Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Duck Soup (1933)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

To leave for an appointment in the House of Representatives, President Firefly calls for his palace's car. In a funny sightgag, Pinkie (Harpo Marx), his presidential chauffeur, roars into view in the presidential vehicle - a motorcycle and sidecar. Firefly (now in his black tuxedo with tails) jumps in the sidecar and commands: "If you run out of gas, get ethyl. If Ethel runs out, get Mabel." Pinkie roars off on the motorcycle disattached from his passenger in the sidecar (a running gag throughout the film). Firefly jumps out of the sidecar and proclaims: "Well, it certainly feels good to be back again!"

In neighboring Sylvania (introduced with a waving flag with an emblazoned "S"), Ambassador Trentino has schemed against Firefly (who has suddenly become popular) by hiring two spies to shadow and "disgrace him and discredit him with the people." Enter hot dog and peanut vendor Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinkie, the mute chauffeur, who report to Trentino to carry out the subterfuge. They appear in their superior's office as all good spies do - in disguise "with spy stuff" and armed with an assortment of playful props. Pinkie wears a beard and rotating pinwheels for his eyes, all on the back of his head, and Chicolini wears a clown mask. Turning Pinkie around, Chicolini asks Trentino: "We fool-a you good, eh?"

Trentino invites them in and they burst into his office. They answer his phone, but the ringing is the sound of Pinkie's alarm clock in his coat. A telegram arrives and Pinkie intercepts it. Because all spies destroy messages, he quickly looks at it and angrily rips it up before it is read. Chicolini interprets for Trentino: "He gets mad because he can't read." Trentino invites them to be seated, but they both sit in the Ambassador's chair just as he is sitting down. Chicolini offers to share a smoke with his boss: "Here, have a cigar. That's a good quarter cigar. I smoked the other three-quarters myself." The pranks multiply - they take his cigar and fake lighting it with his telephone receiver, then light two cigars with a flaming blowtorch taken from Pinkie's pocket. Behind his back, Pinkie cuts Trentino's cigar in half.

They are asked if they have been trailing Firefly. Chicolini replies: "Have we been trailing Firefly? Why, my partner, he's got a nose just like a bloodhound...and the rest of his face don't look so good either." At one point, Pinkie is temporarily distracted by Trentino's blonde secretary. The two spies play an impromptu game of baseball with half of a cigar. Because Trentino is impatient about the delivery of their report, Chicolini tells how incompetently they have performed as spies following Firefly. The one clue they were given, a picture of Firefly, they have lost:

Chicolini: Well, you remember you gave us a picture of this man and said, 'Follow him?'...Well, we get on-a the job right away and in-a one hour - even-a less than one hour...
Trentino (excitedly and expectantly): Yes?
Chicolini: We losa-a the picture. That's-a pretty quick work, eh?
Trentino: ...I asked you to dig up something I can use against Firefly. Did you bring me his record?

When Trentino asks for Firefly's record, Pinkie produces a gramophone record from his inexhaustible supply of props under his coat. When Trentino cries: "No, no!" and flings it at the ceiling like a clay-pigeon skeet - Pinkie blasts it out of the air with a pistol taken from his coat. Chicolini rings a bell on the desk, awards Pinkie a cigar as a prize, and shuts the cigar box humidor on Trentino's fingers.

In a classic dialogue, the Ambassador insists on hearing a full and detailed report of their espionage activities - and to his dismay, learns that they have accomplished nothing:

Trentino: Oh! Now, Chicolini, I want a full detailed report of your investigation.
Chicolini: All right, I tell you. Monday we watch-a Firefly's house, but he no come out. He wasn't home. Tuesday we go to the ball game, but he fool us. He no show up. Wednesday he go to the ball game, and we fool him. We no show up. Thursday was a double-header. Nobody show up. Friday it rained all day. There was no ball game, so we stayed home and we listened to it on-a the radio.
Trentino (exasperated): Then you didn't shadow Firefly?
Chicolini: Oh, sure we shadow Firefly. We shadow him all day.
Trentino: But what day was that?
Chicolini: Shadowday. Hahaha. That's-a some joke, eh, Boss?

