• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #76: Rufus T. Firefly


"You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in be in here thinking what a sucker you are."

When we were roommates at UNH, Joel Mellin introduced me to a variety of cultural influences. Some I've managed, with a lot of hard work, to forget. Some have stayed with me. Foremost among these, and I thank him for it, is an appreciation for the Marx Brothers.

Groucho Marx was a comedic genius, and one of the funniest performers of the 20th century. His distinctive physical and verbal style is still hilarious today, and his rapid dialogue dense with innuendo and wordplay is echoed by modern actors like Vince Vaughn, Robert Downey, Jr., even Bill Murray. It's like he was vaccinated with a phonograph needle. He broke the fourth wall long before it was even built, translating vaudeville onto film. Along with his brothers, he made some of the most bitingly satirical movies of early Hollywood (any Hollywood, come to think of it). No one was safe from the clown prince and his troupe, and nowhere is this on better display than in the political farce Duck Soup.

Made in 1933, the film is light comedy that also takes a hammer to much of its contemporary world. As Rufus T. Firefly, duly appointed dictator of Freedonia, Groucho lampoons fascism, democracy, war, wealth, society, and everything else he can get his hands on. The hypocrisy of leaders sending other men to fight and die, the influence of money on power, the ineptitude of espionage, all of this is on full display in Freedonia. Marx's criticisms are withering, even wrapped in some of the funniest and most legendary lines of his career. I could put them all down here until the cows come home. On second thought...

If you haven't watched it for a while (or, God forbid, never have), watch it. It's still funny, and it still matters. Tell me if the following sounds familiar:

"I don't know what they have to say, It makes no difference anyway, Whatever it is, I'm against it. No matter what it is or who commenced it, I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good, But let's have one thing understood, Whatever it is, I'm against it. And even when you've changed it or condensed it, I'm against it."

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