I saw 1933’s Duck Soup for the first time at the Hampstead Everyman in the early Sixties, and not long afterwards briefly met one of its stars, Groucho Marx. I told him that the packed audience laughed so much that I could only hear half of the dialogue. “Lucky chap,” he said, “you didn’t miss much.”
Actually, I did, since the jokes fly so thick and fast that even if one wasn’t great, the next was upon you.
Duck Soup — a satire about European dictators involving the fictional country of Freedonia — is now regarded as a classic of anarchic comedy, with the great Margaret Dumont and that fine comedian Edgar Kennedy backing up Groucho and his brothers Chico, Zeppo and Harpo.
When first released, the film garnered some grudging reviews and was only the sixth-highest grossing film that year. The chief complaint was the lack of a strong story. “We’re just four Jews trying to get a laugh,” was Groucho’s response.
They certainly managed that at Hampstead. Now it will be intriguing to see whether they can achieve the same success when their films are shown in London this month.
The Best of the Marx Brothers is at the BFI Southbank until 31 January 2015.