The Cocoanuts (1929)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Absurd Comedy, Satire, Screwball Comedy, Slapstick  |   Release Date - May 3, 1929 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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The Marx Brothers burst upon the cinema scene with The Cocoanuts, and while the film is relatively tame compared to later efforts, at the time it was unlike anything movie audiences had previously experienced. There had certainly been zany comedy before, but the brothers had their own style – and, Harpo not withstanding, it was one that needed sound to make the transition to film. Although the film contains some classic Marx Brothers routines- including the "viaduct" exchange – and some other high points of comedy (such as a precisely-timed sequence involving entrances and exits to two connecting hotel rooms and Groucho's auction sequence) - the overall effect is hampered by the extremely static, stagebound quality necessitated by the early sound cameras and equipment. The boys, too, were still finding their way, still learning how to use the camera to best effect and so don't operate as the well-oiled machines that they soon would. In addition, there's too much focus put on the unconvincing and contrived love plot and the criminal subplot. While the love plot does allow for some musical numbers with interesting overhead shots of dancers forming flower patterns (pre-dating Berkeley) and some interesting angles during some other dance segments (angles that often place the camera disconcertingly at mid-torso), it also shifts focus to a supporting cast that (Kay Francis and Margaret Dumont aside) is pretty dull. Irving Berlin's score is below par for the master tunesmith, and the direction is a bit stodgy. Still, as long as the Marxes are onscreen, there's plenty of entertainment to be had.