A film which was given up for lost until a print was discovered in 1974. It is considered an important find, being the first film to feature Laurel and Hardy as a team, playing characters close to their familiar incarnations. As the shorts which followed offer little in terms of teamwork, it is especially surprising that such an early entry features them in this way. The story itself was based on a vaudeville sketch by Stan's father, and was remade with sound in 1930 as Another Fine Mess.
JB: If not for Hardy's shabby appearance, I would have guessed that this one had been made well after The Second Hundred Years or From Soup to Nuts. It is historically intriguing, but more than that, Duck Soup feels like a Laurel and Hardy comedy, plays like a Laurel and Hardy comedy, and has enough funny moments in it to qualify as one of their better early silents. Unlike what you get at grammar school, Duck Soup is history with laughs!
JL: Yep, Duck Soup really is a Laurel & Hardy film. No matter how much you've been prepared for this fact, you don't really appreciate it until you see it. Ollie may be a bit more rough around the edges and that doesn't pertain to only his physical appearance. He's not as fussy-polite as the Ollie we know, but the character is almost there behind the battered top hat, monocle and stubble beard. And Stan doesn't get much of a chance to be Stan owing to the amount of action in the film. But the relationship between the two is most definitely there and the elements are sufficiently in place to the extent that they could have made this film, frame-for-frame as is, at any point in their career. The amazing thing is that, even after they were officially teamed, it took them a few films to re-establish what they had in this film.
JB: What also took me by surprise was the opening section with the Boys on the park bench. I knew the film was based on A.J. Jefferson's sketch Home from the Honeymoon, but I never realized that the recruitment opening scene of PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES was actually lifted from Duck Soup.
JL: It really is Another Fine Mess with the sound turned down. The latter film is still the better of the two, largely due to the fact that the extra reel of running time allows for further embellishment of gags and characters. But Duck Soup has much to recommend it and it gets my vote for their best joint effort prior to their official teaming.
JB: Another Fine Mess has Thelma Todd and James Finlayson, and the players in Duck Soup really can't hold a candle to them, but it is a treat to see William Austin playing the fussy Englishmen, a stock character he would play again in County Hospital.
Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan