Cocoanuts, The (1929)

“When the necklace is found missing, someone has got to be blamed — why not them?”

Synopsis:
At a struggling Florida hotel owned by Groucho Marx, the sole paying guest (Margaret Dumont) tries to convince her daughter (Mary Eaton) to marry a more socially acceptable man (Cyril Ring) than the hotel clerk (Oscar Shaw) she’s in love with — not knowing that Ring is actually in cahoots with Kay Francis to steal Dumont’s valuable diamond necklace, and then place the blame on two new visitors at the hotel (Harpo and Chico Marx).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary recommends that you “forget the necklace storyline” of this Marx Brothers debut film (made while they were busy performing Animal Crackers on Broadway), and simply watch them presenting “some of the funniest… dialogue and Harpo magic found in their movies”. He notes that while “critics often complain about the film’s theatricality and static stretches” (not to mention the poor quality of existing prints, despite DVD restoration), it nonetheless provides “non-stop hilarity” whenever “Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are on the screen”. I’m in agreement with Peary on this one. While the “slow stretches” are indeed of negligible worth (you’ll pretty much yawn as soon as either Eaton or Ring open their mouth to sing Irving Berlin’s songs), the surrounding material is nearly always consistently amusing; the one exception is the final banquet scene, which left me oddly unimpressed. Regardless, Peary is right to state that “one can only wonder how audiences who had never seen the Marx Brothers before reacted” to this first presentation of their work on-screen, which remains worthy viewing today, despite its flaws.

Note: Watch for Kay Francis’s strikingly butch hairstyle — and listen for Harpo’s lovely solo, a truly worthy introduction to his musical talents.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many classic, still highly enjoyable Marx Brothers routines

  • Harpo’s lovely harp solo
  • Creative opening credits

Must See?
Yes, for its historical importance as the Marx Brothers’ first film.

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One Response to “Cocoanuts, The (1929)”

  1. Ultimately not satisfying enough as a whole to make it a must.

    Yes, there’s enjoyable stuff here and there – some funny lines, and the whole “Why A Duck?” sequence is the film’s highlight (the kind of sequence that could likely be found separately on YouTube) – but similar humor and shtick is available in better work by the Brothers. (There’s also a fair amount of humor here that either creaks or is forced.) The film’s flaws dominate, unfortunately – and, yes, the plot holding everything together holds too much needless weight for the film to bear. As well, one wouldn’t call the musical segments memorable.

    The long, concluding banquet scene simply doesn’t work – tho there’s a welcome relief when Chico is sprinkled in with a piano solo.

    It’s obvious once again that, when it comes to films by certain duos or groups, Peary makes a mistake in recommending major chunks of work when only the more satisfying examples should be pointed out.

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