The Curiosity That Is Copacabana
I got out Copacabana to watch after running across the above theatre ad. It was a first time after years hearing about it and exposure to stills. Interest Copacabana generates comes largely of its being Groucho Marx's first sans his brothers. If you haven't seen the DVD, I'd recommend taking a look. Artisan issued the disc some time back and they're currently at Amazon for eight dollars (with used ones at five). Quality is excellent ... better than I might have expected. United Artists released Copacabana in 1947. Independent producer Sam Coslow was songwriter/promoter midwife whose project this was. I like reading about indie ventures from that era as so many ended up mired in lawsuits and/or bank-repossessed negatives. Copacabana was product of one Beacon Productions, an entity declared insolvent within a few years of the film's release, and object of disgruntled participant claims. Whatever documentation exist from these would give valued insight into lives and misfortunes of suckers who sunk funds toward producing back when. So many seemed to have gotten trimmed one way or the other (imagine homes, life savings lost when such projects went bust). Was investing in movies ever a safe bet for inexperienced outsiders?
Copacabana seems to have been cast with personalities who could be got for a price. None were at career peaks. I wondered how much of the old Groucho was left by 1947 and how he'd comport in a lead. The army of wits who'd ghosted for him at Paramount are absent here, but still I enjoyed Groucho hardly less than in clover days with Harpo and Chico. He puts greater effort to Copacabana than latter Marx Bros. shows played with clearly less enthusiasm. This being a year after A Night In Casablanca, by all accounts a one-shot the Brothers did not intend to follow up on, Groucho makes the most of what he's given and brings real vitality to a vehicle admittedly not quite worthy of him, though I'd not call these circumstances humbling, his Marxian ripostes mostly amusing if not fall-down funny. It's just nice seeing Groucho in more-or-less command of situations and appearing to have a good time. Too often, especially in reunions with the Brothers, it seemed Groucho was just there to bail someone out (usually Chico) or do a favor (for participants trying to get an independent leg-up?). Copacabana was Groucho's bid for solo headlining to come, so there's no phoning in comedy from his end, whatever limits the film's script or budget imposes. Copacabana too was Groucho's debut minus painted on mustache and brows, maybe a welcome thing in 1947 when comics had toned down to more audience-identifiable shtick. He signs off the discarded image with a last production blowout from Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby's trunk. Go West, Young Man had apparently been written but not performed for a Marx Bros. oldie and comes pleasingly to the aid of Copacabana's final act. Groucho is exuberant singing it (shown here with Copa chorines) in full swallow-tailed glory. For fans of the classic Groucho of Broadway and precode origin, this is in all ways a delightful hail and farewell.
Copacabana got a lot of media notice for being set in the same-named nitery of Gotham fame. Provincials read of its happenings in column blurbs and radio-heard artists broadcasting from there. The Copa became first stop for tourists looking to sample New York high-life and was glamour personified in its chorus line-up. Producer Koslow shot the works on his club set and placed virtually all the action there and immediately backstage. Reviews noted plush environs and treated Copacabana like an A release (there would be $1.1 million in domestic rentals and $357,000 foreign). Co-starring talent rivals Groucho's for offbeat interest. Carmen Miranda was recently out at Fox and essays a dual part in Copacabana. Those who revere the Brazilian Bombshell call this some of her best screen work. She's at the least a singular partner for Groucho. They're enjoyable together in that strange-showbiz-bedfellows way that lend fascination to such eccentric pairings. Cock-eyed too is romantic coupling of ingénue Gloria Jean with swarth-styled Steve Cochran, for whom I'd have watched Copacabana Groucho or no. Steve was a loaner from Samuel Goldwyn, who also put stages at Koslow's disposal ... maybe a supportive gesture to a brother independent? You keep waiting for Cochran to start slapping or shooting. Instead, he's affable (more or less) character support. Gloria Jean voices only one number, and that in a dream sequence. I'd have thought for as appealing as she looked in Copacabana, they'd give this songstress more to do (Scott and Jan MacGillivray tell the off-screen story from her perspective in their book, Gloria Jean: A Little Bit Of Heaven). A sidelines swooner named Andy Russell was so laid-back as to make me think, Hey, I could do that. Did high school boys in the forties aspire to Andy's kind of serenading the way they later would to rock and rollers? Russell was so unpresupposing in Copacabana as to suggest anyone, per Alfalfa, could learn to croon.