Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Definitely a post-pinnacle Groucho Marx movie, Copacabana is certainly fun enough for fans of
Marx Brothers lunacy. Groucho's on his own here, paired nicely with Carmen Miranda for an okay
musical that has plenty of wisecracking asides to make up for the stilted plot. Artisan is releasing
a small flurry of vintage Republic titles (this one was originally a United Artists release)
in modest but nicely-transferred editions, and this comedy musical looks brand-new.
Broke and jobless, the theatrical team of Carmen Novarro (Carmen Miranda) and Lionel
Q. Devereaux (Groucho Marx) decides to get rich by splitting up. Acting as Carmen's agent, Lionel
gets an important audition for her at the Copacabana, owned by Steve Hunt (Steve Cochran). But
he foolishly promotes a non-existent performer called Mademoiselle Fifi, forcing Carmen to
impersonate her and follow herself on stage when Hunt buys both acts. Soon Hollywood wants Fifi, and
Steve does too, which leaves Lionel in the lurch: with the help of singer Andy Russell (himself) he
tries to steer Steve back to his secretary Anne Stuart (Gloria Jean).
Groucho plays his usual double-timing schemer in Copacabana, but he's certainly more subdued
than in the classic madcap features he made with his brothers at Paramount and MGM. His character
isn't the same either; Lionel Q. Devereaux is mature enough to be truly in love with his fiancee
Carmen, and wears a real moustache instead of one that's painted-on. The spirit is there, but in
a nostalgic mode - the old anarchy is missing.
The comedy is almost in line with an extended episode of I Love Lucy, right down to the nightclub
setting. Groucho promotes Carmen into a double role, and she feigns a French accent as the mysterious
Mlle Fifi. Various agents and managers trick each other to control her contract, but nothing ever
gets very serious. Steve Cochran, on loan from Sam Goldwyn, probably enjoyed the opportunity to
play a nice guy instead of his usual mobster character. 'Guest star' radio singer Andy Russell has
a great voice
but is pretty horrible to look at, and ex-W.C. Fields co-star Gloria Jean is charming as Cochran's
The romantic complications are fairly disposable, which unfortunately means that when the young
couple are onscreen singing, we're impatient for Groucho and Carmen to come back. Carmen's
character is a more realistic version of her earlier ditzy Brazilian, and she gets to wear a number
of hairstyles, etc., that give her much more variety than the platform heels, tight skirt and
fruit-topped turban we're used to seeing. When both she and Groucho interact, there's a lot of
charm, although the material is never good enough for them. The concept humor is mostly
tame, and it's through sheer force of personality that we stay engaged. Groucho's expected asides
and quips get most of the laughs. At one point Groucho jokes about a president who plays the
piano, a topical reference to Harry Truman that many will miss.
The familiar Copacabana song immortalized by Barry Manilow is not heard, and none of the songs
is a standout. Carmen sings 'Tico Tico' as an opener,
and four different backup acts appear, including the 'Copa Girls' - the famous nightclub's name is used by
credited license. Groucho's sole stage performance is a 'go west' number that's elaborate and well-shot, but
like all the rest, not integrated into the story. It does allow Groucho to appear in his own double
role - Devereaux introduces a 'talented young fella', who turns out to be a second Groucho,
the one with the familiar painted moustache. Like all of the 'concept' gags, it starts cute and
goes nowhere. In fact, the 'two Carmens' structure kind of falls apart at the end, with most
of the romantic entanglements unresolved - the movie needed to get wacky and have a real twin
sister show up for Carmen, or something.
Now-unknown Alfred Green
Invasion, USA) started directing in 1916
and does a good job keeping things lively. There are several rather nice touches, including a stylish
opening shot, shooting through a suspended ceiling at the Copa Girls on the dance floor below.
Artisan's DVD of Copacabana uses a prime vault element to produce a flawless-looking disc with a
sharp picture and excellent sound. At this bargain price, there are no extras, but DVD-starved Marx
Brothers fans will be pleased.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Good -
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 16, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson