Duck Soup (Umbrella) (1933) (NTSC)
|Category||Comedy||Featurette-The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos (79:53)|
|Year Of Production||1933|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Leo McCarey|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The small country of Freedonia is bankrupt but wealthy widow Mrs Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) will only lend them more money on the condition that Rufus T Firefly (Groucho Marx) is made leader. Firefly arrives at the welcoming function with his secretary Bob Roland (Zeppo Marx) and takes an instant dislike to Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of the neighbouring state of Sylvania. It is not unfounded; Trentino plans to take over Freedonia and has planted dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres) with Mrs Teasdale. Trentino has also hired Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) as spies to follow Firefly and gather any dirt they can find to discredit him. As the countries drift towards war, Trentino tasks Vera, Pinky and Chicolini with stealing Freedonia’s war plans from Mrs Teasdale, but with Rufus T Firefly in change of Freedonia’s army any plans may be superfluous!
Duck Soup, released in 1933, is the last of five films The Marx Brothers made for Paramount and the last film in which Zeppo Marx appeared with his brothers. The film did okay at the box office, although not as well as their previous film Horse Feathers, and was not particularly welcomed by critics at the time. However, the reaction to Duck Soup has certainly blossomed since then and it is now considered by many to be the best Marx Brothers’ film and it features regularly on “100 best comedy” lists; currently on rottentomatos.com it has a 94% critics approval rating and 91% audience.
Duck Soup is different to the Marx Brothers’ films which preceded it in a number of ways. The sets are huge and elaborate, there is no love interest, no piano solo by Chico or harp solo by Harpo while the songs all involve the brothers and are integrated into the plot. There is also a fair amount of stock footage of tanks and soldiers during the war sequences, not to mention footage of elephants, monkeys, runners, swimmers and fire engines coming to Freedonia’s aid near the end. War is no laughing matter, especially with memories of the Great War still fresh and the rise of Fascist governments in Italy and Germany fuelling isolationism in a US already in the midst of the Great Depression, so this may have accounted for the reception of Duck Soup at the time.
But, given distance, Duck Soup is hilarious, packing more genuine laugh out loud moments into its 68 minute running time than almost any film I can think of. There are constant puns, quips, double meanings, mostly directed by Groucho at his favourite target Margaret Dumont, who makes a welcome return after two films away, non-sequiturs, physical slapstick involving answering a telephone or a changing hats routine and a wonderful sequence involving Harpo “reflecting” Groucho in a non-mirror. There is also some very funny dialogue between Chico and Ambassador Trentino as he tries to explain what they have been doing on the job.
Duck Soup is a genuine gold star comedy classic, the brothers at their most maniacal, surreal and anarchic. 85 years after being made it effortlessly holds its own against pretty much all comers.
Duck Soup is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio using the NTSC code. The IMDb gives 1.37:1 as the original ratio. It is presented Full Frame on this DVD.
With its huge sets and some stock footage, Duck Soup is not always as clear as other films in this set and in wideshots looks quite soft. However, it is a definite improvement over the previous release of the film that was reviewed on this site here where the reviewer noted, among other things, artefacts in great numbers with a full set of scratches, marks, dirt, tramlines, and in some places stains. In contrast, this print, although it cannot be compared to that of a modern film, has strong detail in close-ups, mostly solid blacks (although Groucho’s coat in part of the welcome sequence is grey), pleasant grain and decent contrast. I did not see any obvious marks or artefacts.
English subtitles for the hearing impaired are provided in a large, light yellow, text.
Audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 384 Kbps.
This is a predictably tinny sounding audio, especially during some of the songs, but dialogue is clean and effects such as gunfire and explosions reasonable.
There is no credit for the music given, but the IMDb gives the credit to John Leipold. The film does however credit Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar with the lyrics and music.
I noticed no lip synchronisation issues.
|Surround Channel Use|
The silent menu allows for a selection of Duck Soup or the featurette The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos.
Made in 2016, this documentary consists of film clips, black and white photographs, posters and comments by a range of film historians, critics, authors, academics, screenwriters, Bill Marx (Harpo’s son), Andy Marx (Groucho’s grandson), talk show host Dick Cavett and film critic / historian Leonard Maltin. Items discussed include what made the brothers unique, their roots in vaudeville, the influence of their mother, the personality and character of each brother, their move into films and relocation to Hollywood, the Great Depression and the development of their act through the five films they made for Paramount. Zeppo leaving the act, their move to MGM and subsequent decline is only covered briefly before some discussion on the brothers’ rediscovery by another generation in the 1960s. Decent.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Duck Soup has been around a while and there have been a number of home entertainment releases during that time including the version mentioned above. Perhaps the closest equivalent to this The Marx Brothers Collection is a similar collection in the US of the brothers’ first five films which includes short archival interviews with Harpo, Groucho and Harpo’s son William but does not include the The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos documentary. To my mind this featurette gives our release the edge as far as DVD is concerned.
There is also a Region B UK Blu-ray box set from Arrow that includes the same 5 films, audio commentaries for each and extras including the Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos documentary.
Duck Soup is both The Marx Brothers’ last film for Paramount and the last all four brothers made together, as after Duck Soup Zeppo left to pursue other interests. Although the content is rather more serious than earlier films, it is a fitting finale for the four brothers as it is hilarious and full of puns, quips, double meanings, non-sequiturs and slapstick that still stands up very well today. Duck Soup is included in The Marx Brothers Collection from Umbrella, which has the first five feature films made by the brothers, allowing us to watch and appreciate their zany, anarchic humour on film.
The Marx Brothers Collection includes The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930) on one DVD, Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932) on another and Duck Soup plus the featurette The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos on the third.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|