This Sunday, November 17th, marks the 80th anniversary of the release of the Marx Brothers' wildly influential Duck Soup. In celebration of this occasion, Jamison Webb, a Chicago-based writer and improvisor, organized a screening of the film on Sunday at 8:30pm at the Upstairs Gallery.
In advance of the screening, Jamison put together a complete history of the film, delving into the minutiae of its production, release, and reception.
Nov. 17, 1933: Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers’ fifth film, and the final one to feature Zeppo, is released by Paramount.
Nov. 23, 1933: In the New York Times review of Duck Soup, Morduant Hall writes, “this production is, for the most part, extremely noisy without being nearly as mirthful as [the Marx Brothers’] other films.” Morduant Hall is an idiot.
1990: Duck Soup is selected to the National Film Registry.
1991: A five-year-old boy in Cape Coral, Florida, sees an episode of Disney’s ‘TaleSpin,’ wherein one character acts like another character’s reflection in a mirror. He thinks it’s really funny.
1992: A six-year-old boy in Cape Coral, Florida, wakes up early one morning because he couldn’t sleep, turns the family room TV on to AMC, and sees A Night in Casablanca. He’ll later learn that it’s the Marx Brothers’ last proper feature (since 1950’s Love Happy isn’t considered a true Marx Brothers film because Groucho, Chico, and Harpo don’t appear in any scenes together) and a lesser one at that. But he still loves it and will catch it whenever it’s on that summer, thanks to TV Guide.
Summer 1993: A seven-year-old boy in Cape Coral, Florida, reads in a book that his grandfather owns that Duck Soup is the funniest Marx Brothers movie.
Winter 1993: A seven-year-old boy in Cape Coral, Florida, asks for and receives Duck Soup for his eighth birthday. He watches it immediately, rewinds it, and starts to watch it again. His mother comes in and politely reminds him that he has family who are in town for his birthday and he can always watch the movie later, so he should turn it off and rejoin the party. He does. He also realizes that TaleSpin completely ripped off that mirror thing.
1995: A nine-year-old boy in Cape Coral, Florida, wakes up in the middle of the night. Groucho Marx is sitting in the corner of his room. Is the boy dreaming? Is the ghost of Groucho visiting him? They talk for a few minutes and the boy falls back asleep. He will tell no one about this until years later, when is he writing a piece for a Chicago-based comedy blog.
2000: The American Film Institute names Duck Soup the fifth funniest American film of all time.
Spring 2002: A 16-year-old young man in Fort Myers, Florida, has been raving about Duck Soup to his close friends, and they finally agree to sit down and watch it with him. So after a dinner at TGI Fridays, they all go to a friend’s house, where the young man inserts his VHS copy of Duck Soup into a friend’s VCR, sits back to enjoy, and is subsequently devastated when they almost immediately start laughing at it and not with it, calling it old and corny and making condescending wah-wah trumpet sounds after Groucho’s lines. The young man is embarrassed and hurt, and he doesn’t really know why. He pops the VHS out of the VCR, and, despite his friends’ apologies and requests for him to stay, he goes home.
Winter 2002: A 17-year-old high school senior in the IB program in Fort Myers, Florida, has to choose the topic for his Extended Essay. He considers writing about how college students in the 1960s rediscovered Duck Soup as a masterpiece of anarchy but can’t find enough information to support a 4,000-word paper. So he instead writes about Communist propaganda hidden in Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s.
2007: The American Film Institute names Duck Soup the 60th greatest American film of all time. They’re wrong. It’s a much better movie than Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (#50).
2011: A 25-year-old man in Chicago, Illinois, is feeling down. So he spends a rainy Sunday afternoon watching Duck Soup, and he starts to tear up because he can’t believe such a perfectly ridiculous/ridiculously perfect movie exists. He will tell no one about this until years later, when is he writing a piece for a Chicago-based comedy blog.
2013: Duck Soup turns 80. A 27-year-old man in Chicago, Illinois, decides that this is worth commemorating, so he convinces one of his favorite places in the world to host a screening of the movie. He’s already thinking about how he’ll celebrate the film’s 100th birthday in 2033. He has an idea that involves a huge ballroom packed with lemonade stands and glassless mirrors. No harps or pianos will be allowed.