The Cocoanuts  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Cocoanuts (1929) was the first feature-length Marx Brothers film, produced by Paramount Pictures. As one of the earliest examples of a transfer of a stage musical to the new medium film, The Cocoanuts highlights the imperfect production methods of early sound films.

Plot

The plot of The Cocoanuts is set in a resort hotel during the big Florida development boom of the 1920s. Groucho runs the place, assisted by "straight man" Zeppo. Chico and Harpo arrive with empty luggage, which they plan to fill by robbing and conning the guests. Margaret Dumont, in the first of her many appearances as a stuffy dowager wooed and tormented by Groucho, is a guest, one of the few paying customers. Her daughter is in love with a struggling young architect, who is working to support himself as a clerk at the hotel, but who has plans for the development of the entire area. Dumont's character wants her daughter to marry a man she believes to be of higher social standing. This man is actually a con man out to steal the dowager's diamond necklace with the help of his conniving partner, played by Kay Francis. As viewers who are familiar with Marx Brothers movies, particularly the early ones, are aware, the plot is rather beside the point. The story and setting are little more than an excuse for the brothers to run rampant in their trademark style. The film is also notable for a very early usage of "production numbers" similar to those used in the 1930s by Busby Berkeley, including techniques which were soon to become standard, such as overhead shots of dancing girls imitating the patterns of a kaleidoscope. It is also notable that all musical sequences in this early “talkie” were recorded “live” on the soundstage as they were shot (not pre-recorded), using an off-camera orchestra.

One of the more famous (or infamous) gags in the film has Groucho giving directions to Chico, who keeps misunderstanding "viaduct" as "why-a-duck", and a lengthy surreal dialogue plays out.

In another sequence, Groucho is the auctioneer for some land of possibly questionable value ("You can even get stucco! Oh, can you get stuck-oh!") He has hired Chico to artificially "bid up" during the auction. Misunderstanding the concept, Chico keeps out-bidding everyone (even himself), much to Groucho's exasperation.


Trivia

  • When the Marx Brothers were shown the final cut of the film, they were so appalled they tried to buy the negative back and prevent its release. The producing studio, Paramount, wisely resisted — the movie turned out to be a big hit and earned close to two million dollars.
  • Every piece of paper in the movie is soaking wet, to avoid crackling paper sounds from overloading the primitive recording equipment of the time.

Musical Numbers

  • "When My Dreams Come True"
  • "The Bell-Hops"
  • "Monkey-Doodle-Doo"
  • "Ballet Music"
  • "Tale of the Shirt"
  • "Gypsy Love Song"




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Cocoanuts" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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