Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 09
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.


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December 9, 1973
Don't Look Now released

On December 9, 1978, Nicolas Roeg's iconic Venice-set chiller Don't Look Now went on release in New York City.

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December 9, 1973
Looking at Don't Look Now

When British director Nicolas Roeg’s perverse thriller Don’t Look Now hit American theaters, not everyone was happy. In the New York Times review, Vincent Canby claimed that when this “fragile soap bubble of a horror film” ends, “you may feel, as I did, that you've been had.” Adapted from a Daphne Du Maurier short story, Don’t Look Now previewed many of the director’s upcoming themes—chaotic, realistic sex; disjunctive narrative montages; storylines that collapse the psychological and the supernatural. Here a young couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), traumatized by the recent drowning of their young daughter, comes to Venice for a working holiday and possible relief from their grief. What they find instead is a mystery lost in the maze of Venice’s back streets and canals and shrouded in the city’s famous fog. And while some find the film’s enigmatic style off-putting, more have found it unforgettable. The sex scene, which was thrown in at the last moment, has become so infamous that for years people have questioned whether it was real or simulated. The film’s fractured shooting style remains a model for how to transform a city into a cinematic character. And the infamous chase of a girl in a red raincoat has been referenced by films as diverse as the torture porn hit Hostel to the comedy In Bruges to James Bond’s Casino Royale to many music videos. 

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