This was the fifth and last movie The Marx Brothers made for Paramount. In the other Paramount movies, Groucho is usually put in a position of power. Hotel manager, Explorer, the Dean of a college but in this one he actually runs a country.
While Groucho who plays Rufus T. Firefly is president of Freedonia, Harpo and Chico play Pinky and Chicolini who are spies for a rival country named Sylvania. Freedonia is near bankruptcy and Sylvania trying to take it over. Rufus declares war and manages to get Pinky and Chicolini on Freedonia’s side.
In later MGM movies, The Marx Brothers were sympathetic figures. In this film, they were the definition of anarchy. The Brother’s irreverence is raised many notches in this movie than any other they did.
The film did not do great at the box office in 1933…but has since become a classic. Personally, I like the Paramount movies the best. Their most successful movie was “A Night At The Opera” which was their first at MGM and it was produced by Irving Thalberg. Yes, it had more of a plot and the Brothers were great but were a bit tamer.
Margaret Dumont is brilliant as always as Groucho’s straight “man.”
If you want a great comedy watch this movie…you may even find out the answer to the burning question of “what is it that has four pair of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours?”…. well maybe you won’t…but watch it anyway.
Trying to explain the plot is almost like trying to describe in detail about a bomb exploding. In the Paramount movies, the plot was secondary to the Brothers running rampant.
Things were not great in the world while they were filming this movie. Below Harpo talks about working on the movie.
Harpo from “Harpo Speaks” about working on Duck Soup.
Acting in Duck Soup, our last picture for Paramount, was the hardest job I ever did. It was the only time I can remember that I worried about turning in a bad performance. The trouble was not with the working hours, the script, the director, or the falls I had to take (I never used a stunt man or a double). The trouble was Adolf Hitler. His speeches were being rebroadcast in America. Somebody had a radio on the set, and twice we suspended shooting to listen to him scream. Hindenburg had died. Hitler was now absolute dictator of Germany. He threatened to scrap the Versailles Treaty and create a German navy and air force. He threatened to grab off Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. He threatened to go beyond the boycott and revoke the citizenship of all Jews.
I never knew until then what the emotion of pure anger was like, how it felt to be sore enough to want to hit somebody in cold blood. A lot of people I knew were shocked that I was so shocked. Nothing would really come of the dictator’s threats, they said. He was all bluff and hot air. His act was nothing more than a bad imitation of that other comic, Mussolini.