Politics may make strange bedfellows, but in 1933 it made the basis for the screwball comedy Duck Soup.   This classic Marx Brothers comedy is far more silliness than satire, and it still holds up very well today.

The fictional nation of Freedonia is almost bankrupt, but wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) is willing to give twenty million dollars to the country -- on the condition that they appoint modern thinker Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) as president.  He's more than happy to take the job, even as he sings about being worse than the last ruler.  He also sets about wooing Mrs. Teasdale: "Will you marry me?  Did he leave you any money?  Answer the second question first."
 For a bad guy, there's Trentino (Louis Calhern), ambassador to the neighboring country of Sylvania.  He wants to marry Mrs. Teasdale, but Firefly is always in the way.  So he hires two spies to dig up dirt on Firefly.  Unfortunately he winds up hiring two incompetents: Chicolini (Chico Marx) is more interested in selling peanuts than spying, while Pinky (Harpo) is a mute pickpocket busy cutting things off of people and tormenting a lemonade seller.  Along the way Firefly makes Chicolini his Secretary of War, there's lots back and forth between Firefly and Chicolini, and a war breaks out -- with Firefly changing uniforms for every scene!
 Far from political satire, Duck Soup is a combination of clever one-liners and exchanges, and broad slapstick humor.  There are plenty of famous lines from the movie (not to mention Harpo;s physical comedy and several sight gags -- including the famous mirror scene), and Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are all hysterical in their roles.  But the other actors exist almost as straight men (and, for Dumont, a straight woman) and Zeppo Marx is pretty boring as Firefly's secretary Bob Roland.  But goofy as the movie is, it also creates an amazing amount of laughter.  My one big disappointment is that there are no extras on the dvd; given the classis status this movie has achieved, I would have liked some commentary from its supporters, along with deleted scenes and interviews.  But despite that lack, Duck Soup is an really terrific comedy.
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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