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JulyDiaz

Duck Soup

Duck Soup  

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  1. 1. Does Duck Soup belong on the AFI List?

    • Yes 🥜
      8
    • No 🍋
      2

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  • Poll closed on 11/09/18 at 08:00 AM

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This week Amy & Paul hail the Marx Brothers' 1933 madcap comedy Duck Soup! They ask whether this is the first great comedy of the talkie era, parse the different comedic styles of the brothers, and praise Margaret Dumont as the perfect foil. Plus: Conan O’Brien joins the show to talk about why he loves the Marx Bros!

Don't forget to tune in to next week's special episode, where we answer all our listeners' burning questions and officially rank the first 25 films. Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts.

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Just started the episode but I must chime in, Kraken spiced rum is delicious and everybody should listen to Paul and try it.

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One thing that's interesting to me is Conan mentioning kids figuring out that The Simpsons baby carriage comes from The Untouchables but that scene in The Untouchables is referencing Battleship Potemkin.

I'm hoping someone can help me here. I know I saw a video of Chico dressed as Harpo on I've Got A Secret. The joke being that the panel had to figure out it wasn't actually Harpo because they look so similar when in costume. I've looked for this video a few times over the years and can't find it again. Does anyone know where I can watch it?

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Listening to Amy and Paul gush over Duck Soup makes me kind of wish their fathers showed it to me when I was a kid

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21 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

Listening to Amy and Paul gush over Duck Soup makes me kind of wish their fathers showed it to me when I was a kid

Quick aside, what comedies did our fathers show us when we were kids?

I know my father made me watch Monty Python and their movies and George Carlin when I was far too young to fully get them.

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I read Groucho's autobiography, he said their first four films were Broadway shows for about a year before filming. When they got to filming they'd honed all the jokes and slapstick routines. 

 

I recommend reading both Groucho and Harpo's autobiographies. There's a lot of interesting stories about them, vaudeville, and their family.

 

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Paul and Amy brought up what modern comedians were carrying on the tradition of the Marx brothers and I gotta ask, does anyone else think of Stella when they think of the modern Marx Brothers. I mean, the Stella live shows are one of the closest things to vaudeville I can think of in the last few decades and they have the kind of anarchistic comedy values that Paul, Amy, and Conan talk about. Also, Michael Ian Black is the first person I think of anytime anyone mentions a comedian looking right into the camera.

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I find it weird that Conan praises the movie for having a plot device to install Groucho as leader, but the first two or three minutes are just that (I.e. Freedonia is bankrupt and need Mrs. Teasdale’s money, but she will only give them the money they need if they install Firefly, a man she loves, as the new leader).

Although, to be fair, those first few minutes are pretty boring and he might have just forgot...

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I know Paul and Amy mentioned how they thought that Chico was a better actor because he seemed to play off people more. However I wonder how much of this is in part due to the different style of comedy they are doing. They are both playing characters but with slight different styles. Groucho's shtick is to be the fast talker cracking instant witty replies. This results in scenes when it doesn't seem like he's interacting as much as he is simply reacting. However, Chico is playing a bit more broad character who because of his persona isn't a fast talker. He gets to have one lines and stretch jokes out. As a result he gets to act a bit more. He can take his time and gets to set a pace and timing to his jokes that Groucho doesn't. The way I saw it in this film the three brothers (sorry Zeppo) each has a distinct style of comedy. There is some slight overlap but each has their own style and type. Who's to say if the roles were switched if things wouldn't be different?

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There's no explanation of how or why Firefly was the choice.  He's just chosen.  I think that's what Conan meant, and the type of thing a studio note would probably fix nowadays.

Also this opening scene where Teasdale demands him is one minute long, before it gets straight to his welcoming reception. It's not much of a plot device. I just rewatched and there's no mention of her loving him or anything.  She only calls him a "progressive fearless leader" and then bam, swirling newspapers declaring him the leader.

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43 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

Quick aside, what comedies did our fathers show us when we were kids?

I know my father made me watch Monty Python and their movies and George Carlin when I was far too young to fully get them.

My parents didn't really make me watch comedies that I recall. I remember my mom pushing Monty Python because my dad liked it (and I didn't really get it). I do remember watching Sledge Hammer! with my dad but I'm not sure he brought that to me so much as we both came to it at the same time. My parents and I have very different senses of humor though and maybe this is why. They didn't show me funny movies. 

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

There's no explanation of how or why Firefly was the choice.  He's just chosen.  I think that's what Conan meant, and the type of thing a studio note would probably fix nowadays.

Also this opening scene where Teasdale demands him is one minute long, before it gets straight to his welcoming reception. It's not much of a plot device. I just rewatched and there's no mention of her loving him or anything.  She only calls him a "progressive fearless leader" and then bam, swirling newspapers declaring him the leader.

I didn’t say it was much of a plot device, just that it was one. And in my opinion, far more shoe-horned in - and feels much more like a studio note - as it’s a bunch of characters we don’t know literally telling what’s going on and what’s about to happen. Conan made it sound like there was zero exposition and that we were just dropped into this world where Groucho was the leader. If that were the case, the first minute (sorry, I didn’t bother to double check) would have been cut.

