This Is My Father’s World: Duck Soup

Each week I plan to look at different aspects of culture from an appreciative and Christian lens. If all the world is God’s, and if much of human creation reflects the creative work of God, then I want to examine it all.

This week I am taking a closer look at the 1933 Marx Brother’s film Duck Soup, which is a personal favorite of mine. Though often imitated there are no comedians I know today who could pull off what the Marx Brothers did, especially Groucho. Their gift for not simply slapstick but mischief has become the standard for most good comedy to date. Duck Soup represents easily the best work of their career. It is funny from beginning to end in ways that would do it an injustice to try to sum it up here. The hat swap scene between Chico, Harpo, and straight man Edgar Kennedy is hilarious. The mirror scene between Groucho and Harpo (dressed as Groucho) trumps all duplicates in perfection. And Groucho’s timing and delivery on lines bears all the marks of being perfected over the years.

It’s sad that in its own day the film got such poor reviews. And more sad that after its dismal running in theaters the Marx Brothers switched studios. The move from Paramount to MGM lead to changes in their style (insert useless romantic storylines). Their comedic style and tone, so clearly epitomized in Duck Soup, diminished in my opinion after the change. There were other great moments, no doubt, but no film as good from beginning to end as this one. In fact whenever I watch the film I remind myself to guard my laugh, it gets so carried away with itself in response to the film. But, truth be told, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Humor is a delicate thing. And in a world rife with sin and frustration it is an all too important thing. There is beauty in good comedy. And we as Christians must appreciate good humor. We are to take things serious, don’t get me wrong. But there is a way to live your life as a Christian that is so serious, and so boring, and so uptight that you actually miss the beauty and value of good humor which God has built into the universe. Some people can’t take a joke, they are the Mrs. Teasdale’s and Trentino’s of the world. They are the lemonade vendors. But all people, especially Christians, ought to learn to appreciate a good joke, and a good comedy routine. After all, I have to believe that our God knows how to laugh and how to smile. The Scriptures say that God spoke the world into creation; and who knows but that it wasn’t the laughter in his voice that boomed with such joy that it brought the world into existence in order to echo it back to him.

I believe that Duck Soup echos that joy in hilarity back to God, and the sound of my laughter at its perfected performances does too. Enjoy and watch Duck Soup as a reminder to enjoy the laughter that God has created.

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