Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx
, Margaret Dumont, Raquel Torres, Louis Calhern, Edmund Breese
Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby
Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the greatest comedy act in history with The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. This essential DVD set features the legendary four Marx Brothers in five of their most acclaimed and best loved films – Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business, Animal Crackers and The Cocoanuts – the only five movies ever made with all four brothers together: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo!
Runtime: 69 min.
Release Date: 11/9/2004
Available Only as Part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.
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Duck Soup: The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (1933)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 11, 2004)
When I was younger, my Dad sometimes tried to convince me how terrific all the old-time movies were. (Actually, he still attempts to force his views on me.) As I age, I must admit that I see more merit in his arguments. I'll never be as fond of this material as he is, but I've come to enjoy more than a few older films.
Not that I always disagreed with his contentions, as there were some movies that we both seemed to like. Foremost among these were the works of the Marx Brothers. As a kid, other "old-time" comedians like Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, and Charlie Chaplin did nothing for me, but I rather enjoyed the Marx boys, mainly due to the presence of Groucho. Chico and Harpo I could live without, but Groucho's clever one-liners seemed like pretty sharp stuff.
When I watched it a few years ago, I hadn't seen any Marx material in quite some time before I checked out 1933's Duck Soup. In fact, before that I'd guess my most recent Marx experiences came with reruns of You Bet Your Life, the game show Groucho hosted in the Fifties.
Despite the fact I hadn't seen any Marx films in quite some time, I can't say anything about Duck Soup surprised me. All of the expected elements were there. As Rufus T. Firefly, newly appointed dictator of foundering Freedonia, Groucho supplies all of the quips that are fit to spout, while Chico and Harpo work as freelance spies for neighboring enemy Sylvania and provide their usual shtick.
I found the movie to be intermittently entertaining but inconsistent.
Really, it functioned more like a collection of skits than a cohesive movie. The film attempts to maintain a consistent plot about the sillier aspects of politics and warfare, but most of the time it simply provides tangentially related gags.
And they're fairly good gags, without a doubt, but I felt like the movie needed something more to make it genuinely worthwhile. The pacing seemed haphazard and events flitted about at random. Many fans appear to like what they call the "anarchic" tone of the film, but I didn't care for it. Perhaps this progression was meant to serve the movie's spirit, but I thought it simply made it look sloppy.
Frankly, I thought Duck Soup reminded me a lot of "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" movies like Airplane!. From some folks that might be a compliment, but not from me; I couldn't stand Airplane! and I dislike that kind of desperate-for-a-laugh style. Duck Soup clearly maintains a greater level of sophistication and intelligence than the sub-moronic Airplane!, but I felt the similarities existed. Gags flew fast and furious in both, but I don't think that "more” necessarily equals "better".
This doesn't mean I didn't like the film, as I thought it had enough going for it to make it worthwhile. Groucho's one-liners and quips remained solid, and the other brothers were fairly inoffensive. I guess I could never be a real Marx Brothers fan just because I don't much care for Harpo and Chico. For me, Groucho's the only appeal. The other two have some decent moments but too much of their work appears fairly inane to me. (Yeah, I’m ignoring Zeppo because he’s so pointless.)
When I think of Harpo, I simply can't expunge the sight of his pretentious harp playing. Ooh - he's not just a comic goofball, he's an artiste! Yeah, whatever. Add to this the fact my most dominant mental image of Harpo comes from his harp-plucking appearance on I Love Lucy - the show I feel is the most over-rated in the history of TV - and my reasons for disliking his shtick may seem more clear.
I'm not opposed to physical comedy, as it clearly has its place, but I'll always prefer verbal humor. I suppose that means I should like Chico, since he used that style, but I've always found his stereotypical Italian character to be unamusing. Frankly, I don't get it. I can't say I find his act offensive, but I simply don't think it serves much of a purpose.
Which puts me back right where I started: I like Groucho. Without him, I'd have absolutely no interest in the Marx Brothers. With him, I wasn't completely enchanted by Duck Soup, but his presence made it much more entertaining. Do I think it's one of the all-time great comedies? Nope, but I found it moderately enjoyable and witty.
The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus NA
Duck Soup appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Soup belied its age at times, but it usually looked quite good for a flick made more than 70 years ago.
Sharpness seemed somewhat spotty. Most of the movie presented acceptable definition, but occasional exceptions occurred. Some parts of the flick were a little soft and lacked terrific definition. Nonetheless, the film usually offered reasonably concise images. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I saw some minor edge enhancement through the movie.
Blacks came across well. At times the film appeared a little too bright, but those instances were infrequent. Instead, the contrast and balance were usually solid, as dark tones looked firm. Shadows also presented pretty well-delineated elements.
Considering the flick’s age, print flaws were surprisingly minor. The movie looked rather grainy at times, and I also saw sporadic examples of specks, grit, streaks, and various blotches. A few examples of frame jumps and distortions popped up as well. However, these mostly were isolated to transitions and optical shots, without many distractions on display through the majority of the movie. To my surprise, the second half of the movie looked dirtier than the first; that reversed the situation seen in the prior DVD.
Otherwise, in virtually every possible way, the visuals of the new Duck Soup DVD topped those of the prior edition. That one demonstrated softer visuals, weaker blacks and contrast, and substantially higher levels of source defects. I couldn’t call the new one flawless, but given the movie’s vintage, I thought it looked good enough to earn a “B-” for picture. That’s a big jump from the original’s “C-“.
Similar improvements greeted the monaural audio of Duck Soup. When we keep in mind that “talkies” only came into existence five years prior to this movie’s release, the sound satisfied. 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. Some hiss popped up along with occasional background noise elements. These stayed subdued in general, though.
Since the old Soup DVD was almost unlistenable, I regarded this one as a substantial improvement. Of course, one must interpret the “B-“ grade on a curve. I regarded this track as moderately above average when I considered the flick’s vintage. The new DVD’s audio certainly bettered the atrociously distorted and noisy track of the old one, which only mustered a “D” grade.
Only one supplement shows up on this disc. We get a trailer for Soup. Because the movie can be purchased only as part of a six-DVD package with one disc devoted to bonus materials, I didn’t give Soup or the other individual discs a grade for extras. I’ll rate the set’s supplements as a whole when I look at that platter.
Although I think the Marx Brothers were a decent comedy team, I must admit I really only like one part of the group: Groucho. He makes Duck Soup fairly entertaining, but I didn't think it ever rose above that level; it's a pretty good movie that I didn't feel threatened to become great just because it's too disjointed and incoherent. The DVD provides relatively good picture and audio. Fans of the film should feel pleased with this new edition of the movie, especially since it offers definite improvements in the sound and visual departments over the prior release.
Note that Universal currently offers Duck Soup only as part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. This six-disc set also includes The Cocoanuts, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers. The package provides one disc devoted to supplements as well.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5714 Stars
| Number of Votes: 7