Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honour, which is probably more than she ever did. – Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup
Have to be honest folks. I am not the biggest Marx Brothers fan. Not sure why, but I am among those who just don’t really get them. (There are a few others like me I suppose if you look.)
So I approached Ron Blount’s new book, Hail, Hail, Euphoria! with a bit of trepidation. And as might be expected, my thoughts are mixed. I originally thought this would be an entire book devoted to a review of just the Marx Brothers’ classic 1933 film Duck Soup. For those who don’t know, Duck Soup was a flop when it came out but over the years has had a resurgence and now tops many important top ten lists and is not infrequently mentioned as one of the best comedies ever.
It also marks a turning point in the career of the Brothers Marx, as future films didn’t feature Zeppo as part of the troupe and also their films became more serious (relatively speaking) and we often burdened with love storylines as foils. Here everything is madcap craziness as the brothers take the imaginary country of Freedonia to war. Much of the changes in the films were due to changing studios, with Duck Soup being their last film for Paramount.
That all being said, Blount’s book isn’t a review at all- and actually, given my overall indifference to the Marx Brothers, the parts that speak to the film itself were less interesting. The best way to equate the book is as a written commentary track to the film – best read while watching the movie is running, which the author himself points out.
And, as with most better commentaries the most interesting points are the side stories, the digressions and bits of trivia which come out along the way. We get a flavor for the history of early comedy and the background of the Marx Brothers – like how their mother, Minnie Marx, knowing that agricultural workers were exempt from service in World War One, started a chicken farm just for this purpose. The Brothers were predictably poor chicken farmers so the story goes, having to actually purchase eggs to plant in the coop prior to inspections.
We hear how Zeppo leaves the performance side and becomes the manager for his siblings- and that Chico’s name should be pronounced “Chicko” rather than “Cheeko.” You see he got his name from his skirt chasing skills. Also lot’s of information about Leo McCarey, a director to be honest I wasn’t that familiar with. Buster Keaton’s recipe for pies is also not to be missed, though I won’t share it here.
If you are a fan of Blount or the Marx Brothers, then this book should be squarely in your sights. If you aren’t a fan of either or aren’t familiar with the Brothers, then I would suggest watching a bit of their films first –probably in this case Duck Soup, go figure.
Review copy provided by Harper Collins. Thanks!