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Preshow Entertainment: MAGNUM P.I.


We all have defining moments in our lives, be it a kiss or a kiss-off, a birth or a death, buying your first car or having it repossessed. There are tons of scenic overlooks on the roadmaps of our lives. These moments can come from many places but so often they come from being touched by entertainment.

For me, there was seeing PIPPIN on Broadway. Seeing Eminem's video for THE WAY I AM. Reading THE STAND. Seeing my first Todd Rundgren concert at the Commack Arena, home of the Long Island Ducks. All these things surely had an effect on me, yet nothing would shape my young life more than what happened on that one fateful night...when I was 13. No, not that. Well, sure, that...but I'm talking about the night my dad took me to the Mini Cinema in Uniondale for the Marx Brothers triple feature of DUCK SOUP, HORSEFEATHERS and MONKEY BUSINESS (in that order). I'd never seen anything like that before. My eyes popped out of my head. I walked into that theater a boy, and came out a boy. A boy whose life was changed forever by a movie.

I don't know exactly why it hit me so hard. Maybe I was always a little like Groucho and Harpo on the inside and seeing these movies made it okay for me to come out. And come out I did. At 13, I became an obnoxious yet likable (I hope) little runt, a goofy comedic anarchist. In my friend David's room one day, I had a Harpo moment when I kept bending the metal sides of his Snoopy garbage can over and over. When he tried to get me to stop, I'd move to his bookshelf, remove a book, open it, pretend to read, laugh, then toss it over my shoulder and go for another book (Harpo actually did that). David laughed, but it was his friend Paul who was amazed. He'd never seen behavior like that before, how I had David on the run. That very day, Paul and I became fast friends. We're still great friends today. All because the Marx Brothers allowed me to be myself. Though I can't believe David didn't punch me in the jaw.

Mrs. Teasdale to Firefly: "Oh, Your Excellency!"
Firefly: "You're not so bad yourself."

DUCK SOUP (1933) is the best Marx Brothers movie. Sure, that's debatable (I myself question it every time I watch A DAY AT THE RACES). But you know, it was my first, so...

Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the only man that Mrs. Teasdale, a moneybags widow, will allow to run her country of Freedonia. This means the current leader needs to step down and...oh, who cares? The plot's not that important. The point is, Groucho's about to run a country, a country that Sylvania's ruler, Ambassador Trentino, wants to gain control of. So, do you think Trentino is a match for Firefly? Do you really think that?

Mrs. Teasdale: "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."

Groucho has a great entrance. During a fanfare of fantastic pomp and proportion (including outstretched swords and ballet dancers tossing petals), they await Firefly's arrival, but he's asleep in his nightshirt and nightcap (yes, I too have a nightshirt and nightcap). His alarm goes off and he slides down a firepole to the reception, whispering to one of the guards "You expecting somebody?" And he's off, tearing down the stuffiness of poor, clueless Mrs. Teasdale (the great Margaret Dumont, a common target in many Marx Bros. movies). This is done with a relentless arsenal of unprovoked verbal slaps, all of which I knew (and still know) by heart, as I had a Marx Bros. record that I'd listen to over and over again.

Firefly: "You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here. You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle."

Though a slapstick comedy, DUCK SOUP is also a political satire, displayed by Groucho whistling after he sings "...whistling is forbidden," or making everyone at his cabinet meeting wait as he plays jacks, or the way he plays hopscotch as Teasdale tells him the entire future of Freedonia rests on his shoulders.

Firefly: "Why weren't the original indictment papers placed in my portfolio?"
Roland: "Why, uh, I didn't think those papers were important at this time, Your Excellency."
Firefly: "You didn't think they were important? Do you realize I had my dessert wrapped in those papers?"

