A look back at this day in film history
November 28
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
Meet Me In St. Louis November 28, 1944
Meet Me in St. Louis opens in Technicolor

Opening November 28, 1944, Vincente Minelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis was one of the most commercially successful pictures of its day.

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November 28, 1938
Michael Ritchie born

Michael Ritchie, one of the most skilled yet underrated Hollywood directors of the 1970s, was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on this day in 1938.

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November 28, 1946
Dante's Divine Comedy of Horrors

In many ways, Joe Dante, born on this day 62 years ago today, is a film director from another age. Dante, a New Jersey native whose parents were golf pros, grew up in 1950s America and continues to embody the ethos of that decade in much of his film work. His influences, for example, include cartoonist Chuck Jones, champion of colorful 50s film comedy Frank Tashlin and B-movie mogul Roger Corman, and it was Corman who first initiated him into the world of movie production after Dante had spent some years as a film critic. Dante first enjoyed success with the Jaws­-inspired creature feature Piranha (1978) which he followed up with the werewolf movie The Howling (1981), another Corman production. Afterwards he graduated to big budget movies, often working for friend Steven Spielberg, and scored with hits like Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) and also indulged in nostalgic joint exercises like Twilight Zone: The Movie (1982), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) and episodes of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories TV show. His work has always affectionately looked back on a time when cinema was all about tall tales, monsters, aliens and other such fun excesses of the cinema of bygone years, and Dante tapped into this most directly in Matinee (1993), his film about a William Castle-like producer whose productions thrived on gimmicks and shock tactics. Since the early 1990s, though, Dante has worked mostly in television, where he directed the cult series Eerie, Indiana, only occasionally returning to the big screen for movies like the kid-oriented Small Soldiers (1998) and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). Now, however, Dante looks set to return to the fore with two projects which will that staple of 50s schlock horror, 3-D technology, which is popular once again 50 years on thanks to its revitalization through digital technology.

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