‘Hail Freedonia’ from the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup: Our 500th Posting!

In 1933 when Hitler was coming to power, the Marx Brothers were making Duck Soup including this memorable anthem, parodying our tendency to rush to war, and not be quite sure why:


And here is the photo still of the Marx Brothers singing the lines:

They got guns,
We got guns,
All God’s chillun got guns!
I’m gonna walk all over the battlefield,
‘Cause all God’s chillun got guns!

to the tune of what was then called a ‘Negro Spiritual’

Critical commentary on the movie includes from Wikipedia:

When asked the significance of the film’s politics, Groucho only shrugged and said: “What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh.”[5][24] Nevertheless, the Brothers were ecstatic when Benito Mussolinitook the film as a personal insult and banned it in Italy.

Despite the tepid critical response at the time, Duck Soup is now seen as a classic political farce.[5] Film critic Danel Griffin believes that Duck Soup is “on par with other war comedies like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, only slightly more unnerving in that Duck Soup doesn’t seem to realize it is anything more than innocent fluff.”[8] Fellow film critic Roger Ebert believes, “The Marx Brothers created a body of work in which individual films are like slices from the whole, but Duck Soup is probably the best.”[28] British film critic Barry Norman was slightly cautious about the Marx Brothers overall, but considered that Duck Soup was their best and included it in his 100 best films of all time.[29]

Revived interest in the film (and other 1930s comedies in general) during the 1960s was seen as dovetailing with the rebellious side of American culture in that decade.[5] American literary critic Harold Bloom considers the end of Duck Soup one of the greatest works of American art produced in the 20th century.[30]

In 1990, Duck Soup was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Duck Soup the 29th greatest comedy film of all time.[5] The film also scores a 94% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[31] It is also one of the earliest films to appear on Roger Ebert‘s list of Great Movies.[28]

Another testament to Duck Soup’s legacy is its recurring influence in various Woody Allen films. For example, in Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), a chance screening of Duck Soup convinces Allen’s character that life is still worth living, and he abandons his suicidal impulses

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict History, Conflict Humor, Ways to handle conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ‘Hail Freedonia’ from the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup: Our 500th Posting!

  1. Jovan says:

    I just saw this. It’s interesting that you say, ‘parodying (the US’s) tendency to rush to war, and not be quite sure why,’ about a film made in 1933, considering that the US took three years to get involved in WW I and let Britain, Canada and the rest of the Empire fight alone for almost three years before becoming involved in WWII, and then only because they were attacked!

    • @Jovan. Good point, but American history is a funny mixture of isolationism and interventionism. The US Marines were very busy intervening in South and Central America for much of the 19th century and there was the war with Spain over Cuba and which made the Philippines an American colony. Then the reluctance to get involved in WW1 and WW2, and then since 1945 again a mixture of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq x 2, Afghanistan but also a reluctance under Reagan and Clinton to respond to Beirut or Mogadishu respectively. My point though re Duck Soup was a contemporary reading of it, not a 1933 reading and it was that when the US does go to war, it is often very uncertain as to its war aims and hence often doesn’t achieve them as in Afghanistan Release 2.0 Iraq Release 2.0 and Vietnam but not the case in Afghanistan Release 1.0 under junior President Bush, or Iraq Release 1.0 under elder President Bush. Hope this clarifies…

    • petp says:

      There was no reason for the U.S. to enter WWI. That was a classical European war with more deadly weapons. The U.S. government used it to stifle union and political opposition at home, like throwing Eugene Debs in prison for opposing going to war. Many others were included and the real left in the U.S. was destroyed. I think that was the main purpose for Wilson’s War.

      Imagine that just two years earlier the most popular song in the U.S. was, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier”. You can find it on internet. So government propaganda was able to change public opinion in a relatively short time. Now our government does war propaganda more upstream.

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