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Film / The Cocoanuts

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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 (Mary Eaton), who is in love with Bob Adams (Oscar Shaw), 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.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: Mrs. Potter arranges for Polly to marry Yates after Bob is arrested under suspicion of stealing the necklace.
  • Aside Glance: Groucho throws a quick one to the camera right after Chico's "Radius WJZ" joke.
    "I waked right into that one."
  • Auction: A key scene is Mr. Hammer's auction of parcels of land in Cocoanut Grove for prospective developers.
  • Bad Boss: Mr. Hammer's Establishing Character Moment has him talking his way out of paying his employees the money that he owes them.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The movie ends with the Marxes looking directly into the camera and waving goodbye to the audience.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Hammer tries to recruit Chico for this role in the real estate auction, and instructs Chico to make counter-offers against the other investors to raise the prices of the lots. Chico, being Chico, follows the instructions too well...
  • Cardboard Prison: After accidentally locking himself in jail, Harpo escapes by tugging on the bars of his cell, causing a bar to pop loose so he can climb through and escape.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Mr. Hammer argues that his employees are "wage-slaves" for expecting to actually be paid for the work they do for him and that they should be "free" to work for him for free. Amazingly, it actually works.
  • Crowd Song: During Mrs. Potter's engagement party for Polly, detective Hennessy's shirt disappears... causing him to break out in song about it (set to the music of Carmen) as everyone else joins in.
  • 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.
  • Femme Fatale: Penelope uses her feminine charms to get unsuspecting men to do her bidding.
  • Forgotten Trope: The song "Monkey Doodle Doo" has a reference to "monkey glands". This stems from a then-popular quack remedy belief that goat and monkey glands had rejuvenating effects, similar to viagra.
    If you're too old for dancing
    Get yourself a monkey gland!
  • Frame-Up: Penelope lures Chico and Harpo (separately) up to her room so they can be blamed for the theft of Mrs. Potter's necklace. It doesn't go according to plan.
  • Gentleman Thief: Harvey Yates presents himself as a debonair gentleman, but he's secretly deep in debt and enters a scheme with Penelope to steal Mrs. Potter's valuable diamond necklace.
  • Guilty Until Someone Else Is Guilty: After Mrs. Potter's stolen necklace has been recovered from lot #26, Bob is accused of stealing it simply because he refused to explain why he was so determined to win the lot.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The scene where Hammer recruits Chico to be a shill in the real estate auction is packed to the gills with puns.
    Hammer: I say that's a viaduct.
    Chico: All right, why a duck? Why no chicken?
  • Hypocritical Humor: Groucho chastises Harpo for smoking.
  • Impossible Theft: Harpo repeatedly and effortlessly steals anything that's not nailed down. In one scene he steals Bob's handkerchief five times, his wristwatch twice, Groucho's tie three times, and the dentures from his mouth!
  • Movie Bonus Song: "When My Dreams Come True" appears to be the Ur-Example.
  • No Name Given: Chico and Harpo Marx are not given character names, but 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.
  • Non Sequitur: Mr. Hammer's speech at Polly's engagement party is one long chain of non sequiturs.
    Hammer: In behalf of the Rotary Club of Minneapolis, I wanted to take this occasion of welcoming you to Waukegan... No, no, I, er, I mean, in recognition of my many years of service with the railroad, you have presented me with these ties. Now, that, of course, reminds me of the story of the Irishman. It's so funny, I wish I could think of it.
  • Offscreen Teleportation:
    • In one scene, Mr. Hammer gives Mrs. Potter a piece of pipe, then dashes offscreen. After she chases him to protest, Hammer reappears behind the bell desk, having eluded her.
    • Harvey Yates disappears from the engagement party during Polly's speech revealing that he was the thief who stole her mother's necklace. This is especially notable since he was sitting between Polly and her mother at the time.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Spoofed by Groucho during the auction when Chico buys Lot Number 20 for $600.
    Mr. Hammer: 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.
  • Scooby-Dooby Doors: This movie has a variation with Penelope and Mrs. Potter's adjoining hotel rooms — Groucho, Harpo, Chico, detective Hennessy, Mrs. Potter, and Penelope chase and hide from each other between two rooms, four doors, and a bed.
  • 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.
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: Mr. Hammer is a downplayed example; while he doesn't resort to outright fraud or chicanery, his descriptions of the real estate lots of Cocoanut Grove definitely take some creative liberties.
  • Source Music: Played with; due to Executive Meddling, an orchestra was hired to be in the lobby to justify where the background music was coming from. In the final cut, they are only clearly visible in the party scene... and it was all for nothing as the audience didn't 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."
  • Stock Foreign Name: Used as part of the Hurricane of Puns in the "Viaduct" scene.
    Hammer: All along the river, those are all levees.
    Chico: That’s the Jewish neighborhood? Explanation 
    Hammer: Well, we'll passover that.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Harpo has a copy of his wanted poster ("Wanted for Jaywalking") attached to the inside of his coat.
  • Wimp Fight: A Running Gag in the movie is for Chico and Harpo to get into an argument and suddenly fight each other. This consists of blatantly-telegraphed windmill punches and half-hearted kicks to the nethers, all with the effectiveness of wet tissue paper.