Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Duck Soup (1933)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Duck Soup (1933)

In this classic Marx Brothers anti-war, anti-government comedy film (their 5th and last film for Paramount Pictures before moving on to MGM, and the last of the Marx Brothers films to feature all four of the brothers - their greatest and funniest film), with many pricelessly funny lines (Firefly (Groucho): "I suggest that we give him ten years in Leavenworth, or eleven years in Twelveworth." Chicolini (Chico): "I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll take five and ten in Woolworth"), and satirical, anarchic scenes that lampooned and ridiculed pomp, authoritarian government, authority, blundering dictatorial leaders, and Fascism; it was set in the financially-ruined, politically-unstable country of Freedonia, so irreverent that it was banned in Italy by dictator Benito Mussolini:

  • the quintessential comedy film attacked the pomposity of small-time governmental leaders (Firefly as President), the absurdity of government itself (the Cabinet meeting scene), governmental diplomacy (the Trentino-Firefly scenes), an arbitrary legal system (Chicolini's trial), and war fought over petty matters (the mobilization and war scenes)
  • under the opening credits, four quacking ducks (the four Marx Brothers) were seen swimming and cooking in a kettle over a fire
  • the comedy was set in the "mythical kingdom" or Balkan state of Freedonia, a mismanaged government had led to bankruptcy and the state was on the verge of revolution
  • the wife of the previous Freedonia leader Chester V. Teasdale was widowed benefactress Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), the country's richest dowager millionairess; she offered $20 million to sponsor and support the cash-poor government, but only if it was placed under new leadership; she supported the newly-appointed President and leader of the tin-pot republic Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx)
New Leader of Freedonia: Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx)
  • the major introductory sequence was the opening coronation and Freedonian inauguration, with guests arriving for the event; one of the invited guests was Ambassador and rival suitor Trentino (Louis Calhern) in the neighboring country of Sylvania; behind the scenes, he was scheming to win rich heiress Mrs. Teasdale's hand in marriage, in order to annex Freedonia to his country; he had hired seductive, sultry, and sinuous Latin temptress/dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres), wearing a low-cut, revealing gown, to function as his secret agent
  • the assembled guests awaited the late arrival of fast-talking, swindling, and impertinent President Rufus T. Firefly, Freedonia's new cigar-chomping leader who was known for indecorous behavior; Firefly's secretary Bob Rolland (Zeppo Marx, in his LAST Marx Bros. film) assured Mrs. Teasdale, in song, that the absent statesman would appear "When the Clock on the Wall Strikes Ten"; the audience sang the national anthem "Hail, Hail Freedonia" twice, but Firefly still didn't appear
  • suddenly, Firefly appeared in an upstairs bedroom, and slid down a fireman's pole into the spacious ballroom hall, and stood in the entrance line of helmeted guards with swords drawn - awaiting his own arrival; finally, Mrs. Teasdale (as head of the reception committee) greeted Firefly, as he amusingly teased and flirted with her, populating his words with insulting non-sequiters: ("You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here. You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle"); Firefly claimed he loved her when she admitted she was a rich widow

