HAIL, HAIL, EUPHORIA!
by Roy Blount, Jr.
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Looking back from 2010, it is hard to believe that at one time the film Duck Soup was seen as the Marx Brothers’ swan song, a failure following the anarchic success of The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, and Horsefeathers. However, before it was revived during the Viet Nam War and given new relevance, the film was not highly regarded. In Hail, Hail, Euphoria!, Roy Blount, Jr. looks at the film, which he deems “the greatest war movie ever made” and traces its history and humor.
Blount explains his purpose is to provide a sort of commentary track to the film, which currently lacks such a feature on its various DVD permutations. He describes the action and then provides discussion of the actors, background history, and so forth. Blount does a good job tracking down the information on even the smallest of roles, although his reliance on the Internet Movie Database seems a little heavy. Nevertheless, he does indicate when he uses it and when he is using other published sources.
Much of Blount’s information is about the Marx Brothers generally, as well as about Duck Soup specifically and some of his stories will be new to even the most die-hard Marx fans, such as the story of Zeppo and his near involvement in a murder, or Groucho’s attempts to join Ben Hecht’s orchestra. Blount’s information is generally accurate, although his statement that only one recording of Harpo exists is wrong. There are at least three different audio recordings as well as video footage (the latter found in the “New York Hails the Great Ziegfeld” special feature on The Great Ziegfeld DVD).
At times, Blount allows his descriptions to run away with his commentary, most notably in his description of the lemonade scene between Harpo, Chico, and Edgar Kennedy. At other times, he gets a little silly, apparently deciding to watch the film with French subtitles and provide commentary on that as well.
Blount also appears to have an axe to grind, looking at the famous tribulations director Leo McCarey faced in making the film and extrapolating it to a Jewish-Irish rivalry. This is an interesting theory, but doesn’t hold water in the face of the Marx Brothers’ treatment of their other directors, as well as Irving Thalberg. The issue, therefore, seems to be less Jewish-Irish tension and simply the Marx Brothers’own disdain for authority and their personal anarchy.Hail, Hail, Euphoria! works best when read with Duck Soup playing in the background, however, because of Blount’s description of action, it is quite enjoyable to readers who have a familiarity with the film. Those who are unfamiliar with Duck Soup will most likely be mystified by the book, but are also unlikely to pick it up and read it without watching the movie.
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