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Offline metaldams

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The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
« on: November 09, 2014, 09:12:07 PM »
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          We start our great Marx Brothers experiment!

          A lot of people are of the belief that the Paramount Marx films are the pure Marx Brothers films while the MGM Marx films are bogged down in musical numbers and romantic subplots.  Well, I have news for those folks - Paramount's THE COCOANUTS has musical numbers and a romantic subplot.  Like their second film, ANIMAL CRACKERS, THE COCOANUTS has its origins as a successful stage play and was shot on the east coast.  Stage comedians of the time were generally in variety shows that had dancing chorus girls (think Zeigfeld Follies), musical numbers, and plots and characters outside of the comedians.  The silent comedians had pure comedies involving their characters, the Marx Brothers came from said stage comedian tradition and wouldn't make films that had Hollywood values until their third film.

          Something else to consider about THE COCOANUTS is that it was released in 1929, the first full year of talking features.  Talkies this early tend to be very static camera wise and have a very static based, lo-fi soundtrack.  The lack of good sound technology is at times a hindrance on this film, as Groucho's rapid fire dialogue pacing works best with clarity.  Whenever there is dialogue being spoken on top of a musical soundtrack, the mix gets pretty muddy.  Also, Kay Francis, who is famous for making her r's sound like w's (as in Kay Fwancis), is not helped by the early technology soundtrack either.

          The plot is nowhere near as tight as NIGHT AT THE OPERA, there are technological flaws everywhere, yet in spite of all of this, there are plenty of good parts to consider this a good film.  Groucho and Chico's "Why a duck/viaduct" routine is an all time classic.  I marvel at the way these guys can sustain such lengthy dialogue throughout their films, a truly wonderful gift.  Groucho's opening scene trying to get out of paying his worker's wages is great, and one thing the bad soundtrack does not hinder is Harpo, because he needs no stinkin' soundtrack.  Watching him tear up the mail, eat a telephone (!) and cause havoc all around is a lot of fun.  Another bit I love is after the boring scene where the female lead finds out she has to dump her fiancĂ© and marry another man, Harpo offers her a lollipop.  It's so completely inappropriate, but since this is a Marx Brothers movie, that's exactly what I want! 

          As with most Marx Brothers films, we get a Harpo harp solo and a Chico piano solo, which always seems like a comfort food.  Harpo is such a crazy guy, yet he's this serious virtuoso playing beautiful music on that harp.  Chico, while not quite the musician of his brother, still has tons of charisma and is fun to watch.

          Another thing I love is we get to see all three brothers involved in bedroom seduction talk, with Kay Francis seducing Chico and Harpo and Groucho "seducing" Margaret Dumont.  We get to see the three brother's personalities doing the same thing in the same way we get to see all four brother serenade Thelma Todd later on.  Speaking of Ms. Dumont, she's wonderful as usual, my favorite bit being her appalled reaction as Harpo invites her to bed.

          Zeppo appears in this film.  He does absolutely nothing.  There's also the Monkey Doodle Do number, which is completely bizzare and unless if my ears are deceiving me, I believe appears in several Hal Roach soundtracks.  I'll look it up in a minute.

          Anyway, this is a flawed film and their weakest for some time to come, but there's enough good stuff in here to keep any Marx Brothers fan entertained.

    7/10
    « Last Edit: November 29, 2014, 10:26:21 PM by metaldams »

    Offline Larrys#1

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #1 on: November 11, 2014, 11:37:41 AM »
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  • From the looks of this, I'm not foreseeing these Marx Bros threads as being a success so I guess this might be the only one I get to review so here goes....

    I like all the Paramount Marx Bros films but this is their weakest one. This is their most musical one of the five. The whole Monkey Doodle Doo musical bit was long and was basically a big filler. And the "When My Dreams Come True" musical number was too romancy and felt very MGM-like. But I have to say.... There are a lot of funny parts in this film, especially the beginning scene with Chico and Harpo at the hotel lobby where Harpo starts eating everything in sight. Also the Why A Duck scene was good. And the bedroom scene was the best part. So it's hard to hate this movie because it has a lot of great scenes. Though I must add.... the print of this movie is in terrible shape and is in desperate need of some serious restoration. I've heard rumors that the original negatives of the Paramount films are long gone, so I'm afraid we are never going to see these movies in better quality.