I though someone said she loved him. My mistake.

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I dunno, I guess. I do take it as us being dropped straight into this world. And while you can see it as characters telling us what will happen, we also have NO idea who Rufus T. Firefly is when they are saying these things. So it's not really that expository. If anything, calling him a 'progressive fearless leader' is a bit of a misdirect, not any actual exposition.

Personally I'd have liked a fuller, stronger opening, something to set up why/how Teasdale is so adamant for him. (The love bit may have come later in the film, not sure.) But I take Conan's point, it's a strange and flippant intro, and in its own way, brave. But perhaps it simply relies on viewers knowing who Groucho and his persona are (perhaps that's fair, and everyone watching in 1933 did).

I only mentioned the minute because I wanted to note: it's real quick, doesn't say much, and then they get straight to Marx Brothers lunacy.

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59 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I dunno, I guess. I do take it as us being dropped straight into this world. And while you can see it as characters telling us what will happen, we also have NO idea who Rufus T. Firefly is when they are saying these things. So it's not really that expository. If anything, calling him a 'progressive fearless leader' is a bit of a misdirect, not any actual exposition.

Personally I'd have liked a fuller, stronger opening, something to set up why/how Teasdale is so adamant for him. (The love bit may have come later in the film, not sure.) But I take Conan's point, it's a strange and flippant intro, and in its own way, brave. But perhaps it simply relies on viewers knowing who Groucho and his persona are (perhaps that's fair, and everyone watching in 1933 did).

I only mentioned the minute because I wanted to note: it's real quick, doesn't say much, and then they get straight to Marx Brothers lunacy.

No, that’s cool. I think you’re right in that having the foreknowledge that it was going to be Groucho kind of filled in some gaps. I’m just saying it doesn’t live in a completely “plot point free continuum.” It’s pretty lean, but it’s there.

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I think my issue with Duck Soup, and the thing I brought up in my Letterboxd review, is with the countless of movies available to me, I don’t know if it exactly transcends to the point of “best of all time.” It’s great. It’s clever. It’s funny. But as they touched on in the episode, that’s pretty much all its got going on. The acting, direction, and cinematography are all just kind of fine. The plot is basically non-existent. What I expect from a “Best of All Time” type movie is something that can play more than one note.

So, while I think DS is great and everyone should definitely watch it, I feel like it isn’t quite multidimensional enough to be included on a “Best of” list - unless that list is specifically for Comedies.

I keep wanting to pick another comedy that could replace it on the list, and while I’m not exactly sure why, my brain keeps wanting to suggest Coming to America and/or Groundhog Day.

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Hey if you’re like Paul and you miss Filmstruck go check if your local library card gives you access to Kanopy.com, lots of colleges and libraries are members and it also carries the Criterion collection as well as a well curated list of more popular films. Hope this helps some of you!!

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What I keep coming back to as I think about Duck Soup is something Conan said about it being "comedy just for comedy's sake." This was always why I liked Conan's show so much (I grew up on his show, it was huge for me). And it's what I like most about Duck Soup. But Duck Soup is jokes. Funny jokes. Slapstick jokes. Wordplay jokes. Visual film jokes.  Mean finger-pointing jokes. Self-deprecatory jokes.  Vaudeville, stand-up, situational, improv, musical.  You name the type of comedy, they did it and did it better than nearly everyone.  It's unbound to logic or story, which sure, is weird and takes getting used to, but pulling that off is WHY this should be on the list, imo. 

I wouldn't even say it's my favorite comedy, or even top-10, probably due to it just being old; but I think this is such an impressive task to make work, it should be there.  There's no Airplane! without it, nor Eddie Murphy's 'too cool for the surroundings' persona, nor Monty Python's punchline-less madness, etc.: all these things we idolize today stem straight from these insane Marx Bros. movies.

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1 hour ago, twinpines said:

Hey if you’re like Paul and you miss Filmstruck go check if your local library card gives you access to Kanopy.com, lots of colleges and libraries are members and it also carries the Criterion collection as well as a well curated list of more popular films. Hope this helps some of you!!

Amazing, thank you!

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

I keep wanting to pick another comedy that could replace it on the list, and while I’m not exactly sure why, my brain keeps wanting to suggest Coming to America and/or Groundhog Day.

When I made a list a couple years ago of my favorite 25 films over 25 years old, Groundhog Day was the only comedy on the list above Duck Soup.  It really really should get more praise than it does.  I'd also say What's Up, Doc? should get consideration, although it's largely a tribute to the type of humor the Marx brothers utilized.  And of course, I also very much think Duck Soup belongs on the list.

 

7 hours ago, Cam Bert said:

Quick aside, what comedies did our fathers show us when we were kids?

Duck Soup was definitely one of them.  The Paramount Marx brothers films were on TV some weekend, and my dad made sure to record them with the VCR so we could watch over and over.  His favorites were Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers.  I was never into Animal Crackers as much, and Horse Feathers was my favorite as a kid, but when I revisited them in college or so, I realized that Duck Soup is the one that keeps me laughing the most from beginning to end.

