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Film: Duck Soup
Freedonia: The nation that declares war with a musical number.

"The last man nearly ruined this place, he didn't know what to do with it.
If you think the country's bad off now, just wait till I get through with it!"

The Marx Brothers' fifth film, and held by many to be their best (in tough competition with A Night at the Opera for that title). Released in 1933, it was also their final film for Paramount Pictures. It was one of the first films to openly mock the rising fascism in Europe.

The story begins in the vaguely European country of Freedonia, which is nearly bankrupt due to national mismanagement. Wealthy dowager Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) agrees to loan the country $20 million, but only if Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is appointed ruler. Unfortunately, Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of the neighboring nation of Sylvania plots to take over Freedonia, and sends his best spies Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx) to do his dirty work. But between Firefly's womanizing antics, Firefly's incompetent policies, and Firefly's wanton insults to the Ambassador, Freedonia is soon on the fast track of war with Sylvania. Naturally, Hilarity Ensues throughout all of this.

In the Marx Brothers' repertoire, this movie is notable for being Zeppo Marx's final appearance with the act.


"Of course you know, this means tropes":

  • Aerith and Bob: The Marx brothers play Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), Chicolini (Chico), Pinky (Harpo)... and Firefly's Secretary, Bob Roland (Zeppo).
  • Anti-Hero: Rufus T. Firefly, as summed up with the song lyrics included at the top of the page.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Rufus T. Firefly.
  • Behind the Black: Harpo hides in an ordinary bathtub... from the man who's bathing in it.
  • Black Comedy: The film skirts with this a bit, most notably in Freedonia using a musical number to declare war.
  • Butt Monkey: The lemonade vendor, whose only crime was to have the misfortune of having his cart next to Chicolini's roasted peanuts cart.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: In the climactic battle scene, Rufus' uniform changes almost every time the camera switches, to a variety of increasingly improbable outfits.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Harpo uses a blowtorch to light a cigar.
  • Crowd Song: "To war, to war, to war we gotta go!" It eventually devolves into a minstrel show. (No Blackface, though.)
  • Culture Police: Firefly, as the newly installed ruler of Freedonia, lays down the law in a jaunty tune:
    No one's allowed to smoke — Or tell a dirty joke — And whistling is forbidden!
    If chewing gum is chewed — The chewer is pursued — And in the hoosegow with him!
    If any form of pleasure is exhibited,
    Report to me and it will be prohibited!
    I'll put my foot down
    So shall it be-e-e...
    This is the land of the free!
  • Cute Mute: Harpo, although this is one of the films that does address the fact that he is mute by choice and used to talk. (Chicolini can't understand why he won't talk to him.)
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Firefly sends Pinky out to warn the country that the Sylvanians are coming, which he does, in a Paul Revere-esque manner, until... he sees a woman about to take a bath. And yet he prefers to share her bed with his horse.
  • Fiction 500: Mrs. Teasdale is rich enough to solve a nation's debt, even a small one, and declare who is to lead it.
  • For the Funnyz: Pretty much the only reason for anything Firefly, Chicolini, or Pinky did.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Teasdale.
  • Handshake Refusal: Rufus T. Firefly imagines Ambassador Tretino won't shake his hand, and builds up resentment towards him so much that as soon as Tretino enters, Firefly Glove Slaps him for the refusal which hadn't actually happened.
    "I'd be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered. But suppose he doesn't. A fine thing that'll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept. That'll add a lot to my prestige, won't it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people? Think of it - I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept. Why, the cheap four-flushing swine, he'll never get away with it I tell you, he'll never get away with it!"
    [Trentino enters]
    "So, you refuse to shake hands with me, eh?" *SLAP!*
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: Trope picture courtesy this film.
  • Hilarity Ensues: It's the Marx Brothers. You could make them fill out taxes and still get this.
    Chico: Hey, I got an uncle lives in Taxes!
    Government Minister: No, I'm talking about taxes. Money. Dollars.
    Chico: Dollars! That's where my uncle lives! Dollars, Taxes!
  • Hurricane of Puns: Chicolini's trial. The above quote is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Firefly's secretary Bob Roland (played by Zeppo) whispers to him a story that he'd told to Vera Marcal, which caused her and Ambassador Trentino to slap him. Firefly immediately slaps Zeppo.
    Firefly: You ought to be ashamed of yourself! Where'd you hear that story?
    Roland: Why, you told it to me.
    Firefly: Oh yes, I remember. I should have slapped Mrs. Teasdale's face when she told it to me.
  • I Know You Know I Know
  • Implausible Deniability: "Who you gonna believe, me or you own eyes?"
  • Incessant Chorus: The Freedonian national anthem.
  • Insult to Rocks: After calling the Sylvanian ambassador a baboon, Firefly apologizes, saying "That isn't fair to the rest of the baboons."
