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DVD SAVANT

Copacabana


Copacabana
Artisan
1947 / b&w / 1:37 flat / 92 min. / Street Date January 21, 2003 / $14.98
Starring Groucho Marx, Carmen Miranda, Steve Cochran, Andy Russell, Gloria Jean
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Production Designer Duncan Cramer
Film Editor Philip Cahn
Original Music Sam Coslow, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Edward Ward
Written by Allen Boretz, Howard Harris, Lászl Vadnay and Sydney Zelinka
Produced by Sam Coslow, David Hersh
Directed by Alfred E. Green

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.

Synopsis:

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 lovesick secretary.

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 (Top Banana, 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, Copacabana rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 16, 2003





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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