A documentary! Government in America!

The redux.  I first blogged this 2/19/2010.  Nothing has changed.

On Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 12:52 PM, Tom Burnett <tcburnett@gmail.com> wrote:

This description of the 1933 movie 'Duck Soup' by Tim Dirks perfectly captures the government of the United States in 2010.  It is impossible to read without immediately picturing the US congress.  I picture specific people but I won't name them in order not to disrespect the film.

It will take five minutes to read.  It's worth every second!  http://www.filmsite.org/duck.html   I was reminded of this film when I was attempting to pen a description of the current state of the government and a Mel Brooks line started running through my head: “Sire, the peasants are revolting!” “You said it. They stink on ice.” (Harvey Korman as Count de Money (Monet) and Mel Brooks as King Louis XVI, in History of the World Part I) . But the line was originally delivered by Groucho Marx in this film.

The Marx Brothers' greatest and funniest masterpiece – the classic comedy Duck Soup (1933) is a short, but brilliant satire and lampooning of blundering dictatorial leaders, Fascism and authoritarian government. The film, produced by Herman Mankiewicz, was prepared during the crisis period of the Depression. Some of its clever gags and routines were taken from Groucho's and Chico's early 1930s radio show Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel. Working titles for the film included Oo La La, Firecrackers, Grasshoppers, and Cracked Ice.

It was the Marx Brothers' fifth film in a five-picture contract with Paramount Studios, before they went on to MGM. It was their last and best film with the studio. The film was directed by first-class veteran director Leo McCarey (who would go on to direct The Awful Truth (1937), Love Affair (1939), Going My Way (1944), and An Affair to Remember (1957) – a remake of his 1939 film), and its screenplay was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin). Originally, it was to have been directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The film was devoid of any Academy Award nominations.

The outrageous film was both a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release – audiences were taken aback by such preposterous political disrespect, buffoonery and cynicism at a time of political and economic crisis, with Roosevelt's struggle against Depression in the US amidst the rising power of Hitler in Germany. (This film quote, spoken by Groucho, was especially detested: “And remember while you're out there risking life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.”) Insulted by the film, fascist Italian dictator Mussolini banned the film in his country. Fortunately, the film was rediscovered by a generation of 1960s college students, and by revival film festivals and museum showings. As a result, the film has attained immortal status. This was the last of the Marx Brothers films to feature all four of the brothers. Their next film (without Zeppo), for MGM and its producer Irving Thalberg, Hollywood's most prestigious studio, was their landmark film A Night at the Opera (1935), with a more developed and polished plot-line.

The irrepressible comedians in this quintessential anarchic, satirical film simply but irreverently attack 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). The non-stop, frenetic film is filled with a number of delightfully hilarious moments, gags, fast-moving acts, double entendres, comedy routines, puns, pure silliness, zany improvisations, quips and insult-spewed lines of dialogue – much of the comedy makes the obvious statement that war is indeed nonsensical and meaninglessly destructive, especially since the word 'upstart' was the insult word (Ambassador Trentino called Firefly an 'upstart') that led to war between the two countries. It also contains a few of their most famous sequences:

  • the lemonade seller confrontation
  • the mirror pantomime sequence

The mirror routine, contributed by McCarey, had been used by Charlie Chaplin in The Floorwalker (1916) and by Max Linder in Seven Year's Bad Luck (1921). It was later replicated in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, re-enacted by Harpo with Lucille Ball on a 1950's “I Love Lucy” show episode, and also appeared as part of the opening credits for the 60s TV series “The Patty Duke Show”. Actor/director Woody Allen paid homage to the film in his Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) – with an excerpt from the musical number “The Country's Going to War.” While attending an afternoon screening of Duck Soup at his local repertory movie theater, one of the film's characters – a depressed and neurotic NY Jew named Mickey Sachs (played by Allen himself), who is afraid of disease and dying – experiences a climactic epiphany that life was meant to be enjoyed, by narrating: “And I started to feel how can you even think of killing yourself? I mean, isn't it so stupid?…”