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

I think my issue with Duck Soup, and the thing I brought up in my Letterboxd review, is with the countless of movies available to me, I don’t know if it exactly transcends to the point of “best of all time.” It’s great. It’s clever. It’s funny. But as they touched on in the episode, that’s pretty much all its got going on. The acting, direction, and cinematography are all just kind of fine. The plot is basically non-existent. What I expect from a “Best of All Time” type movie is something that can play more than one note.

So, while I think DS is great and everyone should definitely watch it, I feel like it isn’t quite multidimensional enough to be included on a “Best of” list - unless that list is specifically for Comedies.

I keep wanting to pick another comedy that could replace it on the list, and while I’m not exactly sure why, my brain keeps wanting to suggest Coming to America and/or Groundhog Day.

Echoing what AlmostAGhost (and Paul and Amy) said, I think this is more than one note. Each Marx brother has a distinct comedy they specialize in. They have overlap (except Harpo needs to work on his wordplay). I guess the is an overall zany tone that stays with the movie that I guess could qualify as one note. But I think that note is "Marx brothers"

I'll 100% agree on Coming To America and Groundhog Day getting included though. I'm not sure we need multiple Marx Brothers movies (though I remember liking Horse Feathers a lot). And there's nothing on this list like Coming To America and Groundhog Day.

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24 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

Echoing what AlmostAGhost (and Paul and Amy) said, I think this is more than one note. Each Marx brother has a distinct comedy they specialize in. They have overlap (except Harpo needs to work on his wordplay). I guess the is an overall zany tone that stays with the movie that I guess could qualify as one note. But I think that note is "Marx brothers"

I'll 100% agree on Coming To America and Groundhog Day getting included though. I'm not sure we need multiple Marx Brothers movies (though I remember liking Horse Feathers a lot). And there's nothing on this list like Coming To America and Groundhog Day.

I mean, it's a fine comedy, but there's no pathos. There's no emotional center. And I think this goes back to what Conan was saying about (oh, I'm going to fuck this up) sentimentality (Chaplin) vs Anarchy (Marx Bros). For me, a good drama has elements of comedy and a good comedy should have elements of drama. That's what I mean by "one note." So, yes, there are different styles of comedy in it,  but it's still, essentially, a zany comedy. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. That doesn't make it bad. But without that depth of scope, I don't know how it can be considered "the greatest." It has really good jokes, but so does Airplane!. 

Furthermore, as I said before, Duck Soup isn't doing anything terribly compelling from a filmmaking perspective. The cinematography and direction are both pretty basic. There aren't any great leaps in technique - aside from it being a talking comedy. I'm just asking, besides "The Marx Bros are some funny dudes," why does this deserve to be on the list? 

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Duck Soup (and all the Marx Bros films up to it) led the development of how to tell jokes from a filmmaking perspective.  Prior to this, we had Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who were obviously brilliant but mostly silent.  Even in the first Marx movies, they were sort of just recreating a stage experience.  But Duck Soup advanced that.  In 1933, film had just advanced past silent, and they're learning on the fly how to make comedies and be funny on this new medium of non-silent film. 

So think the visual things like... how they introduce Groucho or Harpo into the film, how they surprise with the tattoo close-up, shooting the mirror scene, on and on.  Telling comedy via film was not done like this before Duck Soup.  That's where the landmark status lies.  You call that stuff 'basic' and maybe so, but the bases have to come from somewhere.

It's like pre-Beatles, post-Beatles.  They defined convention by defying it.

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37 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Duck Soup (and all the Marx Bros films up to it) led the development of how to tell jokes from a filmmaking perspective.  Prior to this, we had Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who were obviously brilliant but mostly silent.  Even in the first Marx movies, they were sort of just recreating a stage experience.  But Duck Soup advanced that.  In 1933, film had just advanced past silent, and they're learning on the fly how to make comedies and be funny on this new medium of non-silent film. 

So think the visual things like... how they introduce Groucho or Harpo into the film, how they surprise with the tattoo close-up, shooting the mirror scene, on and on.  Telling comedy like this via film was not done like this before Duck Soup.  That's where the landmark status lies.  You call that stuff 'basic' and maybe so, but the bases have to come from somewhere.

I suppose, but had they not done it, someone else would have. It's not like they directed it. It's revolutionary because it was the first, not because it it was groundbreaking. No one knows - or really cares - who hit the first home run. It's not that it's not important, but it's more of a foot note. What people care about are people like Micky Mantle and Babe Ruth. People who elevated it to an art form. (Not that this isn't art.) 

Something like 2001 and Star Wars required people to invent new ways of doing new things, but I feel like Duck Soup was inventing new ways so they could do the same things. I can't say that Psycho would still exist if wasn't for Alfred Hitchcock or Citizen Kane without Orson Welles.

And, again, I'm not shitting on Duck Soup. However, I will say that, in my personally rankings, it's right on the cusp of movies that I think should be kept and movies that, aren't necessarily bad, but ones I probably wouldn't shed a tear for if they got dropped.

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