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Robert Florey, Joseph Santley
Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont
Writing Credits:
Morrie Ryskind

During the Florida land boom, the Marx brothers run a hotel, auction off some land, thwart a jewel robbery, and generally act like themselves.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $59.98
Release Date: 10/18/2016

Available Only as Part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Anthony Slide


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Cocoanuts [Blu-Ray] (1929)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 22, 2016)

If nothing else, 1929’s The Cocoanuts deserves a place in history as the Marx Brothers’ first feature-length film. Set at a seaside Florida resort called the Hotel de Cocoanut, we meet the establishment’s proprietor, Mr. Hammer (Groucho Marx). The hotel’s not doing well, so he hopes to sell some land and raise cash. Jamison (Zeppo Marx) works as his assistant.

We also meet Harvey Yates (Cyril Ring), another man in debt who may need to marry wealthy Polly (Mary Eaton) to make money. Harvey goes into a scheme with conniving babe Penelope (Kay Francis) to steal Mrs. Potter’s (Margaret Dumont) diamond necklace.

Polly wants to marry aspiring architect Bob Adams (Oscar Shaw), however, and he desires to build a development in the area. For now, he’s just a hotel clerk, and Polly’s mother pressures her to marry the higher-class Yates.

Into this setting come Harpo (Harpo Marx) and Chico (Chico Marx). Hammer thinks they’re investors, but they’re just freeloaders looking for a good time. Penelope plans to use them as scapegoats to take the fall for the robbery. The movie follows these various plots.

When Cocoanuts is good, it can be quite entertaining. When it falters, however, it really flops.

To some degree, it can be unfair to criticize the film’s dated elements. A lot of its pacing follows the conventions of the era, and the acting choices also fall in line with the period’s standards.

At least to a degree, that is. I don’t expect performers in a movie from 1929 to demonstrate naturalistic tones, but that doesn’t excuse the stiff acting and stilted line readings from so many of them.

At times it feels like the participants all act in different movies. They don’t seem to pay attention to each other and they fill space with their lines rather than interact.

As with most Marx movies, Cocoanuts prospers when it focuses on the brothers but it dies when we leave them. It starts poorly with a long musical piece at the beach, and it also bores when it heads to other production numbers.

Unfortunately, we get the usual harp solo from Harpo as well as a long piano piece from Chico. All the musical parts integrate awkwardly and go nowhere.

Virtually everything connected to the plot fails. All of those elements involve the non-Marx participants, and I simply couldn’t care less about them.

I’ve yet to see a Marx movie that uses secondary characters well - at least beyond Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s favorite foil. That holds true here, as the other participants are duds.

In truth, the plot is little more than an excuse to toss out a variety of sketches. It’s a feeble story that slows things down, as it zigs in and out of the film with little purpose.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t keep the funny bits from succeeding, and the brothers interact better than usual here. In subsequent Marx flicks, it often comes across like they all have their own set pieces and don’t work as a team. That doesn’t happen here, as they blend seamlessly and create a nice dynamic.

Even the often cloying Harpo presents a more intriguing personality than usual. He brings out more insolence than normal and tones down the cheesy parts of his character. Chico also seems more aggressive, and he contributes to the film’s best sequence, as the land auction brings out good interaction between Groucho and Chico.

I don’t think the Marx Brothers ever made a movie without significant flaws, and The Cocoanuts suffers from a mix of them. However, its positives often outweigh the problems. Despite stiff acting and poor plotting, the film features enough laughs to make it enjoyable.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus NA

The Cocoanuts appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though a mixed bag, the transfer often exceeded expectations.

As was the case with the film’s DVD release, a few particular segments offered the weakest visuals. I noticed significant degradation on five occasions: at nine minutes, 30 seconds, at 27:25, at 49:55, at 1:08:00 and at 1:27:18.

These segments appeared very grainy and soft, and the last few suffered from excessive brightness as well. The image always returned to normal after a few minutes, but those ugly spots became obvious distractions.

