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The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup

The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup  

Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo will soon be seen in 4K quality. Here’s a look at some of their most tireless routines

I found the Marx Brothers rather late in life, in my teens. I had begun like everybody else with Charlie Chaplin, enjoyed some of the Laurel and Hardy films, thrilled to the virtuosity of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton and was amazed by Jacques Tati. The gentle naughtiness of Benny Hill and the Carry On team appealed to my prurient side, but for some reason I kept putting off my Marx discovery, though the VHS tapes were loaded and ready. Finally one evening, having run out of everything comic to watch, I popped in the tape of A Night at the Opera (1935). The sight gags were funny enough, but what really appealed to me were the absurdist humour and the rat-a-tat dialogue delivery, particularly by Groucho Marx. I could recount some of the plot here, but that’s pointless, as most of the classic Marx Brothers movies are just frames to hand endless gags and quips on.

Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo Marx are the five Marx Brothers, but is its indubitably Groucho with his painted-on moustache and thick glasses who is the star of the show. Going back to A Night at the Opera and its absurdist humour, Groucho plays Otis B. Driftwood, the shyster business manager of the rich lady Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont). He stands her up on a dinner date and is having it with another woman, but being Groucho, he brings the other woman to the same restaurant and sits behind Mrs Claypool. Of course, he is discovered, but his recovery is classic:

Otis B. Driftwood: That woman? Do you know why I sat with her? Because she reminded me of you.

Mrs. Claypool: Really?

Otis B. Driftwood: Of course, that’s why I’m sitting here with you. Because you remind me of you. Your eyes, your throat, your lips! Everything about you reminds me of you. Except you. How do you account for that? If she figures that one out, she’s good.

After that it became my mission to seek out and watch all the Marx Brothers movies, though the humour became a tad tired and forced as the years wore on. But I return to an earlier classic, Duck Soup (1933) that I have mentioned a couple of times in passing in these pages before, to give you an example of vintage Marx. Here Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who is appointed leader of the bankrupt fictitious country of Freedonia upon the insistence of his patron Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont again). Though the entire film is a laugh riot for its brief 68-minute running time, I can never tire of watching the following passage again and again:

Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?

Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he’s dead.

Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.

Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.

Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.

Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.

Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.

Mrs. Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.

Rufus T. Firefly: Is that so? Can’t you see what I’m trying to tell you? I love you.

The good news is that Universal has completed 4K restorations of the essential Marx Brothers films. The bad news is that there is still no word on the Blu-ray release of the collection.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 2:14:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Full-Marx/article14555250.ece

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