Last night, after coming home from a picnic, I turned on Turner Classic Movies just in time to watch the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup from 1933. This was Zeppo Marx's last film, and it is not one of my favorite Marx films, although many consider it one of their best. Of course, the one liners that Groucho uses are always great, and I love watching Harpo perform his sight gags, shearing off everything that sticks out!
What's missing from Duck Soup is Harpo's harp and Chico's piano. They were amazingly talented, and I think their music brought a lot to the films.
Zeppo playing the straight man, in my opinion, was a mistake. Everyone knew he was one of the brothers because they looked so much alike, and they should all be zany. Leave the straight man part to a supporting actor. Zeppo felt he was being underutilized so he went on to another profession as an inventor.
Speaking of supporting roles, did you catch Charles Middleton as the prosecutor? Middleton played in Pack up your Troubles with Laurel and Hardy, also starring Tom Kennedy whom we talked about yesterday. See how all this fits together?
Duck Soup also had a Kennedy, but this was Edgar Kennedy. Edgar and Tom were not related, but their careers must have paralleled, and they appeared in about 16 films together. Edgar made 411 films from 1911 to 1949 and he even directed some L&H films.
Just watch Edgar in his scenes with Chico and Harpo. Edgar is a lemonade salesman, while the Marx boys are selling hot peanuts. They get into a tit for tat, and Edgar loses two hats and a lot of lemonade. The scenes could have appeared in a silent film without inter titles and it would have worked fine.
I wouldn't consider any of Edgar Kennedy's films major motion pictures, but that wasn't what he was all about. He was a character actor and comedian. He made almost half of his films during the silent era, so he knew how to bring his role alive without dialog. That's why he is so much fun to watch.
Another routine in Duck Soup that could be silent, and actually was in the film, is the mirror scene with Groucho and Harpo. I wonder if they did something along that line in their vaudeville act. They almost perfectly copied each other's moves. And they look so much alike, it is difficult to say which one was which.
I must look up some info on Margaret Dumont. She was so perfectly cast in the Marx Brothers films. I can't image she wanted to be a comedienne, she always comes across as so stuffy. Did she really know what was going on? Someone on IMDB said that Groucho called her, "practically the fifth Marx brother."