Unlike many of their other features, there are no romantic subplots (with Zeppo) and no musical interludes that stop the film's momentum – no harp solos for Harpo and no piano solos for Chico. There are, however, a couple of musical numbers that are perfectly integrated into the plot:

  • When the Clock on the Wall Strikes Ten
  • Groucho's song with the chorus – the Freedonia Hymn Just Wait 'Til I Get Through With It
  • the staged production number, The Country's Goin' to War (it was the only musical number in any of their films to feature all four of the brothers together)

Why the title Duck Soup? [Earlier in 1927, director Leo McCarey had made a two-reel Laurel and Hardy film with the same title – and he borrowed the title from there.] The film's title uses a familiar American phrase that means anything simple or easy, or alternately, a gullible sucker or pushover. Under the opening credits, four quacking ducks (the four Marx Brothers) are seen swimming and cooking in a kettle over a fire. Groucho reportedly provided the following recipe to explain the title: “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup for the rest of your life.”

The film opens with the flag of Freedonia (emblazoned with an “F”) flying over the small village. The government of a “mythical kingdom” – the Balkan state of Freedonia, is suffering an emergency. It has gone bankrupt through mismanagement and is on the verge of revolution. The country's richest dowager millionairess, the wide and widowed benefactress Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont in a welcome return as the perfect foil for Groucho) has offered $20 million to sponsor and support the cash-poor government, but only if it is placed under new leadership:

The government has been mismanaged. I will lend the money, but only on condition that His Excellency withdraw and place the government in new hands.

The opening scene is the classic inaugural ceremony and lawn party for the conferring of the Presidency of the tin-pot republic to a newly-appointed leader, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), characterized by a supportive Mrs. Teasdale as “a progressive, fearless fighter.” She vows: “I will lend the money to Freedonia only if Firefly is appointed leader.” Headlines in the Freedonia Gazette read: “FIREFLY APPOINTED NEW LEADER OF FREEDONIA.” A sub-article reads: “Mammoth Reception Arranged to Welcome Nation's Leader Tonight – Selection of Rufus T. Firefly Greeted with Cheers of Freedonians.”

In the coronation setting (a spoof of all such gala events), royal court guards at the entry announce the guests. Meanwhile, the representative of the neighboring Sylvania [the name of the country where Jeanette MacDonald ruled in Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade (1929)], Ambassador and rival suitor Trentino (Louis Calhern), schemes to win Mrs. Teasdale's hand in marriage by wooing the rich heiress (with the ultimate goal of annexing Freedonia to Sylvania). He has hired the seductive, sultry, and sinuous Latin temptress/dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres), who wears a low-cut, revealing gown, to function as a secret agent and keep Firefly distracted [in a satire of all Mata Hari films]:

Trentino: I've given up the idea of a revolution. I have a better plan…I can gain control of Freedonia much easier by marrying Mrs. Teasdale.
Vera: Ha, ha, ha. Maybe that's not going to be so easy…From what I hear, you see, Mrs. Teasdale is rather sweet on this Rufus T. Firefly.
Trentino: Oh, well that's where you come in. I'm going to place him in your hands. And I don't have to tell you what to do or how to…

Firefly's secretary Bob Rolland (Zeppo Marx, in his LAST Marx Bros. film) arrives and assures Mrs. Teasdale, in song, that the absent statesman will appear “When the Clock on the Wall Strikes Ten.” When the clock on the wall does strike ten, pretty dancing girls scatter rose petals and kneel in homage between an impressive lineup of helmeted, sword-bearing guards along the entrance way with swords uplifted. The assembled audience sings the national anthem “Hail, Hail Freedonia,” but Firefly isn't anywhere in sight. After a long pause and a trumpeters' fanfare, the anthem is sung a second time and all the guests look toward the entrance, but Firefly still fails to enter.

Suddenly, in an upstairs bedroom, the ringing of an alarm clock is heard, and Firefly appears in bed with a nightshirt, nightcap, and cigar. He quickly removes his nightshirt to reveal a suit, and slides down an unlikely fireman's pole into the spacious ballroom hall. He takes his place in the line-up with his own honor guard at the end of the ceremonial line, joining them to wait for his own arrival and holding out his cigar with their swords. He asks one of the guards: “You expecting somebody?”

