the REEL WORLD: 1933

Duck Soup

Duck Soup is one of the best of the Marx Brothers' movies. In this one, Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who is named president and dictator of the fictional (and bankrupt) country of Freedonia, in accordance with the wishes of a Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, in a typically clueless and hilarious performance), who has donated twenty million dollars to Freedonia's treasury. Firefly and Ambassador Trentino of the neighboring Sylvania compete for Mrs. Teasdale's hand in marriage; when negotiations break down, Freedonia and Sylvania declare war on each other, and as always in a Marx Brothers film, mayhem ensues.

Damian Cannon's review contains some more detail about the plot, and notes that the film seems awfully dated now. Patrick McCray's review calls the film "an absurdist essay on politics and warfare" and compares it favorably to the works of Beckett and Ionesco. Duck Soup is a riotously funny and absurd movie, but it's also a sharp piece of social criticism. Watch it with McCray's comments in mind and appreciate it on several levels.

King Kong

Once again, Tim Dirks' summary is thorough and comprehensive; I won't try to duplicate his work here. I had never seen this film before July of 1998, and was struck by how strongly many of the camera angles and facial expressions (at least of the people) were influenced by the silents -- Ann Darrow's screen tests for the disastrously ambitious Carl Denham could have come from a movie made years before sound. The special effects, comprising a great deal of the film (especially on the island where they find Kong), are obvious now, but still very impressive, especially considering the date of the film. (I've seen fifties monster movies that weren't nearly so polished.) The "beauty and the beast" theme is emphasized throughout, and Kong's savagery is so mitigated by his tenderness and fascination with Ann that one actually feels sorrow for him when he falls off the Empire State Building to his death.

I think it's important to watch the old classic movies that have had such an impact on our culture that references to them show up everywhere from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to The Simpsons. This is a bit too much of a "boy movie" for me to consider it one of my favorites, but it's certainly one I'm going to keep in my collection.

She Done Him Wrong

She Done Him Wrong is vintage Mae West, with vamping and raunchy one-liners galore. West wrote the movie and stars as Lady Lou, a New York nightclub singer who loves diamonds and men, in that order. Her old boyfriend, Chick Clark, has been doing time because of a diamond heist he pulled for her; meanwhile, she has taken up with the owner of the nightclub. Enter Captain Cummings (a very young Cary Grant), an officer in the Salvation Army mission next door to the saloon where Lou works, and a man who can't resist her invitation to her room. Chick escapes from jail, and, well... see it.

Tim Dirks' summary of the film is excellent, giving an outline of the plot and highlighting some of the film's best lines, such as, "Listen, when women go wrong, men go right after them" and "I wasn't always rich. No, there was a time I didn't know where my next husband was coming from." One line that stuck with me was her response to being called "a fine woman": "Finest woman that ever walked the streets."

Bit of trivia: As with "Play it again, Sam," one of the most famous lines of Casablanca, the most famous line from She Done Him Wrong is almost always misquoted. West never says "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?" Instead, she invites Captain Cummings up to her room thusly: "Why don't you come up sometime 'n' see me? I'm home every evening."

I adore Mae West. It's great to see a woman who obviously likes sex, and who isn't afraid to go after it. This movie is a wonderful showcase for her; if you've seen all the Bugs Bunny cartoons with the Mae West vamp but aren't familiar with where the archetype came from, She Done Him Wrong is a terrific place to start.


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Emily Way (emily@vex.net)
Last updated October 19, 1998