WAR AND WONDER BOY

At the risk of making this a too-lengthy piece (lengthy peace, I’ll leave to miracle workers) I am going to blend a very disparate “double feature” into a two-for-the-price-of-one post….for today is not only Memorial Day, when America honors those killed in military service, but it’s the birthday of a man who literally changed the long-term ‘picture’ of the Marx Brothers after their riotous anti-war film, the anarchic classic, DUCK SOUP (1933).

But first, for those who are interested and may be unfamiliar with the 100+ years history of war movies, I highly recommend taking time to check out this link for context: http://www.filmsite.org/warfilms.html (DUCK SOUP is listed under “Black Comedies”)

I don’t necessarily agree with a blogger who wrote, “As we all know, every good war film is [an] anti-war film” — though I think any war picture which doesn’t contain at least an element of “war is madness” (as in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, below) is, at best, simplistic patriotism (e.g. John Wayne’s GREEN BERETS; I’d add Cagney’s YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, but it’s a rousing glorification of a man’s patriotism, not a war film).

Back to that birthday man (Irving Thalberg), the film producer known as “The Boy Wonder” for becoming head of production at MGM at age 26 and turning it into the most successful studio in Hollywood during his reign (1925 until his death in 1936). Quoting Wikipedia, “He had the ability to combine quality with commercial success, and [to bring] his artistic aspirations in line with the demands of audiences.” Within this framework, we can appreciate this passage from ROGER EBERT’s great book, THE GREAT MOVIES:

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. It represents a turning point in their movie work; it was their last film for Paramount. When it was a box office disappointment, they moved over to MGM, where production chief Irving Thalberg ordered their plots to find room for conventional romantic couples.
A Night at the Opera (1935), their first MGM film, contains some of their best work, yes, but [also] sappy interludes involving Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones. In Duck Soup, there are no sequences I can skip; the movie is funny from beginning to end.

This may not be one of the funniest sequences in DUCK SOUP, but it certainly makes for a glorious celebration of war as madness:

  

As even the longest war must eventually come to an end, so too must this Memorial Day piece (de résistance). Even so, it ain’t over till the DUCK SOUP fat lady sings: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xnec7z_freedonia-at-war-part-3-from-duck-soup-1933_shortfilms

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P.S. The state of Ohio imprints the words ARMED FORCES on driver’s licenses whose bearer is/was a member. The last time I went in to renew my license, the BMV clerk took a look and thanked me for my service, which took me by surprise because my service is ancient history and I’d never been, or expected to be, thanked. I was a 1960 draftee who served during the so-called Cold War, not a volunteer in the Civil War (or whatever hot war my hoary appearance makes me look like I served in). But I realize that a bullet or bomb doesn’t care if you’re a draftee or volunteer when it takes you out, so to those who died in the service of this country and its professed ideals (and who had no choice as to whether or not the war they were in was worthy of their sacrifice), I thank youYou are the ones fate chose to earn this day.

 

 

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21 comments on “WAR AND WONDER BOY

  1. I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai on TV’s Turner Classic Movies this weekend. I am always perplexed by the idea of what Plato called The Guardians…the need for them, the tragedy of their engagement, the seeming futility of trying to do anything differently. But it’s good to acknowledge the willing, and the brave, as we do, on this holiday; and I hope we also do, when it’s not a holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      On the same day BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI was on TCM, John Wayne’s best war movie, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, was on. To me, the title of that WW II film says it all: for those who die in even the most ‘noble’ and necessary of wars, there is a sense that (of necessity?) THEY WERE EXPENDABLE. (I put a question mark after necessity because too often, bad judgment and stupid decisions of superiors lead to the unnecessary loss of many lives.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. scifihammy says:

    A very good post. So much sacrifice and loss over all these years. Any movie that reminds us of this is a good movie.
    And how nice for you to be thanked after all this time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don Frankel says:

    Muse I swear that in the opening sequence of We’re Going to War, one of the Generals is Sadam Huessein. Take a good look there.

    I think From Here to Eternity is a great movie and listed as a war movie although the war only comes in at the end. But it is not so much a war is madness but the army is madness and the war makes the army sane.

    You served and you went where they sent you like everyone else. In most of our wars only a small percentage of those serving wind up in combat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      Don, that sequence goes by pretty fast, but from just a glance, it does indeed look like Sadam.
      I think there’s something to your statement about madness and war making the army sane….maybe something along the lines of “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

      Like

  4. ladysighs says:

    Your posts are never too lengthy. Maybe too long, but never too lengthy. lol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. linnetmoss says:

    Duck Soup is a genius movie. I once saw it on a big screen! Just the name Rufus T. Firefly cracks me up.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. arekhill1 says:

    Hail Freedonia! And hail to you as well, Sr. Muse, on this Memorial Day, for being a veteran in more ways than one.

    Like

  7. Don Frankel says:

    Muse I read the book and the book lays it out with more detail. The Company where Prewitt/Montgomery Cliff is revolves around boxing. Boxers make up all the Non-commissioned officers as that is their reward for boxing. Most of them are incompetent and the Company is dysfunctional. After Pearl Harbor the Company has to gear up for the war and the Boxers are demoted and the Company begins to function. It is one of the many ironic subtleties that make it a great book.

    Like

  8. mistermuse says:

    Thanks, Don. I’ve never read the book, and it’s been a while since I saw the movie. I think it’s on TCM now and then, so I’ll try to keep an eye open for it.

    Like

  9. mistermuse says:

    I don’t know anyone who would disagree, Michaeline (but too many other people don’t seem to give a damn).

    Like

  10. I’ve never watched Duck Soup (clearly, I should). I’ve seen a number of war movies, and they always leave me terribly melancholy. I think about the real wars and the irreplaceable lives lost, all those hopes and possibilities gone forever for the service men and women and the people who love them. As a grief counselor, I worked with little kids who lost parents in Iraq. I hate the politicians to toss lives into war without a thought about the true cost. I think the best way to honor the dead is to try our darnedest to make sure that war is the very last resort. Thank you for your service 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. mistermuse says:

    Thank you, Diana. In a certain sense, it’s misleading to call Duck Soup a war movie because it’s the ultimate ANTI-war movie. No other film (that I’m aware of) subjects the glory of war to such manic ridicule….so I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. And THANK YOU for your work as a grief counselor.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. calmkate says:

    wow love that Marx bros number, excellent 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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