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#061. The Lighter Side of War

It has been said that, “All’s fair in love and war,” which is why war can be a good satire subject.  Since it is so incredibly depressing, poking fun at it can be a little risqué, but can also turn a sad situation into a funny one. After all, there are really no winners in war, and death is rarely a humorous subject, so how can war be seen as a comedy? The reason lies in the foibles of war. There is rarely logic involved with countries fighting against other countries (or each other), and while the best laid plans can turn the tide of a war, a coincidental mishap could just as easily turn it in the other direction. Of course, when the participants in a war don’t take it seriously, they can make those who do seem silly in comparison. After all, life is too short to take ourselves seriously all the time. Sometimes we just need to laugh, even if the situation doesn’t allow for it. This week’s two films give humor to the travesty of war.

The General
Year: 1926
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

As I have mentioned before, there is no greater travesty than a Civil War. And yet, most films take the perspective of the winners of history. Very few protagonists are shown on the losing side of any particular war, although some of note are All Quiet on the Western Front, The Great Dictator, and The General. Even though audiences do enjoy the occasional underdog, the idea of the underdog only works if the audience knows he has a chance of winning. When a protagonist is on the losing side of history, it’s difficult to get behind them as a viewer. Still, Buster Keaton’s Confederate soldier reminds us what it means to be passionate about something. Even if what you’re passionate about doesn’t end up winning the war, it will surely win the battle.

Like any good southern boy, Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) wants to join the Confederate army so he can impress a girl, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). Unfortunately, Annabelle rejects Johnny when she learns that he has been rejected from joining the army. While Johnny is despondent, he returns to his other passion: his train, The General. What Johnny and Annabelle don’t realize is that he is more valuable to the Confederacy as an engineer on his train than he is as a soldier. And yet, when the Union steals The General, Johnny gets his chance to fight for the Confederacy when he works to get it back. And as an added perk, Annabelle just happens to be on that very same train! Can Johnny outsmart the Yankees and bring his train home with Annabelle in tow?

Duck Soup
Year: 1933
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 68 minutes / 1.13 hours

Wars have been started for lesser things than love. Of course, in the case of the 1933 Marx Brothers masterpiece, Duck Soup, it’s love of a wealthy dowager’s money. During their cinematic career with Paramount, this last film of their contract was by far their best at this studio (it was also their last with straight-man, Zeppo Marx). There is so much comedy in war that one never realizes until they watch Duck Soup. This is partly due to the Vaudevillian origins of the four brothers, and their multi-talented performance skills. Heck, I’d start a war with them just to see what they would do to screw everything up.

As with most Marx Brothers films, Duck Soup relies heavily on puns, double entendres and slapstick humor.  Groucho Marx portrays Rufus T. Firefly, who is wooing a wealthy widow to get enough money to solve Freedonia’s financial problems and keep the country out of bankruptcy.  When another ambassador of a neighboring country attempts to steal the widow’s funds away, war breaks out.  With a big song and dance number, Freedonia marches off to war.  One of the great comedic masterpieces, Duck Soup drips with wit and sarcasm to the point of making war seem absolutely hilarious.  Placed in the lower half of AFI’s top 100, Duck Soup is probably the best of the Marx Brothers’ films.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 funny fights

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3 responses to “#061. The Lighter Side of War

  1. Pingback: End of Act Two | Cinema Connections

  2. Pingback: #060. Silent Comedy | Cinema Connections

  3. Pingback: #097. Stanley Kubrick | Cinema Connections

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