Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup
The Greatest War Movie Ever Made
by Roy Blount Jr.
I recently read a review that claimed this book was a scene-by-scene look at the classic Marx Bros. movie Duck Soup (1933). First of all, that reviewer must have jumped to that conclusion and written the review before reading the actual book because his statement couldn't be further from the truth. Hail, Hail, Euphoria! is more than just a book about a movie. It's also about the lives of the Marx Bros., Leo McCarey (the director of the movie), the cultural and historical circumstances that allowed for the movie's inception, the methods of comedic style employed by each of the brothers and lots of other fun tidbits and trivia. This is a book that any classic film fan would love to devour and it's a lot of fun to read. Roy Blount Jr., of NPR fame, has a natural sense of humor that lends itself to writing a book about a funny movie made by some funny guys.
The book is both structured and structureless. While it's not a scene-by-scene play on the movie, it does follow the flow of the movie discussing scenes in the order in which they appear. The text flows with information stopping along the way to look closely on a scene before it moves on. There are no chapters and not a lot of breaks. The book is relatively short, 145 pages, and you could easily read it in one sitting. Make sure when you start it that you are near a computer because there is a YouTube clip, an online radio recording of Harpo plus a few other links you'll need to check out before you can proceed.
The book's subtitle claims that Duck Soup was the greatest war movie ever made. While this is never really explained in the book, the author does give us various insights into why Duck Soup was an effective anti-war film and why it's a good example of the time period it represents. What I liked about the book is that reading it was like going on a treasure hunt, finding goodies along the way including: links to various clips (you have to type the URLs out on your computer because no you can't click on the page!), the reason why the book is called Hail, Hail, Euphoria! instead of Freedonia!, the meaning of the phrase "duck soup", etc.
Duck Soup is not my favorite Marx Bros. movie but I do enjoy parts of it (mirror scene anyone?). What bothers me about it is how it treats war. Basically, war is a huge joke. Two countries go to battle for ridiculous reasons and people die as a result. It hits a little too close to home. So maybe, in that way, it is the greatest war movie ever made because it can make people think about the absurdity of war in a way that no other film has done: through comedy.
Make sure you stop by On Point Radio and listen to the podcast interview with the author, Roy Blount Jr.
Special thank you to HarperCollins, who is my second favorite publisher after the company I work for currently, for sending me this book for review. They are an amazing powerhouse of book publishing and they come out with some great books!
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Classic Film Freak