Duck Soup released
While today the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup is considered a highpoint of classic Hollywood, on its release in 1933, it was a commercial flop that pushed Paramount to terminate its contract with the fraternal funnymen. In 1929, based on the success of the Marx Brothers’ Broadway comedies, Paramount signed them to a multiple picture deal. And for the next four years, the siblings’ zany antics hung together by some slender plot conceits proved box office gold. In each, the boys meet around some central place: In The Cocoanuts (1929), they take over a Florida hotel; in Animal Crackers (1930), a Long Island estate; in Monkey Business (1931), an ocean liner; in Horse Feathers (1932), a small college. But in Duck Soup ––which went through many titles: Firecrackers, then Cracked Ice, then Grasshoppers––the brothers take over the government of Freedonia, a fictitious small country on the verge of war. Critics, for the most part, got the joke. The New York Daily News punned, “If you like duck soup try the hot and spicy dish which the Rivoli introduced to Broadway yesterday…Four different kinds of nuts give it its special peculiar flavor…it is the funniest of the Marx Brothers’ productions.” But theater audiences did not find the film funny; indeed some were offended. While few Americans picked up on the film’s political allusions, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini did and had the film banned in Italy. (Of course, Groucho later commented on the film’s political import by saying, “What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh.") Elsewhere, the city of Fredonia, New York complained that the mythic land of Freedonia was too close for comfort. Groucho Marx snapped back, "Change the name of your town, it's hurting our picture." In the end, of course, Groucho got the last laugh, as Duck Soup was entered on the AFI list of the 100 greatest films.