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Roy Blount Jr. on the Marx Brothers

We talk “Duck Soup” and the Marx Brothers with humorist Roy Blount Jr. And we look back at movie legend Tony Curtis.

A movie poster for the Marx Brothers' 1933 film "Duck Soup" (Credit: IMdb.com)

When the Marx brothers “Duck Soup” came out in 1933, it had to compete for attention with the Great Depression, King Kong and the rise of Fascism. It was an anti-war film – sort of. A whacky masterpiece – absolutely. And sort of a dud at the box office.

But it came back and hung in. T.S. Elliott was a fan. Samuel Beckett stole its gags. Woody Allen straight up used it.

Humorist Roy Blount Jr. adores it all -  Groucho and Harpo and Chico and Zeppo going madcap to war in Freedonia.  Blount joins us to talk “Duck Soup.”

-Tom Ashbrook


Roy Blount Jr., his new book is Hail, Hail, Euphoria!” Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, The Greatest War Movie Ever Made.” You can read an excerpt. He is a humorist, sportswriter, performer, screenwriter, and author of 21 previous books. He is also a panelist on the NPR show “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”

Lance Duerfahrd, film scholar and professor of English at Purdue University, where he teaches several courses on film history and has written about the Marx Brothers.

Mark Vieira, co-author, with Tony Curtis, of “The Making of Some Like It Hot: My Memories of Marilyn Monroe and the Classic American Movie.”

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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I’m laughing already and it’s Friday afternoon. Can’t wait for this.

  • jeffe

    A few Groucho quips. He was the master.

    “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

    “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

    “Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.”

    “I once shot an elephant in my pajamas, how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”

    “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Here are some more Groucho quotations for your collection Jeffe:


  • Grady Lee Howard

    Duck Soup is a zany political satire pointed at the United States. “Hail, hail Freedonia: Land of the brave, and free.” It is notable for two gags that run together. All four brothers pose as the Groucho character, Rupert T. Firefly. Within this segment occurs the mirror sequence with Groucho and Harpo (but who can tell?).
    The screenplay ends with a war where Freedonia is overrun but the foreign leader captured: Freedonis triumphs. They say Zeppo could flawlessly imitate any of his 3 older brothers. All four were about the same size and shared the same features and receding hairline. Steve Allen once had Chico pose as Harpo on “I’ve Got a Secret” and the panel was stumped.

    Tom: Thank you for devoting this hour to “Marxism.”
    I hope you don’t get reprisals. Fascists are pretty ignorant.

  • jeffe

    I just recently watched the Vikings with Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine, it was fun romp through a Hollywood’s version of the 11 century or was it a combination of about two or three centuries, anyway it was fun and Curtis was good, Douglas was better.

    Curtis’ best:
    Some like it Hot
    Sweet Smell of Success
    With Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones
    The Boston Strangler

  • Jonathan Downs

    We are big Roy Blount and Marx Brothers fans in our house. Knowing Roy’s work prior to this I would not have connected Duck Soup with his collections of poems. As the conversation continues, I think I am getting the connection.

    The next time I read to my children from Roy’s collections “If you only knew how much I Smell You” or “I’m just a Bug on the Windshield of Life” I’ll try it with my Groucho voice and see how it comes out.

  • Pam

    I have fond memories of my dad taking me to a Marx Bros late nite file festival on Long Island in the late ’60s-early 70′s.

    I introduced my daughter to the Marx Bros when she was around 10 (she’s 16 now), and had to show all her friends these great movies. I consider it part of her education.

    How great are the Marx Brothers – Thanks.

  • Keenan Powell

    I’m finding it very hard to accomplish my own writing task while Roy Blunt, jr. is talking about one of my favorite movies and my second favorite Marx Bros. movie. Night At The Opera is my favorite Marx Bros. movie because of the stronger story line and stronger characters, but Duck Soup still holds a place in my heart. Will need to get a copy of Roy’s book to read.

  • troll doll

    I am a big fan of the Marx Bros. Though, I recently watched “Day at the Races”. It is one of the most racist movies that I’ve ever seen. Could you comment on this movie?

  • http://theassassinbug.com richard

    Can you play the part about taking up the tax (tacks)?

  • troll doll

    Borat isnt even close.

  • kathy Brazil

    I love all the movies the Marx Brothers made. I have them all and can watch over and over. Each time is like watching for the first time. They were so good and there is so much to absorb in each scene. No other actors will ever come close to them. Robin Williams comes close though.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Another WWII comedy to consider: The Three Stooges, I’ll Never Heil Again


  • http://theassassinbug.com richard

    Thank you, you made my day.

  • Rob Rudin

    How can they talk about iconic film walks without mentioning Chaplin’s Little Tramp’s walk?

  • Rex

    What about the Farrelly Brothers? Classics like Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary

  • http://cyberfumes.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Speaking of anti-war and sureal movies, have you guys ever seen Gasssssss! from around 1970?