Mrs. Teasdale notices him and welcomes him (with understatement), and attempts to impose some degree of dignity upon the proceedings, but he assaults her with insults by skipping from non-sequitur association to another:

Mrs. Teasdale: Oh, your Excellency. We've been expecting you. As chairwoman of the reception committee, I extend the wishes of every man, woman, and child of Freedonia. [Notice the continuity error: Firefly's coat has changed from a formal black tuxedo coat with tails, to a gray coat with black edging.]
Firefly: Never mind that stuff. Take a card.
Mrs. Teasdale: Card? What will I do with the card?
Firefly: You can keep it. I've got fifty-one left. Now what were you saying?
Mrs. Teasdale: As chairwoman of the reception committee, I welcome you with open arms.
Firefly (snapping back): Is that so? How late do you stay open?
Mrs. Teasdale (with high regard): I've sponsored your appointment because I feel you are the most able statesman in all Freedonia.
Firefly (insulting her): Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say! You cover a lot of ground yourself. You'd better beat it. I hear they're gonna tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing. 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.

She begs him to lead Freedonia to the same heights it occupied when her late husband Chester V. Teasdale was President: “The future of Freedonia rests on you. Promise me you will follow in the footsteps of my husband.” Firefly looks straight into the camera, and in his first major line rudely insults his most ardent supporter:

How do you like that? I haven't been on the job five minutes and already she's making advances to me.

Then he engages the widowed Mrs. Teasdale in an insult-ridden conversation, but quickly covers up his insults and shamelessly flirts with her when he realizes she is a widow with money:

Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he's dead.
Firefly: I'll bet he's just using that as an excuse.
Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.
Firefly: Hmmph. No wonder he passed away.
Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
Firefly: Oh, I see. Then, it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
Mrs. Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.
Firefly: Is that so? Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you.
Mrs. Teasdale: Oh, your Excellency!
Firefly: You're not so bad yourself.

[Firefly's coat reverts back to the black tuxedo here.] When Firefly is introduced to the sleek, impeccably tailored Trentino, Ambassador from rival Sylvania, he immediately insults him a few times, calling him an “old skinflint”:

Mrs. Teasdale: Oh, I want to present to you Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania. Having him with us today is indeed a great pleasure.
Trentino: Thank you, but I can't stay very long.
Firefly: That's even a greater pleasure. Now, how about lending this country $20,000,000 dollars, you old skinflint.
Trentino: $20,000,000 dollars is a lot of money. I'd have to take that up with my Minister of Finance.
Firefly: Well, in the meantime, could you let me have $12 dollars until payday?
Trentino: $12 dollars?
Firefly: Don't be scared. You'll get it back. I'll give you my personal note for 90 days. If it isn't paid by then, you can keep the note.
Trentino: Your Excellency? Haven't we seen each other somewhere before?
Firefly: I don't think so. I'm not sure I'm seeing you now. It must be something I ate.
Trentino (insulted): Look here Sir, are you trying to…?
Firefly: Don't look now, but there's one man too many in this room, and I think it's you.

Then, the new Freedonian President meets a “very charming lady,” the seductive “famous dancer” Vera, still wearing a slinky evening gown displaying her bosom. Overwhelmed by her appearance, he shows off a number of his own ridiculous dance steps: “I danced before Napoleon. No, Napoleon danced before me. In fact, he danced two hundred years before me.” When she seductively suggests dancing with him some time later, he tells her:

I could dance with you till the cows come home. On second thought, I'd rather dance with the cows when you came home.

Firefly dictates a letter to his dentist in the middle of the inauguration. Mrs. Teasdale congratulates him on his coronation and sovereignty: “The eyes of the world are upon you. Notables from every country are gathered here in your honor. This is a gala day for you.” He replies: “Well, a gal a day is enough for me. I don't think I could handle any more.”