Firefly's First Confrontation with Trentino

Firefly Distracted by Vera
  • after a few strained words with Trentino, Firefly was soon distracted by seductive "famous dancer" Vera wearing a slinky evening gown displaying her bosom; when she suggested dancing with him, Firefly answered: "I could dance with you till the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows when you came home"
  • in the song and dance number "Just Wait 'Til I Get Through With It" with a "Yankee Doodle" fife, Firefly specified the rules and program planned for his preposterous administration; he threatened, as a repressive, dictatorial ruler, to abuse his power, to be rude, obnoxious, irresponsible, insulting, cynical, and power-mad, in order to ruin the country ("If you think this country's bad off now Just wait 'til I get through with it")
  • on his way to the government's House of Representatives, Firefly was chauffeured by mute Pinkie (Harpo Marx) driving a motorcycle with side-car; however, Pinkie roared off on the motorcycle disattached from his passenger in the sidecar (a running gag)
Trentino's Two Spies: Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinkie (Harpo Marx)
  • the traitorous Sylvanian Ambassador Trentino had hired two very incompetent spies to discredit Firefly - hot dog and peanut vendor Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinkie; they appeared in Trentino's office to report on their sabotage, disguised with "spy stuff" and performing silly pranks and horseplay to aggravate him, mostly involving his cigar; Pinkie was temporarily distracted by Trentino's blonde secretary; in a classic dialogue exchange, the Ambassador insisted on hearing a full and detailed report of their espionage activities - and to his dismay and frustration, learned that they had accomplished nothing, although he gave them a second chance
  • in a lampooning Cabinet meeting scene, Firefly's first Cabinet meeting in the Freedonia Chamber of Deputies, after delaying the meeting by playing a game of jacks, Firefly presided over his cabinet and insulted his Minister of Finance (William Worthington) over the Treasury Department's report; to reduce work hours, he shortened the lunch period and also refused to discuss taxes or any real government matters; he caused his exasperated Secretary of War to resign
  • outside the Freedonia palace, Chicolini and Presidential chauffeur Pinkie operated a peanut and hot dog stand, next to a competitor - a Lemonade Seller's (Edgar Kennedy) cart; during their first confrontation with the lemonade stand vendor, Pinkie and the seller engaged in a classic, three-headed hat-switching sequence, exchanging their hats in a shell-like game on their heads; their rivalry ended with Pinkie burning the Lemonade Seller's bowler hat on his flaming hot dog cooker
  • needing to fill his vacated Secretary of War position, Firefly called foreign spy Chicolini away from his peanut stand and offered to appoint him to his Cabinet as his new Secretary of War; to get the Cabinet position, Chicolini had to playing a completely childish and contradictory quiz game of non-sensical questions
  • to identify himself to Firefly in the office, Pinkie rolled up his sleeve and revealed his tattoos (especially the one of a doghouse on his stomach - complete with the head of a real live, barking dog that peeped out)
  • determined to oust Trentino from Freedonia, Firefly's undiplomatic plan was to provoke him with insults, causing him to strike back - and then be thrown out of the country; Firefly attempted to depart with his chauffeur to attend Mrs. Teasdale's garden tea party, where he could insult the overly-sensitive Trentino
  • at the tea party, Firefly immediately began to compete with Trentino for Mrs. Teasdale's romantic attention; as a result of their confrontation, Trentino called Firefly's conduct inexcusable, and angrily walked away, insulting him: "You Swine!...You Worm!...You Upstart!"; the third name-calling insult provoked Firefly to slap him with his gloves; it was feared that the incident would plunge the two countries into war
  • the next scene, a completely silent, pantomimed encounter with visual sight gags marked the second rivalry between the two concessions (the peanut vendor and the lemonade vendor), mirroring the upcoming war between the two countries; after the lemonade seller with a new straw hat stole some peanuts without paying, Pinkie retaliated by taking the vendor's second hat and burning it on his hot-dog spit; the lemonade seller retaliated by overturning the peanut stand and then returned to his own lemonade vending stand to sell drinks to a long line of customers; suddenly, everyone in the line dispersed in shock viewing the barefooted Pinkie, with his trousers rolled up, perching himself on the edge of the clear glass lemonade tank and happily paddling and splashing with his bare feet in his opponent's lemonade tank
  • Mrs. Teasdale attempted to intervene in the dispute between Trentino and Firefly to bring reconciliation; Firefly visited her home and shamelessly flirted with her and imagined them married: ("Married. I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove, but I can't see the stove")
  • Trentino and Vera entered from her porch, and the Ambassador expressed how he wanted to avoid all-out war; he attempted to reconcile their differences by being willing to do anything, but Firefly explained why war was inevitable ("It's too late. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield"); Firefly laughed off the coming conflict, but then encouraged Trentino to repeat the offending name-calling word ("Upstart!") from their previous encounter to cause their conflict to continue; Firefly again slapped Trentino across the face with his gloves; Trentino departed, vowing Sylvania's declaration of war on Freedonia: "This means WAR!" Firefly retorted: "Go, and never darken my towels again!"
  • during the weekend, Vera was a house-guest at Mrs. Teasdale's house where she planned to aid Pinkie and Chicolini as spies, while Firefly was also invited to spend the night in her house for protection; attempting to break and enter into the Teasdale mansion to steal Freedonia's war and battle plans stashed in a downstairs safe, Pinkie and Chicolini engaged in an extended routine of being locked out; then, after meeting up with Vera and Firefly was locked in a bathroom by Chicolini, both Pinkie and Chicolini decided (independently and coincidentally of each other) to dress up in white nightshirts and nightcaps and masquerade as Firefly - adding his distinctive moustache, glasses, eyebrows, and cigar to their disguises
  • the situation set up the classic, inventive perfectly-timed scene of the inspired, celebrated mirror pantomime - a superlative, lyrical, artistic example of mute physical comedy (a revival of a classic vaudeville routine) with two (actually three) of the Marx Brothers identically dressed in nightshirt and cap and duplicating each other's movements; after breaking out of the bathroom, Firefly suspected his "reflection," another white-nightgowned figure (Pinkie), and tested the reflection in the perfectly-timed, ghostly-silent pantomime to catch him; when a third character - Chicolini - entered the scene's frame, the routine ended - the game of disguise was over; while Pinkie escaped, Firefly arrested Chicolini
  • Chicolini was brought to trial for high treason (for selling Freedonia's secret war code and plans); the trial scene dialogue in the classic scene was entirely composed of outrageous, excruciatingly-shameless puns delivered in a sideshow atmosphere; presiding prosecutor Firefly both attacked and defended him in the trial; after Firefly suggested: "I suggest that we give him ten years in Leavenworth or eleven years in Twelveworth," Chicolini quipped: "I tell you what I'll do. I'll take five and ten in Woolworth"
  • Mrs. Teasdale entered to make one more final effort to prevent war, asserting that Trentino had forgotten his quarrel with Firefly and was calling for a peaceful conference; however, Firefly imagined being snubbed and his anger escalated to the point of rejection; he refused to shake Trentino's hand and declared war; in the spectacular musical ensemble, "The Country's Going to War," the coming of war was celebrated by the four Marx Bros. and the people of Freedonia