  • Carol Baker

    I know they are a classic, but have you noticed that those that love the Marx Brothers and the Three Studges are men? Somehow, the humor is male humor. I am not sure why. I know that I watch it with my husband to please him, but would not otherwise.

  • Keenan Powell

    All Hail (John) Lennon & (Groucho) Marx!

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Carol Baker, I think you’re right but there are exceptions; my 95 year old mother loves the Marx Brothers and the Stooges.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    Lucille Ball loved the Marx brothers and passed that love forward to Carol Burnett. The Stooges routines are very different than the Marx’, far less subtle and cerebral. Women loved Vaudville so why not Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo and even Zummo who originated as a boy band. Maybe women abandoned our working class roots slightly ahead of men. Noam Chomsky’s critique is inextricably linked to the same origins as the Marx’ humor. Consider the word “Anarchy.”

  • roger

    I love humour of the Marx Brothers. And Roy Blount Jr. is one of our finest humorists today.
    But Mr Blount, please – Chico is pronounced “Chick-o” not “Cheek-o” – he was so called because he was quite a skirt chaser apparently.

    Keep up the good work Mssrs Ashbrook & Blount!

  • Jerry Calhoun

    I think you fellows are making way too much of the “anti-war” theme. The Marx Brothers were interested in making a living & in doing so made a series of farces, using very loose plots to show their gags. They also used them as venue to show off Chico & Harpo’s hilarious musical skills. Duck Soup as an anti-war movie? I think not. As a hilarious farce? Absolutely!

  • http://victorials.wordpress.com victoria

    Oh, the Thalia! Yeah…I lived in that place during the late 60s, early 70s…THANK YOU!
    Woe to all our modern kids who grow up without this kind of sophisticated humor -
    And I TOTALLY disagree that the Marx Brothers are male humor. They are witty, satirical, full of cultural critique, and wonderfully talented performers and musicians. That cuts across all genders.

    (those 3 other guys are for a completely different crowd, so I don’t know about them.)

  • Preston Neal Jones

    I have to personally disagree with the comment that DUCK SOUP is being given too much credit as an anti-war movie. Even the most loosely-plotted and outrageous farce can have a theme, and DUCK SOUP’s theme is clearly the pretentiousness of politics/diplomacy and the folly of war. It’s a worthy theme, and the film isn’t a bit less funny for having it. If anything, having the unifying theme to focus on helps the film maintain its breakneck pace and momentum. (For better or worse, this is the one Marx Bros. feature which does NOT contain any music-making from Chico or Harpo.)


    I’d also like to suggest that for its era there are FAR more likely movies to be tagged “racist” than A DAY AT THE RACES. (Try BIRTH OF A NATION some time.) A few months ago in California, A DAY AT THE RACES was screened and the audience found it just as funny and crowd-pleasing as had the audiences of 1937. And for what it’s worth, the special guests at this screening were a performer and the family of a performer who had participated in the big production number. None of them felt they had submitted to a “racist” endeavor; rather, they were very proud to have been part of a Hollywood classic which was, and remains, all in fun.

  • From “The Cocoanuts”

    “Eight hundred beautiful acres–you can build any kind of house you want. You can even get stucco! Ohhh, how you can get stucco.”

  • Mordecai Carroll

    Rufus T. Firefly: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you: he really is an idiot. I implore you, send him back to his father and brothers, who are waiting for him with open arms in the penitentiary. I suggest that we give him ten years in Leavenworth, or eleven years in Twelveworth.

    Chicolini: I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll take five and ten in Woolworth.

  • karsy

    Thanks for keeping geniuses like the Marx Brothers an engaging part of today’s conversations. Now, “Do you suppose I could buy back my introduction to you?” — Love the Marx Brothers!!

  • Joseph

    I absolutely love the Marx brothers and always have. From when I first time I saw them as a child, though back then a lot of the quips were over my head, to the present in my late fifties. A couple of favorite snips from Duck Soup:

    Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
    Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he’s dead.
    Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.
    Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.
    Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.
    Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
    Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
    Rufus T. Firefly: Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did.

    An off-the-wall aside here, but I always thought there was a lot of Marx Brothers influence in the great old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.

    As to Tony Curtis and Some Like It Hot? The greatest comedy film ever. The pairing of Curtis and Lemmon was just perfect. I was never that big a fan of Monroe, but even she was just perfect as Sugar.

  • vulkun cartesia

    1. Roy Blount Jr. & Groucho Marx
    2. Tony Curtis (Bernie Schwartz) & Jack Lemmon
    3. Marilyn Monroe

    Re: 1 through 3, what’s left to say but a breathless, “What a pair!”

  • John Myers

    This may sound heretical, but I just watched Iron Man 2, and robert downey jr’s character’s dialogues are truly in the spirit of the Marx Bros. You have to pay attention.
    Also there’s a little tinge of the Marx Bros. in Captain Jack Sparrow.

  • John Myers

    Oh yeah – who can forget Rocky and Bullwinkle. I agree, Joseph.

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