Rufus T Firefly, a cynical reprobate, is foolishly appointed president of Freedonia when his rich sponsor Mrs. Teasdale bales out the bankrupt nation. However, when neighbouring ambassador Trentino, from Sylvania, attempts to woo her away from him, Firefly declares war.
Arguably, alongside A Day At The Races, the Marx Brothers zenith, this brief satire-in-extremis packs more into its 68 minute examination of international politicking than subsequent comedies do with another hour.
The genius of the Brothers infectious routines, a febrile mix of deranged slapstick (none of Chaplin’s arty body-balletic, thank you) and the snap and sting of Groucho’s wordplay (“Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honour, which is probably more than she ever did”), is the pace at which it spills forth. Any slower and the cracks would show, their policy is that if you tell it fast enough it will always be funny. They were right.
The film reaches a state of frenzy that is almost ecstatic as Rufus T Firefly, Groucho at is most snappily assured with those hydraulic eyebrows permanently banked at sarcastic, determines to send his new plaything, the nation of Freedonia, off to war with its neighbour.
After all, their ambassador had called him an, “upstart!”
What raises this particular episode of their mania above all others, is twofold. It was the only time they teamed up with legendary director Leo McCarey, who tidied up their lose edges and encouraged them to seek loftier targets to spoil. And here was the second triumph of Duck Soup, although they denied it, it remains one of the most incisive anti-war satires ever made, a film that rivals Dr. Strangelove and betters Chaplin’s haughty The Great Dictator for caustic verve. It is down to the grinning hooligan persona they concoct, as if nothing in the world matters.
As one dopey brother is sent to press the lines of a besieged building, Groucho’s rabbit mouthed Firefly sends him on his way in typical fashion: “You’re a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you’re out there risking your life and limb through shout and shell, we’ll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.” The world can be so dark that laughter is the only option.
The Marx brothers on top form with their quickfire comedy and banter.