Welcome back to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at memorable quotes from classic movies.
Up today it’s DUCK SOUP (1933), one of the all-time best Marx Brothers comedies. One can make the argument that the Marx Brothers’ movies were so good you could take the whole film and it would be one giant memorable quote. The dialogue is that good.
Of course, here in 2020, a lot of their humor is dated, some of it sketchy, and not exactly politically correct, but taken for what it is, inane comedy from the 1930s, it’s pretty special.
Here in DUCK SOUP the Marx Brothers spoof politics and war with their tale of two warring countries. You have Groucho as dictator Rufus T. Firefly with all his sharp verbal word play which Groucho was famous for, and Chico as Chicolini, doing his Italian shtick. And of course in a column like this on quotes, you don’t even touch the humor of Harpo, whose outrageous sight gags never involved dialogue.
So, let’s get to those quotes from DUCK SOUP, screenplay by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Skeekman, and Nat Perrin.
One of the running gags in the movie is Groucho’s interactions with Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Teasdale. Dumont starred in several Marx Brothers movies, generally there to be Groucho’s “straight man” and be insulted.
Let’s have a listen:
RUFUS T. FIREFLY (Groucho Marx): Not that I care, but where is your husband?
MRS. TEASDALE: Why, he’s dead.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.
MRS. TEASDALE: I was with him 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.
MRS. TEASDALE: He left me his entire fortune.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Is that so? Can’t you see what I’m trying to tell you? I love you.
MRS. TEASDALE: We’ve been expecting you. As chairwoman of the reception committee, I extend the good wishes of every man, woman, and child of Freedonia.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Never mind that stuff. (Taking out a deck of cards.) Take a card.
MRS. TEASDALE: (Takes a card) Card? What will I do with the card?
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: You can keep it. I’ve got fifty-one left. Now what were you saying?
A lot of the humor in DUCK SOUP comes at the expense of politics and war.
MINISTER OF FINANCE: Here is the Treasury Department’s report, sir. I hope you’ll find it clear.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: 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 of it.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: And now, members of the cabinet… (pounds gavel.) we’ll take up old business.
CABINET MEMBER: I wish to discuss the tariff.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Sit down, that’s new business. No old business? Very well… (Pounds gavel) we’ll take up new business.
CABINET MEMBER: Now, about that tariff…
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Too late, that’s old business already. Sit down.
BOB ROLAND: Message from the front, sir.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Oh, I’m sick of messages from the front. Don’t we ever get a message from the side? – What is it?
BOB ROLAND: General Smith reports a gas attack. He wants to know what to do.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Tell him to take a teaspoonful of bicarbonate baking soda and a half a glass of water.
One of my favorite Marx Brothers is Chico Marx. His Italian shtick is hilarious, and having grown up in an Italian extended family, no one ever found his humor offensive. It was all in good fun. Here, Chico plays Chicolini.
PROSECUTOR: Something must be done! War would mean a prohibitive increase in our taxes.
CHICOLINI: Hey, I got an uncle lives in Taxes.
PROSECUTOR: No, I’m talking about taxes – money, dollars!
CHICOLINI: Dollars! There’s-a where my uncle lives! Dollars, Taxes!
AMBASSADOR TRENTINO: 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, but we fool him, we no show up. Thursday it was a double-header, nobody show up. Friday it rained all day, there was no ball game, so we stayed home, we listen to it over the radio.
CHICOLINI: Now I aska you one. What has a trunk, but no key, weighs 2,000 pounds and lives in a circus?
PROSECUTOR: That’s irrelevant.
CHICOLINI: Irrelephant? Hey, that’sa that answer. There’s a whole lot of irrelephants in the circus.
And when Groucho and Chico shared scenes together, all bets are off.
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: How would you like a job in the mint?
CHICOLINI: Mint? No, no, I no like a mint. Uh, what other flavor you got?
RUFUS T. FIREFLY: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you: he really is an idiot. I implore you, send him back to his father and brothers, who are waiting for him with open arms in the penitentiary. I suggest that we give him ten years in Leavenworth, or eleven years in Twelveworth.
CHICOLINI: I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll take five and ten in Woolworth.
You can’t beat the word play in a Marx Brothers movie, and DUCK SOUP is one of their best, and as I said, a column like this doesn’t give them full justice because Harpo was nonverbal and his character provided nonstop hilarious sight gags throughout. Which is why their comedies were so successful. There was always so much going on.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES and join me again next time when we look at memorable quotes from another classic movie.
As always, thanks for reading!