Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
May 29
Duck Soup November 17, 1933
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.


More Flashbacks
Fury May 29, 1936
Fritz Lang's Fury

That Fritz Lang’s Fury opened in May 1936 to good reviews was a shock to the executives at MGM who released it.

Read more »
May 29, 1981
Polyester released

After a four-year hiatus, scandalous Baltimore director John Waters returned with some new, um, material on this day in 1981. Polyester marked Waters’ first film after completing his so-called “Trash Trilogy” – Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977) – and saw him move into more mainstream territory after that triptych’s shock tactics, most famously encapsulated in the moment in Pink Flamingos when Waters’ drag diva Divine eats freshly delivered doggie doo-doo.

Read more »