When Trentino, in frustration, pulls his hair out, Pinkie clips some of his hair with a pair of scissors like a barber. Chicolini deduces that they have not followed Firefly but instead followed a married man - the wrong man. Trentino delivers the punchline as they hang their heads in shame:

Gentlemen, I am disappointed. I entrusted you with a mission of great importance and you failed. However! I am going to give you one more chance!

Pinkie continues his horseplay and pranks - he cuts the coattails off Trentino's coat and assures Trentino that he can "trap Firefly" using a rat-trap. He smears glue from a jar of paste on the ambassador's pants, pastes a daily newspaper to his bottom, and when cheerfully departing and shaking hands, closes the rat-trap on his fingers. At the end of the sequence, Trentino shows absolute distress. [Little does Trentino know that both of them are or will soon be members of Firefly's Cabinet (Chicolini will be the Secretary of War and Pinkie will be the Presidential chauffeur)].

In Firefly's first Cabinet meeting in the Freedonia Chamber of Deputies, he keeps his governmental aides and ministers waiting, while he finishes a game of jacks - bouncing a ball and attempting to scoop up a handful of jacks before catching the ball. During the governmental shenanigans, Rufus is handed the Treasury Department's report and asked if he finds it clear. He insults his Minister of Finance (William Worthington) and then tells his secretary Bob Rolland:

Clear? Huh! Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head or tail out of it.

The new President refuses to discuss taxes or any real government matters when presiding over his cabinet:

Firefly: And now members of the Cabinet, we'll take up old business.
Minister: I wish to discuss the tariff.
Firefly: Sit down. That's new business. No old business? Very well. Then, we'll take up new business.
Minister: Now about that tariff.
Firefly: Too late, that's old business already. Sit down.

Both the Secretary of War and the plumbing are noted as being "out of order."

Minister of Labor: The Department of Labor wishes to report that the workers of Freedonia are demanding shorter hours.
Firefly: Very well, we'll give them shorter hours. We'll start by cutting their lunch hour to twenty minutes. And now, gentlemen, we've got to start looking for a new Treasurer.
Minister of Labor: But you appointed one last week!
Firefly: That's the one I'm looking for.
Secretary of War (Edwin Maxwell): Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Enough of this. How about taking up the tax?
Firefly: How about taking up the carpet?
Secretary of War: I still insist we must take up the tax.
Firefly: He's right. You've got to take up the tacks before you can take up the carpet.
Secretary of War (now exasperated): I give all my time and energy to my duties and what do I get?
Firefly: You get awfully tiresome after a while.
Secretary of War: Sir, you try my patience!
Firefly: I don't mind if I do. You must come over and try mine sometime.
Secretary of War: That's the last straw. I resign! I wash my hands of the whole business.
Firefly: That's a good idea. You can wash your neck, too.

Outside the Freedonia palace, Chicolini and Pinkie operate a peanut and hot dog stand, next to a Lemonade Seller's (Edgar Kennedy) cart. Pinkie gets involved in a fight with Chicolini for stealing peanuts, and old tricks appear - he hands Chicolini his limp leg, and when fighting delivers a kick when threatening a punch. The Lemonade Seller is angered when his customers are disturbed and driven off by the fight. He intrudes and immediately becomes their target.

While Chicolini shows how he has been kicked - delivering a kick to the Lemonade Seller's backside, Pinkie innocently clips the Seller's inside-out pants pocket and transforms it into a peanut bag. When the Lemonade Seller approaches Pinkie and they collide, Pinkie's taxi-horn sounds. Chicolini explains that they are both spies: "Look. He's a spy and I'm a spy. He a work-a for me." After being annoyed and kicked in the pants again by Chicolini, the Seller finds Pinkie's limp leg hanging in his hand.

In a classic, three-headed, hat-switching sequence, the hats of Pinkie and the Seller fall off. Hats are switched when they stoop to pick them up. They quickly and smoothly exchange their hats, in a shell-like game on their heads, and the frustrated, "slow-burn" Lemonade Seller ends up with Chicolini's pointed dunce cap on his head. Confused and exasperated, the Seller gives his leg to Pinkie, and Chicolini gives one of his legs to the Seller. Pinkie sucks some of the lemonade into his taxi horn, and it squeezes into the Seller's face when they collide their stomachs together. For revenge, the Lemonade Seller takes the horn and squeezes lemonade into Pinkie's trousers, causing him to make a face and show discomfort like he's wet his pants. To settle the score, Pinkie burns the Lemonade Seller's bowler hat on the flaming hot dog cooker.