Other than those weak moments, though, I thought Cocoanuts looked solid for its age. Overall sharpness appeared good, with an image that displayed mostly positive delineation. The movie rarely seemed “razor-sharp” and some mild softness still materialized, but I had no real complaints about definition for the majority of the program.

To my pleasant surprise, the image came devoid of print flaws. Given the severe level of marks, scratches and defects found on the prior DVD, this felt like a miracle. Clearly Cocoanuts went through a lot of work, and it paid off via this clean presentation.

Outside of the ugly segments mentioned earlier, blacks looked nice, as they showed solid depth and firmness. Shadows also appeared smooth, and contrast was fairly good. Those elements varied a bit, so some parts offered a better “silver sheen” than others, but I thought this side of the transfer worked fine.

The movie’s flawed scenes dragged down my rating, but I still felt pleased with this image. Though it didn’t look as good as era-mates such as Wings or The Jazz Singer, the end result still worked well.

Since The Cocoanuts hit the screens only a year or so after the introductions of “talkies”, I didn’t expect much from its DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack. Indeed, I didn’t get much from it, as the audio seemed average for its era – though not bad, given those caveats.

Remember those scenes that I mentioned came with severely degraded visuals? They also showed a drop-off in terms of audio quality, though not as severe a decline since the soundtrack’s highs never equaled the positives of the image at its best.

During those “ugly spots”, the audio tended to seem distant and somewhat muffled. Source noise elevated as well, which left a lot of background issues.

Note that most of the bad audio corresponded to flawed visuals, but one exception occurred: the “I Want My Shirt” sequence. Though the picture still looked very good, the audio went into the toilet. It’s an odd drop-off.

These scenes represented the worst of the mix, but the whole affair clearly showed its age. Dialogue tended to be thin and tinny, and music followed suit. The songs came across as too bright and without much range.

Effects played a small role, and they worked the same as the rest of the track, with lackluster clarity. Light levels of background noise appeared throughout the film.

All of this meant Cocoanuts sounded like a movie from 1929. Could it have been better? Sure – the aforementioned Jazz Singer came out a year earlier and provide superior audio.

Nonetheless, I thought the soundtrack for Cocoanuts was perfectly adequate for its age. This was a primitive era for audio and the mix remained acceptable.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2004? Audio showed a little more clarity and range, but visuals delivered the most obvious improvements.

The DVD suffered from a slew of print flaws, so their absence automatically made this a radical upgrade. Throw in superior definition and this became a substantial step up.

Because the Blu-ray can be purchased only as part of a three-disc package with one disc partly devoted to bonus materials, I didn’t give Cocoanuts or the other individual discs a grade for extras. I’ll rate the set’s supplements as a whole when I look at that third platter.

The Cocoanuts does come with one extra: an audio commentary from film historian Anthony Slide. He presents a running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, the stage production and its move to the movies, locations and the history of Astoria Studios, aspects of the film’s release and various production subjects.

Overall, Slide manages a pretty good overview of Cocoanuts. I like that he criticizes aspects of the film and avoids the usual lovefest.

Only one issue emerges: too much dead air, as Slide vanishes for a lot more of the track than I’d expect, especially given the movie’s relatively brief length. That drawback aside, Slide manages to deliver an informative historical commentary.

The Cocoanuts deserves attention due to its historical significance, and it also offers sporadic amusement. I’ve yet to find a truly consistent Marx Brothers comedy, and Cocoanuts suffers from some of the usual flaws. Nonetheless, it presents a fair number of funny bits and generally entertains. The Blu-ray offered dated but more than acceptable visuals and audio as well as a useful commentary. No one will use this Blu-ray as a demo, but it offers the best home video version of the film to date.

As of late 2016, note that Universal currently offers The Cocoanuts only as part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. This three-disc set also includes Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. The package provides one disc largely devoted to supplements as well.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of THE COCOANUTS

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