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Film / The Cocoanuts

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The One With… the Florida land boom and the viaduct. Why a duck? We don't know, really.

The Cocoanuts is a 1929 musical comedy that starred the four Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo. Originally this was a stage musical written by Irving Berlin and George S. Kaufman for the Marx Brothers in 1925. Later this was adapted to the screen in 1929 by Paramount Studios and filmed in their Astoria, Queens, location. This is technically the Marx Brother's screen debut, as their previous attempt, a silent film entitled Humor Risk, was effectively destroyed after one viewing.

The plot involves the manager of the Hotel de Cocoanut, Mr. Hammer (Groucho), who runs a resort hotel located in Florida and his assistant Jamison (Zeppo). Chico and Harpo arrive with empty luggage, with the intention of conning and stealing from hotel guests and filling up their loot in the suitcases. Meanwhile, the wealthy Mrs. Potter (Margaret Dumont) arrives with her daughter Polly, who is in love with Bob Adams, a young man who also happens to work at the hotel. But Mrs. Potter wants Polly to marry the seemingly well-to-do Harvey Yates, not knowing he's secretly a con-artist with an equally conniving partner, Penelope. Expect chaos and confusion to run amock as con-artists clash and the usual one-liners and sketches from the Marx Brothers to stop the plot.


The Marx brothers themselves hated the film, and were so disappointed with the final cut that they actually tried to buy the rights to the movie from Paramount in order to prevent it from being released, fearing it would severely hinder their film careers. Fortunately for them, Paramount refused, and the movie became a smash hit.

Provides examples of:

  • Early Installment Weirdness: Harpo wore his red wig from their stage show, which appears dark grey on the black and white film. He quickly decided that it would look better bleached to a light pink. That's why he's called Pinky in some of the films. Many fans do think of Harpo as blond.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Groucho chastises Harpo for smoking.
  • Movie Bonus Song: "When My Dreams Come True" appears to be the Ur-Example.
  • No Name Given: Chico Marx and Harpo are not given character names. They are listed in the credits simply as "Chico" and "Harpo". Chico's name on the Broadway program was "Willy the Wop" which was considered too insensitive even for early movie audiences. Harpo's character was called "Silent Sam". In one scene, Harpo is called Silent Red.
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  • Pyrrhic Victory: Spoofed by Groucho during the auction when Chico buys Lot Number 20 for $600.
    Well, I came out even on that one. That was a great success. Yeah, one more success like that and I'll sell my body to a medical institute.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The Marx Brothers figured that the audience wouldn't care where the music came from, but the executives insisted that film audiences wouldn't suspend their disbelief, so they hired an orchestra to sit on the set in order to justify the musical numbers (even though they were using prerecorded music) — but the director forgot to shoot them and almost all the musical numbers were cut anyway, so the studio wasted that money.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The play was originally produced on Broadway in 1925, the year of the famous Florida real estate boom that was a major cause of The Great Depression, and a lot of Mr. Hammer's remarks make more sense if you know something about the context.
  • Self-Made Man: Parodied with Mr. Hammer.
    When I first came here, I didn't have a nickel in my pocket. Now I've got a nickel in my pocket.
  • Serious Business: Late in the film, Hennessey makes an entire musical number about wanting his shirt—set to the music of Carmen, no less!
  • Source Music: There was originally supposed to be an orchestra in the lobby that we were to presume were playing the background music. You only really see them in the party scene. Other than that, the audience turned out not to care anyway.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: Chico and Harpo check in with an empty suitcase. "That's all right, we fill it up before we leave."
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Harpo has a copy of his wanted poster ("Wanted for Jaywalking") attached to the inside of his coat.