery in Hollywood filmmaking. In the brief period after the advent of “talkies,” but before the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guideline, there was a period that glamorized sex and violence, in which cynical wisecracks, sexual innuendo, and socially dangerous comic style reigned supreme. In this Pre-Code era, no group was more symbolic of the rapid-fire, non-stop comedic banter than the Marx Brothers.

Their sixth film adventure, “Duck Soup,” sees Rufus T. Firefly (portrayed by actor Groucho Marx) become the head of the small, bankrupt country of Freedonia and the hijinks that ensue as he tries (and fails) to comport himself as a statesman. Harpo and Chico Marx play the incompetent spies, Pinky and Chicolini, who are sent by the neighboring country of Sylvania to spy on Firefly. The entire film is rife with ridicules of war and nationalism as well as sexual comedy and physical humor.

“Duck Soup” contains several noteworthy scenes that should be mentioned. Most notably is the “mirror scene” in which Pinky, dressed as Firefly, hilariously pretends to be Firefly’s reflection in a missing mirror. This particular gag has been parodied in countless comedy films and cartoons since, including Looney Tunes, Mickey Mouse, and The Pink Panther. Also worth noting is the street vendor confrontation in which Pinky and Chicolini harass a lemonade seller with hilarious results. From beginning to end, the rapid fire comedic style of the Marx Brothers will have you in hysterics.