30 May 2010 | Electrified_Voltage
Some overlong singing/dance scenes don't stop this from being a very funny feature-length debut from the Marx Brothers
By 1929, the Marx Brothers had been in show business for quite sometime, mainly doing live theatre work, but the only film they did prior to that year was a 1921 silent comedy short entitled "Humour Risk", which was publicly screened only once and then never seen again. The comedy team made their feature-length film debut with this 1929 release, an early Hollywood talkie called "The Cocoanuts", based on the group's stage musical of the same name. This marked the beginning of a successful series of comedy movies from the brothers. Every member of this comedy team died before I was born, but I have now seen several of their films, most recently this one. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't as good as "Duck Soup", but it was perhaps a bit better than I expected.
Mr. Hammer runs a resort hotel in Florida known as Hotel de Cocoanut, with his assistant, Jamison. Unfortunately, business is not going well at all, as the hotel doesn't have enough paying guests. Harpo and Chico are two criminals who come to the hotel with empty luggage, and intend to fill it up during their stay by stealing from the other guests and conning them! It turns out that they are not the only thieves in the building. A rich widowed guest named Mrs. Potter wants her daughter, Polly, to marry a man named Harvey Yates, not realizing that this man is actually a con artist who intends to steal her diamond necklace with the help of his partner, Penelope! To add to this chaos, Mr. Hammer tries to make money by trying to win Mrs. Potter's heart, but does a very pathetic job, saying some ridiculous things to her.
I wasn't sure what I thought of this particular Marx Brothers effort right at the beginning, but knew I had to be patient, as none of the comedians had appeared yet. It isn't long at all before Groucho first appears in the role of Mr. Hammer and begins rapidly delivering his funny lines! The comedian had a remarkable gift for that. When Harpo and Chico enter, sharing their stage names with the characters they play, the laughs continue. Zeppo plays the straight role of Jamison, while the other three brothers who appear in the film all play very comical roles, and they all provide some hilarious moments! Groucho has so many priceless lines, such as some of the things he says to Mrs. Potter (played by Margaret Dumont, who appeared in a number of Marx Brothers films) to try and win her heart, and some of his lines in many other scenes. Harpo and Chico make a hilarious pair with their fighting and such, and Chico has some hilarious lines, while Harpo is responsible for a lot of the hilarity with his visual antics and honking noises. I would say each of these three is equally good in his own way.
This is not the most popular movie from one of the 20th century's groundbreaking comedy acts, but overall, it's still an extremely funny one. I didn't like everything about "The Cocoanuts". In addition to being a comedy, it's also a musical, and I found that the singing/dancing scenes generally don't work so well. They can be tedious and can also get in the way of the humour. Since this is the earliest talkie I've ever seen, it's not surprising that it probably has the worst audio I've ever heard in a movie. I guess it was the best they could do at the time, but as I watched this, it was sometimes difficult to understand some of the dialogue, and because of this, some of the jokes may have gone over my head. However, for the most part, these weren't big problems for me (I could usually tell what the characters were saying), and I certainly have to give the film credit for how much it made me laugh! The Marx Brothers' silliness is obviously not for everyone, but this feature-length debut of theirs is probably worth watching if you're a fan and you can get over the poor sound quality.