Friday, 13 August 2010

Remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are.

No 135 - Duck Soup
Director - Lee McCarey

My knowledge of the Marx Brothers initially comes from Groucho Marx - as he is one of those comedians who are oft quoted on mugs and bookmarks. But it also stemmed from the Spitting Image Christmas performance of Peter and the Wolf - which was dead cultural and also really good. I didn't get any of the gags as a child. I just liked the puppets and the three Marx Brothers played the hunters. I have it somewhere on VHS - I must crack it out.

Well, this film is old, because here there are 4 (!) Marx Brothers. Though Zeppo doesn't really do anything besides turn up for the final song and dance number... I certainly don't remember him anywhere else in it.

What also surprised me was the sheer amount of exposition which occurs before any of the brothers appear. But eventually amongst all the glorious pomp and circumstance (because this seems to be a serious 30's film into which they've just plonked a bunch of anachronistic idiots)- out comes Groucho Marx.

Grouch Marx really is a pillar of comedy. He is so iconic that he became the blueprint for comedy disguises. In fact - a lot of the really great comedy comes from the fact that Groucho Marx is a really easy look to replicate. The scene in which Harpo and Chico are dressed as Groucho, and the three of them are creeping around trying not to be seen by the others is inspired. It culminates with a piece of visual humour that is still beyond genius. To think that 80 years on, this mirror routine is still a piece of comic perfection.

For all Groucho's excellent (and infamous) one-liners, the real comedy stems from the visual humour that is littered throughout - and most of this is due to the mute idiot shtick of Harpo. His humour is both surreal and timeless.
And whilst his penchant for cutting things and squeaking horns does seem odd, it gets funnier with repetition and by the end was making me laugh more than it was making me confused.

However the real triumph in this film is the visual subtlety and fabulous choreography that enables routines like the mirror or this scene of hat swapping to be completed with perfection.

Just a delight.

1 comment:

PhilH said...

I've been working very slowly through my Marx Brothers box set and this is one of the one's I've already watched. And probably the best one so far.