Duck Soup (1933), written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin, is the oldest screenplay I have read. It’s also one of the funniest.
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Spec/Old Style
- Page Count: 77
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Freedonia
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
- Genre(s): Comedy
- Theme(s): War, Love, Parody
- Protagonist Change: None
Word play. Word play. Word play. That’s the whole script. Here’s an example:
This has gone far enough! This interruption is humiliating, to say the least…
Well, why not say the least and get it over with?
It’s easy to see the influence the Marx Brother’s had on comedy. Like all comedy, the entire screenplay pokes fun of societal norms. I don’t have to look it up to know Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David must have been fans of the Marx Brothers. But interestingly, the bizarreness of their skits leads to me to believe they would have enjoyed today’s more outlandish comedians like Eric Andre.
In regard to formatting, the screenplay reads somewhere between a script and a novel, which is not a surprise as it’s 90 years old. Besides a few archaic words, the writing is easy to understand and if you didn’t know, you might assume it was written recently.
Groucho and crew lead Freedonia to war against The U.S. But there’s no plot. It’s really just a bunch of skits thrown together with the loosest of connections between them.
One interesting note: The writers do a great job of introducing the characters and their intentions through Sequence “A”, essentially the first scene. We leave that scene knowing exactly what the stakes are (the future of Freedonia), that Mrs. Treasdale loves Groucho, and that Groucho is a buffoon (obviously).
Dialogue & Pacing
Some of the scenes go on long, particularly some of the middle ones.
It’s a comedy. It does poke fun at some of the social issues of their time, which are unfortunately similar to today’s, but it’s hard to connect with a film that’s 90 years old beyond the surface level. With that said, many of the jokes are excellent and still hold up.
Best Part of The Script
The opening sequence. There are many classic one-liners.