Duck Soup

Released November 17, 1933, by Paramount, 35mm black and white negative, 1.37:1 screen ratio, mono sound, 69 mins.

Groucho, Chico, Harpo Marx


  • Directed by Leo McCarey (also was director of Laurel & Hardy)
  • Screenplay by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby
  • Additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin
  • Cinematography by Henry Sharp
  • Art direction by Hans Dreier and Wiard Ihnen
  • Music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby
  • Cast:

  • Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly, President of Freedonia
  • Harpo Marx as Pinkie, silent chauffer, spy, peanut seller
  • Chico Marx as Chicolini, spy with an accent
  • Zeppo Marx as Bob, straight man secretary to Firefly
  • Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Teasdale, wealthy widow
  • Louis Calhern as Trentino, Ambassador from Sylvania
  • From left, Chico, Groucho and Harpo Marx in 1997 PBS special, from NYT
  • Edgar Kennedy as Lemonade seller
  • Raquel Torres as Vera Marcal, dancer-spy a la Mata Hari
  • Edwin Maxwell as 1st Minister of War
  • William Worthington as 1st Minster of Finance
  • Notes:

    This film is a sound comedy set in the mythical country of Freedonia ruled by President Firefly who fails at diplomacy with Ambassador Trentino who wants to take over the country and ends up at war with Sylvania. The Marx brothers span the history of the mass media in the 20th century, from vaudeville to theater, film, radio and TV. They were born into a show business family led by mother-promoter Minne: Chico (born Leonard in 1891), Harpo (born Adolph in 1893), Groucho (born Julius in 1895), Zeppo (born Herbert in 1901), and Gummo (born Milton in 1904). Their nicknames reflect the influence of newspaper comic strips at the time, especially Charles Mager's Sherlocko, the Monk (1910) whose characters idiosyncrasies were reflected in their names. Their vaudeville act travelled the country 1909-1924 and emphasized music (Gummo's mandolin), ethnic/dialect skits (Chico's Italian "at 's good"), pantomine (Harpo's gookie face), makeup (Groucho's greasepaint mustache) and costumes/props (Harpo's trenchcoat with sleeves full of knives). They were blacklisted from the vaudeville circuit by Keith-Albee after an unpopular trip to England in 1922 and decided to move to theater. Their first musical comedy revue show was I'll Say She Is in 1923 that opened on Broadway May 19, 1924, followed by touring shows of George Kaufman's Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. They became part of the New York comedy art group centered around Alexander Woollcott's Algonquin Round Table and Harold Ross's new magazine The New Yorker. They filmed Kaufman's plays at Paramount's Astoria, N.Y., studio using the new sound cameras. Their first film Cocoanuts, set in a Florida hotel, was released in 1929 and Animal Crackers, about Long Island high society, was released in 1930. Their mother's death and the Crash of 1929 ended their theater careers (and their personal fortunes of $250,000 each) and they went to Hollywood for 3 more Paramount films: Monkey Business (1931), set on an ocean liner, Horse Feathers (1932), about college football, and Duck Soup (1933) about government and war. Their contract for these films paid a salary of $200,000 and 50% of the net profits. These films also were improved by studio talent, especially teams of scriptwriters under Paramount's Herman Mankiewicz. Their success was marked by a Time cover August 15, 1932, the radio shows Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel in late 1932 and The Marx of Time in 1933, an attempt to form their own production company in April 1933 to adapt Kaufman's Of Thee I Sing for film, and Harpo's trip to Russia in November 1933 as a goodwill ambassador of the United States. In September 1934 they left Paramount for MGM, making A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day At the Races (1937) for Irving Thalberg who tried to add more conventional plot to the zany antics of the brothers.


    revised 3/7/01 by Schoenherr | on reserve | Filmnotes