Duck Soup appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Soup offered an erratic presentation.
The biggest issue, sharpness seemed somewhat spotty. Most of the movie presented acceptable definition, but exceptions occurred. This meant the movie could be more than a little soft at times, and it never came across as especially tight.
No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. With a nice layer of grain, I didn’t suspect any issues with digital noise reduction.
Blacks were largely adequate. They could seem somewhat inky but usually boasted reasonable depth. Shadows looked fine, though I thought contrast was a little off, as the image could appear a bit too bright.
Print flaws were never an issue. The transfer enjoyed a good clean-up and lacked any obvious marks of blemishes. Overall, this remained a satisfactory presentation but not a great one.
The film’s DTS-HD MA monaural audio was also spotty, though fine given the era. Speech showed slight edginess and never appeared natural, but dialogue remained consistently intelligible and without substantial problems. Effects also lacked much range, but they presented reasonably concise tones without much distortion.
Music followed suit, with restricted dynamics and some roughness. However, the songs never became terribly harsh and remained within the realm of acceptability for a movie from 1933. Background noise failed to be a concern. I thought the track was more brittle than I’d like, but it remained adequate.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the prior DVD from 2004? Audio was fairly similar – the Blu-ray removed the minor background noise but otherwise worked about the same. Visuals showed improvements, mainly due to the elimination of print flaws. Though I wasn’t blown away by the Blu-ray, I thought it worked better than the DVD.
I didn’t give the other individual discs a grade for extras – each included its own commentary but the majority of the supplements show up here alongside Duck Soup. This means the “Bonus” grade above covers the whole package, not just this one movie.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray, we find an audio commentary from film historians Leonard Maltin and Robert S. Bader. They sit together for a running, screen specific look at cast/crew, sets and locations, Marx history, trivia and production elements.
Overall, this commentary works pretty well, though it lacks consistency. At times, Bader and Maltin just watch the movie and laugh, so we get some definite lulls. Still, they offer enough useful material to make the track worth a listen.
Also new to the 2016 set, we get The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos. This one-hour, 19-minute and 57-second show involves notes from Maltin, Bader, film critic FX Feeney, TV producer David Mandel, Harpo’s son Bill Marx, film historians Anthony Slide, Dr. Drew Casper and Jeffrey Vance, talk show host Dick Cavett, movie screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Groucho’s secretary Steve Stoliar and Groucho’s grandson Andy Marx.
“Kings” looks at the family roots and how they got into show business, aspects of each brother, their move to films, aspects of their early years in movies and later events. Much of “Kings” becomes more “appreciation” than “history”, and that’s fine much of the time. I’d prefer a stronger documentary feel, though, as “Kings” offers reasonable informational value but nothing great.
Found on the old 2004 release, we get three Today Show Interviews. These present chats with Harpo Marx in 1961 (seven minutes, 15 seconds), Groucho Marx in 1963 (4:52), and William Marx in 1985 (4:39).
It’s misleading to refer to Harpo’s segment as an interview. The mute Marx remains silent and just clowns around while the hosts laugh and try to talk about Harpo’s autobiography. It’s nice to see this footage for archival reasons, but it’s not very interesting otherwise.
No one will find anything scintillating in Groucho’s chat, but it’s an improvement. He demonstrates his famous walk and also talks about casting Marilyn Monroe for Love Happy. That story’s pretty interesting, but we don’t get much else here in this short piece.
Lastly, William appears to commemorate the reissue of Harpo’s autobiography. He discusses his dad’s speaking voice and his behavior around the house. We also see some home movies and hear about life as a Marx child. It’s too brief to offer much insight, but it’s the most illuminating of the bunch.
Though many seem to view it as the Marx Brothers’ best, I’m not quite as high on Duck Soup. Still, it offers a reasonable array of laughs. The Blu-ray brings us acceptable picture and audio along with a few supplements. This ends up as a decent release for a fun movie.
Note that Universal currently offers Duck Soup only as part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. This three-disc set also includes Animal Crackers, The Cocoanuts, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers.
To rate this film, visit the 2004 DVD review of DUCK SOUP