Pinkie's Distracted Paul Revere's Ride
"The Country's Going to War"
  • in a historical parody, Pinkie was dispatched to waken the citizenry with a bugle, in a memorable Paul Revere-like ride scene, although he was distracted by a blonde woman undressing in an upstairs window, and was forced to submerge himself in her bathtub water when her husband arrived home
  • in his War Room, Firefly (in different uniforms) sent war messages and telegrams to the battlefront, but became exasperated; after a large artillery shell burst through an open window and blasted a large hole through the opposite wall, Firefly picked up a machine gun and fired mistakenly on his own troops; Pinkie's main contribution to the war effort was to wander on the battleground's front lines with a sandwich board recruitment sign over his shoulders; Sylvania's spy Chicolini (although he was Freedonia's Secretary of War) entered the Freedonia headquarters to change sides, as Firefly attempted to close the blinds to keep gunfire away

"Your Excellency, you're shooting your own men"

Mrs. Teasdale Needing Assistance

Firefly With Vase On His Head
  • Mrs. Teasdale called for rescue at her house under attack, as Firefly responded to his cohorts: "Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did"; overwhelmed by the counter-attack, Mrs. Teasdale's house was hit by shells as Firefly called for reinforcements to be sent to the war front (seen in stock footage)
  • during the final battle-war conflict, Firefly walked around blindly with a large white flower vase stuck on his head while drinking water from it; Pinkie removed the "Groucho" face-painted vase from his head by exploding a stick on dynamite inside of it; he emerged from behind a cloud of smoke, and proceeded to keep track of the war tally with a pool-hall counter
  • Freedonia finally emerged victorious and the war was won when Trentino rammed the door of the house and then got his head stuck in the door; captured, he was pelted with apples and oranges until he surrendered; the final line in the climactic absurd battle episode was delivered when Mrs. Teasdale cried out: "Victory is ours!" She also attempted to sing to their victory with the glorious national anthem of Freedonia: "Hail, hail, Freedonia, land of the brave...," but was also pelted with tomatoes, apples, and oranges

Four Quacking Ducks in Kettle of Soup Over a Fire

Widowed Freedonia Benefactress Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont)

Rival Sylvania Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) with Latin Dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres)

Firefly's Secretary Bob Rolland (Zeppo Marx) with Mrs. Teasdale

Coronation Scene of Rufus T. Firefly - Firefly In Line Awaiting His Own Arrival

Firefly Flirting With Mrs. Teasdale

Firefly: "Just Wait 'Til I Get Through With It"

Pinkie - Presidential Chauffeur

Firefly Presiding Over Cabinet Meeting

Pinkie's First Confrontation with Lemonade Vendor - Burning His Bowler Hat

Pinkie Identifying Himself With Tattoos

At Mrs. Teasdale's Garden Tea Party, Trentino's Insults Toward Firefly: "Upstart!!"

Pinkie 2nd Confrontation - Paddling in Lemonade Vendor's Tank

Firefly's Shameless Flirtations with Mrs. Teasdale

Two Spies with Vera in Mrs. Teasdale's House - To Steal Firefly's Battle Plans

Mirror Pantomime Between Pinkie and Firefly

The End of the Routine

Chicolini's Trial For High Treason

Bombing of Freedonia's HQs

Chaos During Ending Battle Sequence

Trentino Surrendering - Caught in Door and Pelted with Fruit

Mrs. Teasdale - "Victory is Ours!"


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