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Duck Soup (1933)

Four Marx Brothers

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 17, 2013

Duck Soup (1933)

Hail, hail Freedonia! As Zeppo Marx's final screen appearance, 1933's Duck Soup was the last time that moviegoers would see a film announce in the credits that this was the Four Marx Brothers. Everyone remembers Groucho, Harpo, and Chico, the threesome responsible for the hilarious double blast of A Day at the Races and A Night at the Opera. But with youngest brother Zeppo, in Duck Soup the quartet wreaks their trademark brand of chaos on the field of politics. In a fit of someone else's insanity, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is allowed to run the country of Freedonia – which he does ... straight into the ground. His efforts are thwarted and aided by two spies, his brothers Harpo and Chico, who switch sides so often even they can't remember who they're double-agents for now. And then there's Zeppo. The very name has become a performance punchline for the unnecessary, the padding, the wadding, the character you could cut out. For many Marx fans, he was the afterthought: a moon-faced blip on the periphery of the trademark carnage. Zeppo wasn't even the original fourth Marx – that honor went to older brother Gummo, who quit before their first film. He started as the handsome straight man, but, by Duck Soup, Zeppo was almost a bit player. After its release, he left the stage to found a highly successful talent agency with Gummo, with a side trade as an engineer. Legend has it that, when he quit, Paramount wanted to cut the remaining brothers' salary: After all, why pay for a quartet when you're only getting a trio? "What?" barked Groucho. "But we're twice as funny without him." But there's a revisionist history suggesting Zeppo was maybe the most skilled comedian of them all. Before their screen career, back when they were still a traveling vaudeville act, he would understudy for his three older brothers, filling in impeccably when they were too ill to perform. And as Duck Soup closes, with the quartet bombarding the imperious Margaret Dumont with potatoes, he was and will always be one of the boys.


July 28, Paramount: Sunday, 4pm

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