Practically everybody wants a good laugh right now and “Duck Soup” should make practically everybody laugh. It is humorous in the typical Marx Bros. style, a style that happens to be popular. Picture should draw and please all over.
The laughs come often, too often sometimes, which has always been the case with Marx talkers, although in this instance more care appears to have been taken with the timing, since the step-on gags don’t occur as frequently as in the past. But a picture that contains enough howls to lose some of them without the losses being noticed needn’t fret.
Less gags this trip with more accent on ‘situation.’ That doesn’t hurt, either. Radio has killed all the good gags and is responsible for the present low caste of gagsters and gags. The shift to the ‘situation’ in this picture therefore is a relief besides being, for the Marxes, a means of changing the pace that will draw dividends for the boys in the future.
In place of the constant punning and dame chasing, “Duck Soup” has the Marxes madcapping through such bits as the old Schwartz Bros. mirror routine, so well done in the hands of Groucho, Harpo and Chico that it gathers a new and hilarious comedy momentum all over again.
Story is a mythical kingdom burlesque that could easily have been written by a six-year-old with dust in his eyes, but it isn’t so much the story as what goes with and on within it. Groucho is the prime minister, who takes his job as seriously as a judge in “Irish Justice,” and gives this champ of comedy dialog a veritable Yankee Stadium to work in. For his customary dowager-foil he has the high, wide and handsome Margaret Dumont, making it perfect for Groucho.
While Groucho soft pedals the verbal clowning for more physical effort this time the other boys also make a quick change. Chico and Harpo omit their musical specialties, which should make it much easier for the piano and harp numbers the next time, if needed. Zeppo is simply Zeppo. Press sheet says, “Zeppo, despite his straight character, is a most important part of the team. He’s an expert gag man and is so splendid at imitating any one of the brothers, that should illness stop one from making an appearance, Zeppo can immediately take his place.” Clearing up that mystery.
Music and lyrics, through which much of the action is in rhyme and song, serve to carry the story along rather than to stand out on pop song merit on their own. Everything’s in keeping with the tempo of the production, the Marxes personally staying on top of the story at all times and on top of the music as well. The biggest slice of songwriting arrives in the heaviest production number, a satirical congressional or parliamentary session in which war is declared.
Everybody in the support cast, excepting Edgar Kennedy, plays straight to the Marxes. Kennedy has two swell sessions with Harpo and Chico.