The movie had a mixed reception when it was first released but it was rediscovered in the 1960's and is now generally regarded as a masterpiece of anarchic comedy and one of the greatest movies made by the Marx Brothers. The United States Library of Congress has declared Duck Soup "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and it is currently ranked at number 60 in the American Film Institute's list of 100 Greatest Films.
Its poor reception has been blamed on the political and economic crisis in the 1930's, with the Great Depression in the US and growing concern over the rising power of Adolf Hitler in Germany which meant that audiences were just not ready for the disrespect, cynicism and brilliant satire in the movie. For similar reasons the film received no Academy Award nominations.
The movie is full of jokes, both subtle and unsubtle, visual and verbal and contains some classic comedic scenes, such as the famous mirror scene, which are just as funny now as when the movie was made. Groucho gave his own strange recipe to explain the film's title: "After one taste, you'll duck soup for the rest of your life."
The storyline is just what you might expect and indeed hope for from a Marx Brothers film - completely far-fetched and unbelievable. It revolves around Groucho playing Rufus T Firefly, the dictator of a small state called Freedonia. He attempts to win the hand of rich Mrs. Teasdale, played beautifully by Margaret Dumont, once again the perfect foil for Groucho's outrageous insults.
Groucho and the Ambassador of neighbouring Sylvania declare war on each other because of the use of the word 'upstart' and everyone breaks into a negro spiritual song and dance number - "All God's chillun got guns!". To make matters even more chaotic, sylvania sends in the word's most inept spies, Chicolini and Pinky to obtain top secret information, creating more mayhem and of course, more opportunities for sublime anarchic comedy.
The movie's biting satire takes aim at deceitful governments, petty dictators and war in general and its irreverent message is universal. It is a piece of Marx Brothers magic.
Main CastGroucho Marx ... Rufus T. Firefly
Harpo Marx ... Pinky
Chico Marx ... Chicolini
Zeppo Marx ... Lt Bob Roland
Margaret Dumont ... Mrs. Gloria Teasdale
Raquel Torres ... Vera Marcal
Louis Calhern ... Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania
Edmund Breese ... Zander
Leonid Kinskey ... Sylvanian Spy-Agitator #1
Charles Middleton ... Prosecutor
Edgar Kennedy ... Bald street vendor
CreditsDirector ... Leo McCarey
Producer ... Herman J. Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin
Cinematography ... Henry Sharp
Music ... Bert Kalmer, Harry Ruby
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date ... November 17, 1933
Running time ... 68 minutes