Monday, 7 January 2013

Classic Films: Duck Soup

"He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot." - Groucho Marx
Comedy is something that really doesn't seem suited to the feature length presentation. Looking through the AFI's list of top 100 comedies, of the films I've seen on that list, very few I would consider good because they were funny (that's not to say they weren't good films). Aside from Monty Python's Holy Grail and Blazing Saddles, there's very few comedies I'd watch for their comedic value. For me, a stand-up show or TV are better avenues for laughs (I write this as I'm rewatching Seinfeld for the Nth time).

Comedy was at the focus of this film. Jokes were coming as quick as they could be delivered, especially when Groucho was talking. And if one joke fell flat, there was always another on its way. Some of the jokes did indeed fall flat, but there were quite a few hilarious ones too. The delivery of the final confrontation with the ambassador was superb. The visual gags were more hit than miss, including the wonderful mirror scene. I was surprised that they could get away with an implicit reference to bestiality in 1933!

I might blame sitcoms for modern films trying to do comedy with facile attempts for plausibility, and I think they suffer for it. Duck Soup didn't leave us wondering how on earth someone like Mr Firefly could just get put into a position of power, or why two incompetents (including one who turned everything into a visual gag) were given the task of being a spy. Nor were we wondering why that poor vendor needed to have his hat set on fire twice.

I was curious to find out after seeing the movie that the Marx Brothers first began in the Vaudeville and on Broadway before making films. The film, especially early on had that theatrical flavour to it - complete with a musical number or two just for the sake of it. Entertaining, but something that seems largely lost to modern cinema outside of Mel Brooks films. I do wonder if the film's comedy was partly a relic of the silent film era, or that comedy of this style is better suited to stand-up routines. In either case, modern comedies don't resemble this apparent historically significant comedies, and in my opinion that's a pity.

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