Harpo and his trademark Googie face
But The Marx Brothers always went against the grain (one scene has Firefly eating crackers in bed). That's what they do, and that's why they're funny. They're assholes that you can love and root for, which is a difficult comedic tightrope to successfully walk - right, David Spade? I mean, who doesn't want to see stuffy people get theirs by three out of control wiseasses? And no one can touch Groucho, no matter how hard Bugs Bunny and the Animaniacs try (both influenced by Groucho, by the way). Speaking of influence, it's no secret that Woody Allen has used a lot of Marxist antics and references, from EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (named for a song from HORSEFEATHERS) to DUCK SOUP being the reason that his character Mickey decides not kill himself in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.

And it's not just Groucho. Chicolini and Pinky (Chico and Harpo, in case you hadn't guessed) exasperate not just the lemonade vendor ("slow burn" king Edgar Kennedy, always brilliant), but also Trentino, who hired them to spy on Firefly. The lemonade scene comes close, but no (big black) cigar, to the mirror scene.

Lemonade vendor to Chicolini: "I'll teach you to kick me!"

Chicolini: "You don't have to teach me, I know how!" (He kicks him.)

Ahh. The mirror scene. Though not an original bit, the mirror scene from DUCK SOUP ranks as one of the best bits in the history of comedy. It's really silly and ridiculous (how did the glass disappear?)...and incredibly clever with its mix of timing, performance, writing, silence, and probably a few more ingredients. Google "mirror scene" and it'll be the first result.

There's plenty of pandemonium in DUCK SOUP, but once the final production number kicks in as Freedonia gears up for war against Sylvania, all bets are off. It's just insane. It's almost like they said, "Screw it." The climactic battle sequence has Groucho wearing a different uniform (Confederate, Union, and even boy scout) nearly every time they cut back to him. The exterior of the fort they're in also changes in each shot.

Firefly to Mrs. Teasdale, after he drops his gun out the window and onto the battlefield: "There goes my gun. Run out and get that like a good girl."
There were a few writers on DUCK SOUP, but two of them, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, were also songwriters (WHO'S SORRY NOW and EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, to name but two). In fact, Fred Astaire and Red Skelton played them in the movie THREE LITTLE WORDS. Groucho's buddies Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin also pitched in (right before he turned 60, Perrin landed a job producing the TV show THE ADDAMS FAMILY). SOUP was directed by Leo McCarey with the same gleeful disorder that the players exhibited. McCarey got his start under Hal Roach's wing, directing Charley Chase silents and helping Laurel and Hardy form their characters. Years later, he directed Cary Grant in THE AWFUL TRUTH and an oddball war comedy we saw here at RMC called ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON. McCarey was the one who suggested the mirror scene.

DUCK SOUP is one of AFI's Top 5 comedies. The library of Congress calls it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Not bad for a movie that's hardly more than an hour long.

Now DUCK SOUP probably hasn't affected (or won't affect) you as it did me. These defining moments are discoveries that can hit one person and miss the next. It's really wonderful that we all have different ones. Yours may be THE GODFATHER or THE WIZARD OF OZ, or LITTLE WITCHES or even RIVER RED. Me? I'm thrilled to death that mine's DUCK SOUP.

Magnum, P.I. (Tom Selleck)

MAGNUM was the 1980s series that Tom Selleck was doing that prevented him from playing Indy in RAIDERS. The episode we watched, called LAURA, was the one that Sinatra did. He was a fan of the show and they wrote this episode with him in mind. It's considered (depending on your definition) Sinatra's last appearance. He was really good in it, too, despite the over the top characters, really fake fight sounds and Phil Collins soundtrack. It was also the highest rated episode for MAGNUM. And here I had my money on the Norman Fell episode. Oh well.

I'd never seen a MAGNUM before. It was much darker (were they all that way?) than I imagined. I thought it would be more frivolous, but this one was about the rape and murder of a 7 year old girl...Detective Doheny's (Sinatra) granddaughter, Laura. The ending was also atypically dark for an 80s detective show.

I suppose it was a good show at its time. But like MIAMI VICE and so many 80s shows, it just feels really old. Even older than most 70s shows.

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