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Newly installed President Firefly lays down the law in a peppy tune:
    I will not stand for anything that's crooked or unfair,
    I'm strictly on the up-and-up, so everyone beware!
    If anyone's caught taking graft - and I don't get my share,
    We stand him up against the wall and Pop Goes the Weasel!
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: "That's right, 'upstart'!"
  • It Won't Turn Off: At Mrs. Teasdale's manor, Pinky mistakes a safe for a radio, which plays a very loud and energetic rendition of "Stars And Stripes Forever". He tries to muffle the radio with pillows, to no effect. He then throws it on the floor and smashes it to pieces; again, the radio continues to play. Pinky has to settle for throwing what's left of the radio out the window.
    • It's Probably Nothing: After all this, Chicolini dismisses the sudden noise by saying "Sounds to me like mice!"
  • "Join the Army," They Said: And see the Navy.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Parodied when Chicolini (Chico) has disguised himself as Firefly (Groucho), and when Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) asks why he's talking like that, he replies, "Well, I think maybe sometime I go to Italy, and I'm practicing the language." Impressed, Mrs. Teasdale gushes, "Your dialect is perfect."
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    Prosecuter: Chicolini, when were you born?
    Chico: I don't remember. I was just a little baby.
  • Mirror Routine
  • On Second Thought: "I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows until you came home."
  • One-Liner
  • Pick a Card: Parodied and subverted.
    Rufus T. Firefly: Take a card.
    Mrs. Teasdale: [takes one] Card? What will I do with the card?
    Rufus T. Firefly: You can keep it. I've got fifty-one left.
  • Please Select New City Name: The city of Fredonia, NY complained about the name "Freedonia," worrying that it might negatively affect them. Groucho, of course, replied, "Change the name of your town. It is hurting our picture."
  • Premature Aggravation: Used to provide the page quote.
  • Pretty in Mink: Mrs. Teasdale wears a couple, given she's rich enough to bail out a bankrupt country.
  • Produce Pelting: Firefly and company do this to Trentino at the end of the movie. Then they do this to Mrs. Teasdale when she insists on singing the Freedonian national anthem again.
  • Pungeon Master: Firefly is full of them, though Chicolini isn't far behind. See Hilarity Ensues.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy
  • Right on the Tick: Firefly is supposed to turn up when the clock strikes 10. Subverted for laughs: he sneaks in from the back. By fire pole, no less.
  • Romancing the Widow: Both Firefly and Ambassador Trentino do this with Mrs. Teasdale.
    Mrs. Teasdale: I was with [my late husband] to the very end.
    Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.
    Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
    Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
  • Rule of Funny: The answer to any of the MANY gaps in logic in the film. It works because just about every gap results in a Crowning Moment Of Funny.
  • Running Gag:
    • Harpo pulls up in a motorcycle, Groucho gets into the sidecar, Harpo drives off. Invariably, Groucho is left behind.
    Groucho: This is the fifth trip I've taken today, and I haven't gone anywhere.
    • Later subverted as Groucho gets clever and insists on riding on the motorcycle portion. Cue Harpo driving off in the sidecar.
      Groucho: Ah, this is the only way to travel.
    • Groucho's changing uniforms during the actual war sequence.
    • Harpo's half-kleptomania, where he steals half-items by snipping them off with scissors.
  • Senseless Violins: Firefly does this in the climactic battle sequence. Naturally, he's shooting in the wrong direction.
  • Silence Is Golden: The Mirror Routine is performed entirely without sound.
  • Silly Reason for War: The war between Freedonia and Sylvania begins because Rufus T. Firefly took offense at getting called an "upstart".
  • Slap Stick
  • Stock Footage: Amusingly deployed when Firefly summons for help during the battle sequence.
  • That Was Objectionable: During the treason trial. Judge Groucho even sustains it.
  • This Means War!: Not the trope creator, but possibly the Trope Namer. Firefly declares war after insulting himself and blaming it on the other country's ambassador. And then there's a big musical number about it.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Animaniacs in one of their most popular episodes, King Yakko.
  • You Are Fat: Margaret Dumont is not fat, especially not by 1933's standards, but that doesn't keep Firefly from saying this of Mrs. Teasdale:
    "I can see you now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove. But I can't see the stove!"
  • You Fool!: The Sylvanian ambassador uses a few lines in response to the insults from Groucho. The one that sets off the slap is "You upstart".

NashvilleAFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies ( 10 th Anniversary Edition)Sullivans Travels
FargoAFI's 100 Years... 100 MoviesMutiny on the Bounty
Duck AmuckRoger Ebert Great Movies ListE.T. the Extraterrestrial
All Quiet on the Western FrontNational Film RegistryTop Hat
Horse FeathersFilms of the 1930sA Night at the Opera
Rise of the GuardiansCreator/ParamountThe Elephant Man
Riding the BombImageSource/Live-Action FilmsHarpo Does Something Funny
Citizen KaneDanny Peary Cult Movies ListEmmanuelle

alternative title(s): Duck Soup
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