Roy Blount, Jr.'s "Hail, Hail Euphoria: The Marx Brothers in 'Duck Soup'"
HAIL, HAIL EUPHORIA!
Presenting the Marx Brothers in "Duck Soup," the Greatest War Movie Ever Made
By Roy Blount Jr.
!t. 145 pp. $19.99
Roy Blount Jr., knows from humor: His books include "Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard" and "If You Only Knew How Much I Smell You," and he is a regular panelist on NPR's "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!" In this short, zippy tribute, he sets out to remedy the lack of a scene-by-scene commentary on the DVD of the Marx Brothers' greatest movie, the sublimely nonsensical "Duck Soup" (1933).
Blount scatters such nuggets of pop culture as the testimony of one of the boys' co-stars, Maureen O'Sullivan, that the lead brother wouldn't stop quipping even when the director yelled, "Cut!" "Groucho never knew how to talk normally," she said. "His life was his jokes." Blount credits Leo McCarey, the director of "Duck Soup," for filtering out the nods to cinematic conformity -- especially the love interest -- that bog down other Marx flicks. But Blount's guess as to why McCarey did so is deliciously counterintuitive: "It could be that he didn't want the Marxes bursting in and out of his own subtle way of conveying romance. On the whole, he hated working with them." In any case, the result, as Woody Allen once pointed out, is that of all the great movie comedies "Duck Soup is the only one that really doesn't have a dead spot."
But Blount might have done more with sourcing the name of the country ruled and dismembered by the brothers: Freedonia, "Land of the Spree, and the Home of the Knave." A friend of mine swore that the name came from his hometown, Fredonia, N.Y., borrowed at the suggestion of someone connected with the movie who had passed through and found the burg subpar. One thing we know for sure, though, is where the name of Blount's book comes from. At the end, Gummo, one of the lesser-known brothers, makes sport with the word "euphoria." Minnie Marx, the boys' mother, once told them to go outside and play. "Which ones?" they wanted to know. Her answer, according to Gummo: "Euphoria."
-- Dennis Drabelle