    And here's my opinion on Chico and Harpo's musical solos. I always enjoy watching Chico play the piano. He's very upbeat when he plays and manages to stay in character while he plays. But Harpo always plays very mellow songs and his face turns very serious. He always manages to have a goofy looking face throughout the movies, but once he plays the Harp, his face becomes so straight and serious. It just doesn't look right and everytime he starts playing the harp, it just feels out of place. Though in all honesty, their movies can do without these instrument solos. I watch the Marx Bros for the comedy, not to watch instrument playing. That's what makes their fifth movie, "Duck Soup" so great. It doesn't have fillers like that. But I'll talk about that more if we get to that movie.

    Overall, a decent movie but not their greatest.

    8/10

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #2 on: November 12, 2014, 09:26:14 AM »
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  • I actually LIKE the fact Harpo's character is a loon except when he's playing the harp.  The contrast has always been fascinating to me, and besides, he's an awesome player.

    You're also correct about the print.  I do notice some inconsistencies in print quality from frame to frame.  If this is the best that exists, it's a real shame...but yeah, a restoration, if possible, would be great.

    Offline Larrys#1

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #3 on: November 13, 2014, 08:03:15 AM »
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  • Chico, while not quite the musician of his brother, still has tons of charisma and is fun to watch.

    Just out of curiosity, why do you say that Chico is not as good of a musician as Harpo? The only reason I ask is because I'm not musically inclined and to my eyes, Chico looks like an awesome piano player. He can play fast without even looking at the piano keys and can do all those neat tricks with his hands as he plays. Is there something that is wrong with his playing that I'm not seeing?

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #4 on: November 13, 2014, 08:21:10 AM »
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  • Just out of curiosity, why do you say that Chico is not as good of a musician as Harpo? The only reason I ask is because I'm not musically inclined and to my eyes, Chico looks like an awesome piano player. He can play fast without even looking at the piano keys and can do all those neat tricks with his hands as he plays. Is there something that is wrong with his playing that I'm not seeing?

    Chico is a fine piano player, but I wouldn't consider him at the level that would make him a classical virtuoso.  The one finger thing is simply a trick, but he's only playing one note and simple melodies while he does it.  It's a fun gimmick, not great musicianship. I'm not saying the guy can't play, it's just that Harpo seems to cover more ground, range wise, on his instrument.

    Offline Signor Spumoni

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #5 on: November 13, 2014, 03:47:27 PM »
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  • Technically speaking, I agree with Metaldams.  Chico was a very good entertainer at the piano, but he was not concert level.  But because he didn't have to be or want to be that level, it works out for him perfectly.  Chico put across his playing with enthusiasm, personality and a sense of fun, which is, in my opinion, why he was well-received. 

    It's interesting to me that Harpo was a self-taught harpist.  He once engaged a professional harpist to give him proper lessons, according to Harpo's autobiography.  The harpist asked to watch him play and asked afterward, "How do you do that?  Can you teach me?"  :) 

    I am late to this discussion, but I'll add my two cents' worth:  I like "The Cocoanuts."  I am not fond of the musical numbers, especially "Monkey Doodle Doo."  I always assume that moviemakers at this time were still learning what worked well in sound movies, and so included musical numbers because they were still somewhat new and impressive.  But the film has great things such as the Why A Duck routine and the Groucho line, "You can even get stucco.  Oh, how you can get stuck-oh!."  Also the bedroom scene is lots of fun.  I enjoy just watching the facial expressions the Brothers use, too.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #6 on: November 13, 2014, 08:54:03 PM »
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  • Technically speaking, I agree with Metaldams.  Chico was a very good entertainer at the piano, but he was not concert level.  But because he didn't have to be or want to be that level, it works out for him perfectly.  Chico put across his playing with enthusiasm, personality and a sense of fun, which is, in my opinion, why he was well-received. 