In the song and dance number, “Just Wait 'Til I Get Through With It,” Firefly specifies the rules and program planned for his preposterous administration. He threatens, as a repressive, dictatorial ruler, to abuse his power, to be rude, obnoxious, irresponsible, insulting, cynical, and power-mad, ruining the country. [The last verse featured a dirty joke and managed to evade the censors.] Between verses, he plays a “Yankee Doodle” fife and dances around among the guests:

These are the laws of my administration
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 hidden…
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.
This is the land of the free.

The last man nearly ruined this place
He didn't know what to do with it
If you think this country's bad off now
Just wait 'til I get through with it
The country's taxes must be fixed
And I know what to do with it
If you think you're paying too much now
Just wait 'til I get through with it…

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 'em up against the wall
And pop goes the weasel.

If any man should come between her husband and his bride
We find out which one she prefers
By letting her decide
If she prefers the other man
The husband steps outside
We stand 'em up against the wall
And pop goes the weasel.

[Firefly's coat again changes back to the gray one at the conclusion of the song.]

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 without 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:

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.]

Governmental relations between Freedonia and Sylvania are governed by the tense relationship between Firefly and Ambassador Trentino and their rivalry for Mrs. Teasdale. The Sylvanian ambassador fears Firefly's influence because it has averted a revolution in Freedonia. When Firefly arrives at the tea party, greeted by the guests with the national anthem “Hail, Hail Freedonia,” he dunks an invited guest's doughnut into a cup of coffee. He immediately competes with Trentino to charm Mrs. Teasdale with his attention:

Firefly: I can't give you wealth, but, uh, we can have a little family of our own (his eyebrows dance up and down)
Mrs. Teasdale: Oh Rufus!
Firefly: All I can offer you is a Rufus over your head.
Mrs. Teasdale: Your Excellency. I really don't know what to say.
Firefly: I wouldn't know what to say either if I was in your place. (To Trentino) Maybe you can suggest something. As a matter of fact, you do suggest something. To me you suggest a baboon.
Trentino: What!
Firefly: I'm sorry I said that. It isn't fair to the rest of the baboons.

Trentino, acting imperially, believes Firefly's conduct is inexcusable, and angrily walks away, insulting him: “You Swine!…You Worm!…You Upstart!” The third insult provokes Firefly to slap him with his gloves. Trentino fears the incident may plunge the two countries into war:

Trentino: Mrs. Teasdale. I'm afraid this regrettable occurrence may plunge our countries into war.
Mrs. Teasdale: Oh, this is terrible!
Trentino: I've said enough. I'm a man of few words.
Firefly: I'm a man of one word: scram!

As Trentino leaves and a rivalry between the two countries is sparked, Firefly boasts of his blue-blood heritage: “Why the Mayflower was full of Fireflys. And a few horseflies too. The Fireflys were on the upper deck, and the horseflies were on the Fireflys.” Firefly calls for his car and to avoid being fooled again, insists on switching places with the chauffeur. So Firefly gets on the motorcycle and roars the engine, but remains frozen as Pinkie and the sidecar take off. Firefly quips again: “This is the only way to travel.”

The next scene parallels the inevitable rivalry looming between the two countries. It is a silent, classic visual sight gag – a battle of rival concessions. The two street vendors (peanut vendor and lemonade vendor) clash again in a memorable pantomime encounter. The Lemonade Seller (with a new white straw hat) helps himself to a bag of peanuts and refuses to pay. When Pinkie, who is watching the stand for Chicolini, holds out his hand to be paid, the Seller paints his palm with mustard. Pinkie wipes his hand clean on the Seller's apron, cuts off the soiled portion with a big pair of scissors and throws it away. Pinkie knocks the bag of peanuts to the ground.

The Lemonade Seller then grabs another bag of peanuts. Pinkie immediately knocks it to the ground too. As he bends down, his new hat is taken and slowly roasted on the hot dog spit. The Seller is so aggravated that he overturns the peanut stand and then returns to his own lemonade vending stand to sell drinks to a long line of customers. Suddenly, everyone in the line disperses in shock. Pinkie has rolled up his trousers, perched himself on the edge of the clear glass lemonade tank, and is seen happily paddling and splashing with his bare feet in his opponent's lemonade.

