For Reel

The Cocoanuts (1929)
July 21, 2015, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): Robert Florey & Joseph Santley
3 Stars
The CocoanutsThe first feature film to star the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts is a stagy, ponderous effort that is a few swings below the team’s usual par. Of directors Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, Groucho famously remarked, “One of them didn’t understand English, the other didn’t understand comedy.” It is clear that some things were lost from stage to screen–in a few clumsy long shots, characters walk on and off the screen and break the comedic flow of the material, and in other instances actors are awkwardly cut off by the frame. In a particularly egregious sequence, Florey frames Harpo’s leg routine with Kay Francis above the waist, meaning that audiences barely get a sense of what the great physical comedian is doing with the entirety of his body. Regardless, one doesn’t always come to a Marx Brothers film for inspired direction or an engaging narrative, and The Cocoanuts does contain a handful pleasures amongst its assemblage of vignettes. Harpo, in particular, is a stand out in that he is even more chaotic than in his later films. While he would eventually gain a tinge of sweetness in later productions, here he plays a devilish frustration that uses anything and anyone as a prop. Santley’s dance numbers are of some interest in that they predict Busby Berkeley’s numbers, rife with overhead kaleidoscopic shots and a number of low angles that fetishize the dancer’s legs.

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