Aiding Trentino's spy efforts to infiltrate into the Freedonian government, Firefly calls foreign spy Chicolini away from his peanut stand and offers to appoint him to his Cabinet as his Secretary of War. Chicolini wonders how much the job pays:

Firefly: I've got a good mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.
Chicolini: Peanuts - to you.
Firefly: Have you got a license?
Chicolini: License? No, but a-my dog - he's got a-millions of 'em. Believe me, he's some smart dog. You know he went with Admiral Byrd to the Pole.
Firefly: I'll bet the dog got to the pole first.

After inviting the peanut vendor into his office, the telephone rings and Chicolini answers the call for Firefly:

Chicolini: No, no. He's not in. All right, I tell him. Goodbye. (He turns to Firefly) That was for you.
Firefly: I'm sorry I'm not in. I wanted to have a long talk with you...

The phone rings a second time with Chicolini answering and responding similarly. Firefly looks around in amazement after the phone is hung up:

I wonder whatever became of me? I should have been back here a long time ago.

In another classic dialogue, Chicolini is appointed to Firefly's Cabinet by playing a completely childish and contradictory quiz game of non-sensical questions:

Firefly: Now listen here. I've got a swell job for you, but first I'll have to ask you a couple of important questions. Now, what is it that has four pair of pants, lives in Philadelphia and it never rains but it pours? (He chuckles, thinking he has baffled Chicolini)
Chicolini (absurdly turning the tables): That's-a good one. I give you three guesses.
Firefly: Now, let me see. Has four pair of pants, lives in Philadelphia...Is it male or female?
Chicolini: No, I don't think so.
Firefly: Is he dead?
Chicolini: Who?
Firefly: I don't know. I give up.
Chicolini: I give up too. Now, I ask you another one. What is it got big black-a moustache, smokes a big black cigar, and is a big pain in the neck?
Firefly : Now, don't tell me. Has a big black moustache, smokes a big black cigar and is a big pain in the - (he acts furious when he can't answer the question, but then catches on and acts insulted)
Chicolini: Uh -
Firefly: Does he wear glasses?
Chicolini: Atsa right. You guess it quick.
Firefly: Just for that, you don't get the job I was gonna give you.
Chicolini: What job?
Firefly: Secretary of War.
Chicolini: All right, I take it.
Firefly: Sold!

Pinkie enters the office and all three leap to answer the phone when it rings. Pinkie cleverly carries on a "conversation" with differently-tuned taxi-horns.

Firefly confers with Chicolini regarding the nature of the army:

Firefly: Now that you're Secretary of War, what kind of an army do you think we oughta have?
Chicolini: Well, I tell you what I think. I think we should have a standing army.
Firefly: Why should we have a standing army?
Chicolini: Because then we save money on chairs.

The "peanuts" man is thrown out of the office. As Firefly writes a note with his long-feathered quill pen, Pinkie cuts off the top half of the feather - abruptly halting Firefly's flourishing pen. To identify himself to Firefly, Pinkie rolls up his sleeve and shows him:

- a tattoo of his curly-haired face on one forearm
- a bikinied dancing lady on his other flexing forearm
- her phone number tattooed on his right side
- his residence - a dog house tattooed on his stomach. When Firefly looks closely and meows, a live barking dog emerges

Firefly is incredulous: "I bet you haven't got a picture of my grandfather?" Pinkie is ready to turn around and pull down his drawers, but Firefly has had enough and suggests he'll see it some other time.

Firefly's secretary, Rolland arrives with a letter from Trentino designed to undermine Firefly's rule. Rolland recommends how to "get rid of that man at once!" His undiplomatic plan is to provoke Trentino with insults, causing him to strike back - and then be thrown out of the country. Firefly departs for a tea party at Mrs. Teasdale's home, although he hasn't been invited. He knows he can insult the overly-sensitive Trentino there. As Firefly hops into his sidecar next to his chauffeur, he is left behind a second time:

This is the fifth trip I've made today, and I haven't been anywhere yet!

[Both Chicolini and Pinkie have treated him as if he doesn't exist - on the phone and in the sidecar.]

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