Mrs. Teasdale tries to act as troubleshooter by entering into the conflict between Trentino and Firefly to bring reconciliation. She telephones from her place and urges Firefly to come over at once. Lounging in his bed and eating soda crackers, an image to mock the Idle Rich, Firefly takes the phone call from Mrs. Teasdale. On the verge of war, Firefly brings his plans for war to Mrs. Teasdale for safe-keeping. In her home, he shamelessly flirts with her and imagines them married: “Married. I can see you right now in the kitchen, bending over a hot stove, but I can't see the stove.” He puts his arm around her as they sit on the sofa and shares his thoughts: “Oh, I was thinking of all the years I've wasted collecting stamps.” He asks for a lock of her hair, after amending his request: “I'm letting you off easy – I was gonna ask for the whole wig.”

Trentino and Vera enter from Mrs. Teasdale's porch. Trentino wants to avoid all-out war and attempts to reconcile their differences by being willing to do anything, but Firefly explains why war is inevitable:

Mrs. Teasdale: Your Excellency, the Ambassador's here on a friendly visit. He's had a change of heart.
Firefly: A lot of good that'll do him. He's still got the same face.
Trentino: I'm sorry we lost our tempers. I'm willing to forget if you are.
Firefly: Forget? You ask me to forget? A Firefly never forgets. Why, my ancestors would rise from their graves, and I'd only have to bury them again. Nothing doing. I'm going back and clean the crackers out of my bed. I'm expecting company.
Mrs. Teasdale: Please wait.
Firefly: Let go of me, you bully!
Mrs. Teasdale: Oh!
Trentino: I am willing to do anything to prevent this war.
Firefly: It's too late. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield.

Both Vera and Mrs. Teasdale beg Firefly – is there anything they can do to get him to reconsider and relent? Firefly replies: “Well, maybe I am a little headstrong, but I come by it honestly. My father was a little headstrong, my mother was a little armstrong. The headstrongs married the armstrongs and that's why darkies were born.”

Firefly laughs away their silly conflict, but then prompts and even encourages Trentino to repeat the offending word from their previous encounter, causing their conflict to continue:

Trentino: Do you mean Worm?
Firefly: No, that wasn't it.
Trentino: I know Swine!
Firefly: …No, it was a seven letter word.
Trentino: Oh yes, Upstart?
Firefly: That's it! Upstart.

Firefly slaps Trentino across the face with his gloves. Trentino departs, vowing Sylvania's declaration of war on Freedonia: “This means WAR!” Firefly adds:

Go, and never darken my towels again!

Trentino schemes to steal into Mrs. Teasdale's house to acquire the Freedonian war plans. Vera Marcal is a “weekend guest” in the Teasdale house – she is to act as an accomplice to help his hired spies, Pinkie and Chicolini. The same evening, Mrs. Teasdale has summoned Firefly to spend the night in her house for protection.

Attempting to break and enter into the Teasdale mansion to steal Freedonia's battle plans, Pinkie and Chicolini engage in an extended routine of being locked out. In the doorbell sequence, first the servant is locked out, then each of them are separately locked out, and finally, both of them are left on the outside. They ring a large bell and then the front doorbell and hide behind a hedge as a servant comes out to look around. Pinkie dashes inside the front door, but shuts the door on his partner. The servant is also locked out. Then Chicolini rings the bell, and Pinkie comes out to look. Chicolini slips inside and shuts the door on him. Pinkie is locked out. (The servant is still wandering about outside.) Then, when Pinkie rings the bell, Chicolini comes out and the servant comes back, goes in, shuts the door and locks both of them out.

They are successfully brought in another door by Trentino's accomplice Vera Marcal. She cautions them to be careful and absolutely quiet so they won't be detected: “If you are found, you are lost.” Chicolini asks: “How can I be lost if-a found?” Although they are compelled to be as quiet as possible, Pinkie unavoidably makes loud noises with whatever he touches. Pinkie lights a loud hissing blowtorch for a flashlight. He also creates a virtual symphony of sound: the clock in the living room chimes, he triggers another music box playing “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” and as he dances to the music, he plucks the piano strings like a harp. Chicolini finally stops the music by smashing Pinkie's hands with the piano top.