    Exactly!  I could not have worded it better myself.

    By the way, it's never too late to talk about this film or any of the Stooge shorts as well, no matter how long ago the thread was.  I hope people don't feel like they can only post about the latest short.

    We're hanging by a thread, but I've decided Sunday night, there will be an ANIMAL CRACKERS review.  I hope to see you guys there.

    Offline Larrys#1

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #7 on: November 14, 2014, 12:14:33 PM »
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  • That's great observation, guys. You're right too! I was too focused on Chico's finger tricks that I didn't realize that he's not even playing anything that is concert level. It's still a joy to watch him though as you can see he's having so much fun playing.

    Thank you, Metaldams for giving the Marx Bros another shot be reviewing ANIMAL CRACKERS. Hopefully we will get more responses since it's a much better movie. If we can't get to do all 13 films, it is my hope that we can at least get up to DUCK SOUP.

    Offline Seamus

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #8 on: November 14, 2014, 12:29:31 PM »
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  • Great write-up on this on, Metal.  Hope you keep the Marx threads coming.

    I'd agree with most people that this is probably the weakest of the Paramounts, but I still find this one a fascinating watch, oddly enough because of its deficits.  Its dated filming techniques, degraded sound quality, and slower pacing gives COCOANUTS an off-beat atmosphere compared to their other movies.  Watching COCOANUTS is watching the Marx Brothers in slow motion - even their very next movie was pacier - which combined with the crackly soundtrack and inert camerawork makes for pleasantly hypnotic viewing, especially late in the wee hours.  The "why a duck" routine is basically the "contract" scene from NIGHT AT THE OPERA with a different document, but even though both routines probably space the beats about the same, the static camera work makes the COCOANUTS version feel like it's crawling along at half-speed.  And look at the way Harpo goes about eating the office supplies, taking the time to test-sniff each item and taking tentative nibbles.  If that scene had been in MONKEY BUSINESS he'd be ravenously gorging on everything with abandon.

    Those comments make it sound like I'm down on COCOANUTS, but I actually love the odd quality this one has compared to the rest of the Marx stable.

    Offline Signor Spumoni

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #9 on: November 14, 2014, 01:42:54 PM »
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  • I think the pacing and "inert camera work," as Seamus said, are - - partly - - the result of translating "The Cocoanuts" from stage to screen.  It seems one of two things happens when a play jumps to film:  either we see the camera focused on the set, unmoving (like a videotaped school play), or we see a frantic effort to add motion and "location" filming (e.g., "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum").  I know there are plays filmed well, but I can't think of one right now. 

    Thanks for the Marx Brothers thread, Metaldams.  I look forward to discussing "Animal Crackers."

    Offline Big Chief Apumtagribonitz

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #10 on: November 15, 2014, 07:36:21 PM »
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  • I agree with Signor S, the reason these bits are in the movie is that they got big reactions on the stage.  Harp solo, piano solo, Monkey Doodle-doo, these things were boffo live, for whatever reasons ( I don't mean that dismissively ),  and nobody in early 1929 was prescient enough to realize they wouldn't translate as well onto film.  Indeed, contemporary movie audiences must have enjoyed them, to the extent that the brothers continued that schtick for many more years, and their least successful Paramount flick was Duck Soup, which, as much as we all love it now, had no harp or piano solos, and no musical numbers not involving the brothers.  Note that once at MGM, under Thalberg's supervision, the harp and piano came back in gloriously photographed splendor.
         I'm sad that the prints nowadays are of poor quality.  I saw this in a real theater in college, forty ( forty? Oh my God ) years ago, and the print was not as good as Night at the Opera, but really not bad, not at all a problem.  Nobody has polished it up since then?
         Groucho is the reason to watch this one.  The others have not become their classic movie-selves yet, but Groucho is by-God Groucho.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #11 on: November 15, 2014, 08:00:59 PM »
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  • About music and 1929 audiences, musicals were absolutely huge this year, so I would imagine the audiences wanted to hear these numbers.  This whole talkie thing was brand new, and one genre the silent era never could master was the musical.   [pie] MGM's first talkie, THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE OF 1929, was basically a musical extravaganza for their array of film stars to appear in.

