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Leo McCarey
Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont
Writing Credits:
Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby

Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 69 min.
Price: $59.98
Release Date: 10/18/2016

Available Only as Part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.

• Audio Commentary with Film Historians Leonard Maltin and Robert S. Bader
• “Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos” Documentary
• “Inside the NBC Vault” Interviews


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Duck Soup [Blu-Ray] (1933)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2017)

When I was younger, my Dad sometimes tried to convince me how terrific all the old-time movies were. 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, though, 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, WC 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 1933’s Duck Soup around 2001, I hadn't seen any Marx material in quite some time. 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, as all of the expected elements were there. That makes it typical Marx fare – which is probably a good thing.

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.

Like all Marx movies, Soup tends to be intermittently entertaining but inconsistent. Really, it functions 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 think it could use a tighter telling. The pacing seems haphazard and events flit about at random.

Many fans appear to like what they call the "anarchic" tone of the film, but I think it seems a bit unfocused. Perhaps this progression intends to serve the movie's spirit, but I think it simply makes the movie look sloppy.

In some ways, Duck Soup reminds me a lot of "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" movies like Airplane!. Gags fly fast and furious in both, but I don't think that "more” necessarily equals "better".

Flaws aside, Soup still has a lot going for it. Groucho's one-liners and quips remain solid, and the other brothers are fairly inoffensive.

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 uses that style, but I find his stereotypical Italian character to be less than stellar. 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 much less interest in the Marx Brothers.

Even with Groucho, I don’t feel completely enchanted by Duck Soup, but his presence makes it much more entertaining. Do I think it's one of the all-time great comedies? Nope, but it offers a good array of laughs.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

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

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