Duck Soup; or, Government Is just a Circus

        Satire is a funny thing, but above all other aspects of comedy timing is most important. Timing for comedic movies is a more interesting task. Many comedies today are re-edited after initial preview showings to make sure that audiences are comfortable with the timing of jokes and gags. Another important timing aspect is the physical release of the film to theaters. Film makers are not always able to release their films at a "good time," such as the summer months or Christmas season, as studios tend to release films that they know will do well at those times. They also do not have any ability to change world events, as seen when the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks caused a massive drop in movie goers for months afterward. If you take a crisis situation and spread it out over a few years you get an economic depression, one in which the government (and a very popular elected president) is very publicly trying to do all the film makers can to help people through the Depression.

         Against this backdrop Duck Soup, directed by Leo McCarey in 1933, is released, and it quickly loses its audience. The biting political satire about the failure of government is not taken well by the general public. As the movie progresses the entire political process is dismissed as bad, such as the line from the opening number discussing elections:

                 The last man nearly ruined this place,

                He didn't know what to do with it;

                 If you think this country's bad off now,

                 Just wait till I get through with it!

To this exchange dismissing the judicial process:

        Chico Marx: Now I aska you one. What has a trunk, but no key, weighs two thousand pounds and lives in a circus?

        Judge: That's irrelevant.

        Chico: Irrelephant? Hey, that'sa the answer. There's a whole lot'a irrelephants in the circus.

        While the movie did fairly well at the box office it did not earn as much as its direct predecessor, Horse Feathers, it was hindered by the times in which it was made and could do nothing to keep itself from being affected by the times.

Michael Belcher

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