    ....and with the sudden surge of this thread, we should get through LOVE HAPPY at this point.  Thanks to all of you.

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #12 on: August 01, 2017, 02:20:05 PM »
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  • Well, I've been in the mood for watching some Marx Brothers films lately, so I figured I would start adding my thoughts to these as well. Unfortunately, I do not think that THE COCOANUTS is a very good place to start. My major complaint is that the Marx Brothers do not feel that well incorporated into the movie. That's not to say that they aren't in a lot of it, because they are, but they don't really feel that well included in the plot. Groucho is off doing his own thing early in the film while Harpo and Chico's role, though important, is basically just coming across the scheme by chance. The Marx Brothers don't even interact with the romantic leads until 2/3 of the way through the film, unlike in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, in which they're all working together from the beginning.

    The songs are really forgettable, which is surprising considering that they were composed by Irving Berlin, the man who wrote "White Christmas." The only song in this entire film that I found memorable was "The Tale of a Shirt," mainly for how bizarre it was, especially considering that this was being sung by a serious character. Harpo and Chico's solos are good, although once again, Harpo's does not feel that well incorporated into the film. Whereas Chico's is part of the entertainment at the wedding, Harpo's comes at the most random of times, at a point when you don't expect it at all.

    The story itself seems pretty flawed as well. For example, there's a moment where they accuse the male romantic lead of stealing the necklace and they ask him why he bought the lot. He refuses so the detective correctly assumes that it's for a woman, but he refuses to say who the woman is despite the fact that he is holding her hand and talking to her. Am I missing something here? Why wouldn't he say why he really wanted the lot?

    So, yeah, the film has a considerable amount of problems, but at the heart of it we still do have the Marx Brothers doing what they do best. Zeppo unfortunately doesn't get to do much and really isn't in it that long, but the other three are a lot of fun. The "why a duck" routine, of course, is a classic and the scene where they're all in the hotel lobby is very energetic and fun to watch. The Marx Brothers are a very good combination of verbal humor with visual humor in terms of their characterizations, with Groucho being the best at the verbal humor, Harpo at the visual humor, and Chico being a good combination of both. Harpo's probably my favorite in this. Every time he's on screen he's just a ton of fun to watch. One of my favorite moments is when they find the necklace and the detective notes how crazy Harpo is only for him to row himself away.

    Also to the film's credit, while it feels pretty unbalanced, every now and then there is a decent dramatic scene. I really do like the scene where Harpo gives the girl the lollipop. It's silly, but also kind of cute, and I think a good example of the idea that the Marx Brothers are willing to be nice to the people who deserve it.

    The film feels like it's an uneven balance of story with the Marx Brothers, but when the Marx Brothers are on screen just being themselves, it still works pretty well. Even from their first film, they are really funny and it does help to make up for some of the film's problems. It's not necessarily a bad film, just kind of misguided in which direction it wants to go, whether it be more serious or comedic, rather than finding a good middle ground. Overall, it is just an average film at best, but if you are a Marx Brothers fan, I think that you'll get at least a bit of entertainment out of this.

    6 out of 10

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #13 on: August 01, 2017, 11:12:41 PM »
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  • Nice review, Umbrella Sam, and thanks for reviving a Marx Brothers thread.  Do you find features much easier to write at length about?  I sure do.

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: The Cocoanuts (1929) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #14 on: August 02, 2017, 09:31:53 AM »
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  • Nice review, Umbrella Sam, and thanks for reviving a Marx Brothers thread.  Do you find features much easier to write at length about?  I sure do.

    Yes. Don't get me wrong, I love talking about the shorts and plan on talking about them as long as we're discussing them, but the features do leave more to talk about, both in its length and that there are more aspects to take into account.