During the 1960s the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup became a cult classic. I saw it numerous times at the Blue Mouse, each viewing as funny as the first. It’s still funny and lacking the Blue Mouse, I have it on video. My kid Pete loves it. Pete’s a funny and clever kid, so that’s not a big surprise. The surprise is that at 13 he also “gets” it, as in he “gets” it, that Duck Soup is biting social parody on jingoists, fascists, warmongers and big government gone awry.
To the surprise of only the Marx Brothers, Duck Soup was a flop at the box office. The critics of the day (1936) pretty much hated it. With the Great Depression in full bloom, even a funny movie about a serious theme wasn’t considered much of a diversion, the masses being more in tune with such whimsical or romantic fare as Modern Times, Dodsworth or My Man Godfrey. So Duck Soup just sat there waiting for the right audience. Duck Soup and the audience finally converged on college campuses during the Vietnam War. With Dr. Strangelove, the movie married well with the sentiments of lefties everywhere.
Some righties, too—they just don’t admit it anymore. My bet is that George W. Bush saw it back in his wild and safe National Guard days. I’ll bet even more that Olympus High School’s contribution to political diversion, Karl Rove, bought more than one ticket to the Blue Mouse for a late-night screening, perhaps even borrowing some ideas from it. Though she’s no righty—her hair was cut different then so I can’t be certain—I think it was Holly Mullen who once led the charge from the Blue Mouse shouting, “Hail, Hail, Freedonia.”
Freedonia is the fictional country that finds itself in such a mess that Groucho Marx, in the role of Rufus T. Firefly, is crowned as savior. That’s some dire straights! Freedonia is soon at war and just as quickly the Marx Brothers make hay with all things gloriously associated with war. The ultimate conclusion, of course, is that fascism is bad, bad government is bad and war is waaayyy bad. I wonder if anyone in these parts would care to see such a flick now that much of this country are in agreement that Iraq is worth fighting for.
Iraq worth fighting for? Try this line from Duck Soup, when Firefly tries to rouse his allies: “Remember, you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did.” A line that got in just about everyone’s craw was delivered by Firefly to Pinky (Harpo Marx). As Pinky exits to battle, Firefly chortles, “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.”
I flew from San Francsico to Salt Lake this past Sunday. The country was on orange terrorist alert, and I must admit that for the first time, I really didn’t want to fly. I actually got nervous wondering if an Osama liege had doomed my flight. Oh, yeah, Osama. What became of him? Ah, yes, the diversion.
As in Duck Soup, we rally: “They got guns. We got guns. All God’s chillun got guns.” Again, nobody’s laughing. Except maybe Karl Rove.