Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Cocoanuts

Year 8, Day 196 - 7/14/16 - Movie #2,396

BEFORE: The Marx Brothers carry over from "The Big Store", and after tonight I'll have seen their 11 main films, I think everything they did together, except for "A Night in Casablanca" (which, darn it, would have tied in thematically with "Rio Rita" and "Lost in a Harem".  But I haven't got room for that here, if I'm going to get to everything else I want to get to before Comic-Con.  

I started having the Comic-Con stress dreams, which tend to take the form of arriving at the convention center, looking at all the amazing booths and signs, waving "Hi" to friends, having intense discussions about "Star Wars" or whatever - then I suddenly realize that I forgot to ship out my boxes of merchandise before flying to San Diego, and I'm struck by an intense feeling of dread.  My spirit sinks as I feel like an incredible failure, looking at 5 long days at the convention with nothing to sell.  Then I wake up in a cold sweat.  Now, I understand the dream has a purpose, it came the night before the day I had to ship my boxes UPS Ground to arrive in time, so in a way it's just a safety measure, my brain's way of making sure I do what I'm supposed to do by the proper deadline, but why does it have to remind me in such a cruel fashion?  

THE PLOT: During the Florida land boom, the Marx Brothers run a hotel, auction off some land, thwart a jewel robbery, and generally act like themselves.  

AFTER: From one of the later Marx Brothers film, I snapped back to one of their earliest, and that really highlights how far their comedy progressed over the years.  I really enjoyed "The Big Store" because the plot was so well put-together, and in a way it seems like they accomplished more by doing less.  The story was so simple - a guy due to inherit a department store is in danger of being killed.  by contrast, in "The Cocoanuts" the goal is a lot less clear.  Groucho and Zeppo work at the hotel, sure, but the way that Chico and Harpo are brought into the mix is really suspect.  Who are they, why are they coming to the hotel, and why do they feel the need to send a telegraph in advance of their arrival?  

Plus there's the goal of making the hotel run better, selling various land plots AND unraveling a jewel heist all at the same time - there's just too much going on.  And instead of dealing with these plot threads head-on, the movie frequently pauses to watch a bunch of dancing girls exercising on the beach, or doing a routine in sync while dressed as bellboys.  Umm, bellgirls?   When you go back to 1929, it seems that filmmakers didn't have to do a lot to entertain the masses - having 12 pretty girls moving in tandem seemed to be enough.  

Then we've got this seemingly unnecessary love triangle, with an architect, Bob, in love with a young woman, Polly, and her mother wants her to marry socialite Harvey Yates.  Yates, however, is really a con man who's only interested in Polly's mother's jewels.  The plot relies heavily on Harpo's ability to crawl into a room without being seen, so that he can overhear conversations about stealing the jewels, and where to hide them.  Contrivances, contrivances.  

But this film does feature some of the Marx Brothers' best puns, like the whole viaduct/"Why a duck" routine, and an auction that runs out of control when Chico misunderstands how to be a shill, so he keeps raising the stakes and outbidding himself!  Obviously that wasn't what Groucho's character had in mind.  It all finally comes to a head, and then someone sings a song about his lost shirt, which is just sort of weird.  Plus it's hard to believe that all of these songs came from Irving Berlin, with titles like "Monkey-Doodle Doo".

And even though the film is in black and white, you can tell that Harpo's wig was much darker than in later films, supporting the theory that his character was initially intended to be a redhead, not a blond.  But why did they do this routine where Harpo repeatedly hunched his shoulders and put on a weird smile?  I didn't get that part at all.

Also starring Margaret Dumont (also carrying over from "The Big Store"), Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton, Cyril Ring (last seen in "Meet John Doe"), Kay Francis (last seen in "In Name Only"), Basil Ruysdael.  

RATING: 3 out of 10 empty suitcases

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