By phone, Firefly is awakened by Mrs. Teasdale who is worried about the security of the war plans. As Firefly prepares to go retrieve the plans from her, Chicolini locks him in his bedroom's toilet. Firefly helplessly screams: “Let me out of here. Hey, let me out of here, or throw me a magazine!” Pinkie and Chicolini both decide (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. Chicolini then heads for Mrs. Teasdale's upstairs bedroom to ask her for the plans.

There in Mrs. Teasdale's room, she queries his Excellency about his “strange” accent, so Chicolini explains: “Maybe sometime I go to Italy, and I'm practicing the language.” She writes out the combination to the downstairs safe where the plans are stashed. Pinkie, also dressed as Firefly, races into the bedroom – Chicolini hides under the bed, thinking it is Firefly. He puffs on his cigar, makes faces, honks his horn – and then abruptly leaves (with the safe's combination written on a piece of paper) after seeing his partner under the bed. Mrs. Teasdale, believing that she is alone, starts to undress. But Chicolini emerges from under the bed and she is startled:

Mrs. Teasdale: I thought you left.
Chicolini: Oh no. I don't leave.
Mrs. Teasdale: But I saw you with my own eyes.
Chicolini: Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

She faints on the bed, thinking she is hallucinating, and Chicolini goes for water to revive her. When Chicolini hears the real Firefly approaching (after breaking out of the bathroom), he again hides under the bed. Firefly hears Mrs. Teasdale's question: “How about my glass of water?” A confused Firefly replies: “I give up. How about your glass of water?”

Sliding on the downstairs landing in stockinged feet, Pinkie (still garbed as Firefly) approaches the wall safe and turns the dials to unlock it. Like a radio dial, the safe begins to uncontrollably blare out a spirited rendition of a Sousa march – “The Stars and Stripes Forever” – and he tries desperately to turn off the sound, first by covering the safe with a pillow and a curtain, and then by spraying it to drown it with water.

Upstairs, Mrs. Teasdale is quizzical about all the noise:

Mrs. Teasdale: What's that?
Firefly: Sounds to me like mice.
Mrs. Teasdale: Mice? Mice don't play music.
Firefly (punning): No? How about the old maestro?

Firefly calls for guards at his headquarters (not “hindquarters”) to surround the house. Leaving Mrs. Teasdale, he goes downstairs to find the source of the disturbance. To quiet the safe once and for all after smashing it, Pinkie drops the wall safe out the window. When he sees Firefly coming to investigate, Pinkie runs headlong directly into a large wall mirror, smashing it into pieces. The broken glass vanishes and a room is revealed beyond the mirror.

Next follows the inspired, celebrated mirror pantomime scene, a superlative, lyrical, artistic example of mute physical comedy [a revival of a classic vaudeville routine]. Pinkie (disguised like Firefly) confronts the real Firefly, and pretends to be his mirror image, simultaneously playing back every gesture and movement. Firefly suspects his “reflection,” another white-nightgowned figure, and tests the reflection in the perfectly-timed, ghostly-silent pantomime to catch him.

  • After peering closely at his mirror image, Firefly cups his hand on his chin, turns away, looks back over his shoulder (twice), bends down, and wiggles his backside. Pinkie imitates.
  • Firefly nods his head up and down and moves to the left behind the door frame. Pinkie imitates.
  • Firefly peeks around the door frame with his glasses moved down on his nose. Pinkie imitates.
  • Firefly pokes his head around the lower edge of the doorframe on his hands and knees in a crawling position – and so does the reflection.
  • Firefly tiptoes/prances by, hops back, and performs a one-legged hop back again. Pinkie imitates.
  • Firefly does a traditional Charleston dance. Pinkie follows each step.
  • Firefly then spins around completely, arms outstretched. In the first illusionary mistake, Pinky fails to spin around, but his image matches Firefly's after he has completed the gyration. Both images are posed with arms slightly outstretched in a half-bow. They both walk to the door frame, arms up and flailing.
  • Firefly carries a white Panama hat hidden behind his back. Pinkie has something behind his back.
  • Firefly changes sides with the mirr

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