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The magic number is 227. That's the amount of times that I've seen Duck Soup. That's more than Kane (152), The Rules of the Game (126), His Girl Friday (88), The Nutty Professor (79), Sherlock, Jr. (60), Annie Hall (54), Casino (37), more than any other movie. You name the format -- 35mm, 16mm, 8mm, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD -- and I've seen it.

My first few visits were on television. It wasn't until I cashed in my Bar Mitzvah present, a round-trip Delta flight to Los Angeles, that I saw Duck Soup (in Hollywood, no less) along with the other 12 Marx Bros. features projected on the big screen.

Within hours of our arrival, I spotted an ad for a Saturday night, dusk-to-dawn marathon -- all thirteen Marxes projected back-to-back in chronological order! I'm pretty sure that it was at the Vista, but my current advanced state of Moviezheimer's doesn't allow me to say for certain.

It wasn't the first time I went to a movie by myself (that was a screening of The Chalk Garden to satisfy my wicked adolescent crush on Hayley Mills), but it did mark two other milestones: the first time I watched more than two movies in a row and my first midnight movie.

Once again, my mother's paranoia, this time over her baby boy spending almost twenty hours alone in a strange theatre in an even stranger city, presented a roadblock. I attended five-years of Hebrew school, four-months of which were spent locked in bad-breath Rabbi Hershkowitz's cramped, non-air conditioned office studying my maftir. A night (and day) at the movies wasn't going to kill me.

My cousin Danny dropped me off and popped for a ticket: $13.00, a buck-a-Marx. The single-screen theatre was jammed and remained so throughout, although I do remember a slight clearing during the Kenny Baker and Florence Rice musical numbers in At the Circus. We all sang along with Tommy Rogers' Tenement Symphony in The Big Store.

The big draw was Animal Crackers, at that time the Holy Grail of Marxdom. Paramount failed to renew the soundtrack rights in 1957, and they reverted to the authors of the Broadway production: the playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, the composer Harry Ruby, and the lyricist Bert Kalmar.

When Universal acquired the 700 titles in the pre-1949 Paramount package in 1959, they decided it wasn't worth the trouble needed to untangle the miles of red tape, and Crackers sat in the vault legally banned from public screenings. The print they ran at the Vista marathon was a faded 16mm dupe with a motor boat soundtrack.

In February 1974, an enterprising UCLA student contacted Groucho personally to enlist his support in getting Universal to re-release Animal Crackers. By the end of the year brand new 35mm prints were shipped out for a nationwide reissue.

Why is Duck Soup, the last film of the Brothers' Paramount contract, my most cherished of the five? At 68 minutes, it's tied with Horse Feathers as their shortest feature. It's also the only one of their films that doesn't contain harp and piano solos (or romantic subplots, for that matter) to sand the tracks.

But the real reason Duck leads the pack is Leo McCarey, the man Groucho once referred to as, "the only director [the Marx Bros.] ever worked with."

Perhaps my favorite time spent in the Soup was a private screening during my tenure as MoPA's film curator. The 35mm print that arrived from the Universal vaults still had the numbered lab bands, indicating where it was struck, wrapped tightly around each reel. It was a virgin print without so much as a cue mark punched in it.

No one on the MoPA staff would take me up on my offer of an afternoon getaway to Sylvania, so I sat 'neath the twinkle lights, alone, still laughing like a loon after over 200 times.

Y'know, something tells me that before tonight is over, the Duck Soup tote board is going to read 228. Hail, Hail Freedonia!

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Greensburg Daily Tribune. November 25 1933.

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San Jose Evening News. November 25, 1933.

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Spokane Daily Chronicle. December 1, 1933.

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Youngstown Vindicator. December 31, 1933.

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The Oxnard Daily Courier. January 6, 1934.

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The Oxnard Daily Courier. January 6, 1934.

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The Oxnard Daily Courier. January 6, 1934.

Image I failed to take note of the year, but judging by the cars, I'm guessing this came out in the early '50s.

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Comments

Joaquin_de_la_Mesa July 14, 2011 @ 10:36 a.m.

Duck Soup is probably the best... but my kids and I love Go West.

(hey, a rhyme!)

The scene in Go West when they're chopping up the train to feed the engine fire in pretty fantastic.

Fun Marx Bros. moment: I knew my son was hitting puberty when he belly laughed at a particular Groucho quip. It's during a Night at the Opera -- a gypsy man on stage cracks his whip and makes a gypsy woman's skirt fall off. Groucho, seated in the house, does a double lift of his eyebrows and says, "Now we're getting somewheres."

My son had seen that at least 15 times and never laughed, but one day around 11 years old, it struck him as hilarious.

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widely July 14, 2011 @ 6:10 p.m.

and i'm proud to say i've seen it many times with scott. my kids have seen it. our old dog had seen it. wives have seen it. never counted, but probably close to 100 too. i think Duck Soup has a 10 second period without a gag. that allows one to catch one's breath.

and my youngest daughter likes Big Store nearly as much. sing while you sell. maybe its the roller derby?

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