Poli-Tricksters: The Marx Brothers in DUCK SOUP (1933)

DuckSoup1When I heard TCM was airing DUCK SOUP tonight, I set the DVR. I got home as soon as I could (after an excellent Tom Rush concert) and began watching before it was finished recording. This is one of my favorite movies of all time, right up there in my personal comedy pantheon with such gems as AIRPLANE! and BLAZING SADDLES. It’s one of the most anarchic comedies ever made, and certainly one of the funniest.  If you think today’s politicians are a bunch of looney tunes, wait til you get a load of these guys.

We begin as Freedonia is on the brink of bankruptcy. Mrs. Teasdale (perennial Marx foil Margaret Dumont) will loan the country twenty million dollars only if her choice of leader is appointed. She wants Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), a sarcastic, lecherous wise guy (Teasdale: “It’s a gala day for you.” Firefly: “Well, a gal a day is plenty for me, I don’t think I can handle any more”). Firefly’s accompanied by his personal secretary, Bob Roland (Zeppo). Meanwhile, Ambassador Trentino of rival Sylvania plots to woo the old dame for her money. He sends his two top spies, Chicolini and Pinky (Chico and Harpo), disguised as peanut vendors, to dig up dirt on Firefly.

Soon Chicolini is made secretary of war. Firefly and Bob, suspecting Trentino’s up to no good, devise a plan to insult Trentino and start a war. But Rufus is the one insulted when Trentino calls him an “upstart”, and war is declared! The spies are sent to Mrs. Teasdale’s house to steal Freedonia’s war plans, and they both impersonate Firefly to perform the dastardly deed. Chicolini gets caught and is put on trial for treason. The trial’s interrupted by Trentino, who’s come to make amends with Firefly. But the ‘headstrong’ Rufus ends up slapping the ambassador again, and the war is on.

The battle of Freedonia begins, with the brothers dressed in different war uniforms as the battle rages.  The bullets fly, as do the jokes (Bob: “General Smith reports a gas attack. He wants to know what to do.” Firefly: “Tell him to take a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and half a glass of water.”) Eventually, Sylvania is defeated when Trentino’s head gets trapped in a door and the madcap brothers pelt him with fruit, causing him to surrender. Freedonia victorious!

It’s hard to describe all the lunacy this film offers. The puns and one-liners fly fast and furious (my favorite line: “Remember we’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is more than she ever did.”) Sight gags abound, like the running battle between the peanut vending spies and lemonade stand owner Edgar Kennedy. And of course there’s the classic ‘mirror scene’ with Groucho and Harpo, later reprised by the silent Harpo and Lucille Ball in TV’s I LOVE LUCY.

This was the last of five films the Marxes made for Paramount Pictures. DUCK SOUP was so ahead of it’s time, the movie did poor at the box-office, as they were released from their contract. Signing with MGM in 1935, the boys went on to star in hits like A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and A DAY AT THE RACES. But for sheer, unadulterated Marx madness, this is just their greatest comedy, indeed one of the best of all time. If you didn’t watch the broadcast, I hope you DVR’d it. And if you didn’t, go out and find a copy quick. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Hail, hail Freedonia!!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Planet of Dinosaurs, Real Genius, Switch, Some Girls

Since I’m new here, it was suggested that I cut my teeth on one of these 4 shots from 4 films posts. Also, because I’m new, I thought I would go with 4 films that have a special place in my heart. An introduction of sorts.

Of course, that means telling a little story behind each one.

Planet of Dinosaurs (dir. by James K. Shea)

Planet of Dinosaurs (dir. by James K. Shea)

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977) is a simple one. My Mom recorded it off of TV when I was a kid and I watched it over and over and over again. It’s a classic bit of Sci-fi B-Movie making. I watched this so many times that I can even recall the commercials. There was one for some compilation of hit songs. I was so young that when Gloria by Van Morrison played I thought he was saying the word Tijuana.

Real Genius (dir. Martha Coolidge)

Real Genius (dir. Martha Coolidge)

Real Genius (1985) is just a great movie, but it especially resonated with someone like myself who always felt out of place because I was so into computers at such a young age.

Switch (dir. by Blake Edwards)

Switch (dir. by Blake Edwards)

Switch (1991) is the easiest to tell the story behind. I’m transgender. I found it on cable one night as a kid and it became one of my favorites.

Some Girls (dir. by Michael Hoffman)

Some Girls (dir. by Michael Hoffman)

Some Girls (1988) is a tough one. When I first got a TiVo I put the Wishlist feature to use in order to see all the movies by actresses such as Angelina Jolie, Julianne Moore, and Jennifer Connelly. One day this movie popped up. I’m still not sure why, but it managed to bore a hole into my heart. It can still make me sad watching it.

The Things You Find On Netflix: Austin to Boston

Austin to BostonAustin to Boston is a documentary about a group of mostly British folk musicians who, in 2012, toured the United States.  The group included a few familiar names (Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons, for example) and several up-and-comers (Ben Howard, The Staves).  Traveling across America in five VW campers, the bands went from Austin to Boston in two weeks.  Along the way, they stopped and played at everywhere from Nashville to Woodstock.  The documentary, which is narrated in a memorably grizzled fashion by driver Gill Landry, follows them as they discover America, deal with shows that are both good and bad, and, most of all, make music.  Make no mistake, this is a musical documentary.  While the musicians do occasionally talk about their lives, for the most part, we get to know them through their music.

I have to admit that I was a little bit surprised by how much I enjoyed Austin to Boston.  My taste in music tends to run the gamut from EDM to more EDM so, to be perfectly honest, spending 70 minutes watching a bunch of folk acts should have been pure misery for me.  (Someday, I’m going to write an article about the Tyranny of Acoustic Harmonizing.)  But, even if it wasn’t my type of music, I could still appreciate that the musicians traveling from Austin to Boston were damn talented and had beautiful voices.  Could I have done without that gospel song that seemed to go on  forever?  I certainly could have.  But, if that’s your type music, you’ll probably really enjoy hearing it because it’s being performed by some seriously talented people.

And even if it isn’t your type of music, Austin to Boston is such an intensely likable documentary that it really doesn’t matter.  There’s something really sweet and special about watching these British musicians discover and, to a certain extent, fall in love with America.  And, speaking as an American, Austin to Boston made me better appreciate my frustrating home country as well.  Over the course of this short but achingly sincere film, we get to see a lot of American scenery and it reminds us of just how beautiful it all can be.  When you live here, you tend to take it for granted and sometimes, I think it’s good to take another look through non-native eyes.

Did Austin to Boston awaken any sort of dormant love that I may have for folk music?  No, it did not.  To a certain extent, I wish it had because it really is such a heartfelt documentary.  But, in the end, The Staves all have beautiful voices but it’s just not my type of music.  But it did make me better appreciate both my home country and the way that music — regardless of style or genre — can bring us all together.

And you know what?  If this is your type of music, you’ll freaking love this documentary.  You’ll watch Austin to Boston and you’ll say, “What the Hell was that EDM-loving redhead talking about?  THIS IS GREAT!”

Austin to Boston can currently be viewed on Netflix.