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Thursday, June 24, 2010

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.


Anonymous sjack said...

A few observations. First of all I can't get over how dirty the floors are in the two pictures (the one on top of the Greenbriar logo, and the one with Groucho and the chorines). It seems odd that with all the attention to detail when making those films, (like makeup, lighting, art direction) that they wouldn't have noticed that the floor could have used a good buffing. BTW I've heard the Ginger and Fred DVDs reveal they had dirty floors too.

In the next to the last picture, I think, that has both Groucho and Carmen along with a bunch of girls in it, shows Carmen Miranda's shoes. Those things had to be at least 5-6 inches at the heel. How could this woman stand much less walk in shoes with heels that high? Was she *that* short? I cannot believe that she performed musical numbers in those shoes.

Yes I'm strange, I admit it.

2:07 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's a very interesting point, sjack. I hadn't noticed the floor in these stills. I'd imagine that when they shot the dance numbers, the floor would have been polished ... then later, maybe days later, when the cast came back for stills, the floors were left as they were and not re-polished.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

My guess is with so much else going into detail ,that floors were the last concern(just try not to film that low)..yet on this one,it looks like you can see the marks on the floor for Groucho's feet in the 3rd down left foto..

6:04 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Just picked up a photo of Cesar Romero spinning Carmen Miranda on a dance floor. The photo reveals that Carmen left her "undies" in the dressing room, and her entire "tutti-fruitti" is showing.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So SOMEBODY likes this film.I think "Go West,Young Man" was part of the discarded Kalmar/Ruby script for GO WEST (At least one author lamented that the aformentioned script wasn't used, but I've heard It wasn't really that great).Remember when COPACABANA was reissued in 1973 on a double bill with NIGHT IN CASABLANCA? Remember when kids knew who the Marx Brothers were?

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

My 14-year old daughter knows who the Marx Brothers are -- and they leave her cold. She's happy to watch old movies -- Laurel & Hardy, Hitchcock, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Moto... but forget the Marxes -- even their Paramount movies.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Scoundrel said...

The Carmen and Cesar Romero photo is from Kenneth Anger's HOLLYWOOD BABYLON

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Cladrite Radio said...

I saw COPACABANA in a theatre back in the 1970s, and I was amazed by how they managed to make Groucho look so young during the performance pieces.

Seeing the still from that scene in your post, it appears I may have been too easily amazed back then.

1:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Wish I could have seen that combo in 1973, but no theatre around here played it. Did colleges book "Copacabana" to supplement their Marx Bros. programs? It might have worked with a 70's crowd ...

Cladrite, I think Groucho still looks good in his "Go West, Young Man" number. Considering the success of "A Night In Casablanca," the previous year, I'm surprised he and the Brothers weren't prevailed upon to follow up on it (notwithstanding the several year's later "Love Happy," which was not so successful).

1:27 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I remember when A Night In Casablana premiered on TV about 1973..It was a pretty big hit.Suddenly Harpo is famous for the "whatya think you're doing?..Holding up a Wall?"gag..Martin and Lewis's Artists and Models premiered about that same time on that major primetime network..Also in around that time,Animal Crackers was back in circulation and playing major theatres..

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Cladrite Radio said...

I was an usher (and a relatively newly minted Marxist) at a multiplex when ANIMAL CRACKERS was rereleased in, what, 1974? I spent hours on end on quiet Saturday afternoons watching AC over and over, only occasionally peeking out to see if the mostly absent theatre manager was on the prowl.

It seems in retrospect as if the run was a lengthy one -- three or four weeks, perhaps -- though that seems odd to me now, since it wasn't drawing anything like packed houses.

To this day, I can come pretty close to reciting all the dialogue verbatim while watching that movie.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


COPACABANA was released on May 30, 1947 (filmed between November 22, 1946 and January 22, 1947), but listeners of the radio program "Philco Radio Time" on February 12, 1947 got a preview of the song "Go West Young Man!" when it was performed on that show by Bing Crosby with guest Groucho Marx, accompanied by John Scott Trotter's Orchestra (show recorded January 27 & 28, 1947). Incidentally, neither Bing nor Groucho mentioned that the song is from Gorucho's forthcoming movie.

Bing Crosby also recorded the song for Decca Records on March 26, 1947, accompied by The Andrews Sisters, with Victor Schoen and His Orchestra (on Decca #23885).

Some interesting alterations in lyrics between these different versions included the line about Dixie. It was completely replaced in some versions (presumably to avoid ofending southerners?). Also the word Sudan was reportedly orignally Japan, but understandably changed, even if these recordings were post-war.

6:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

As always, your added info is much appreciated, Richard. Look forward to seeing you at Slapsticon.

8:36 AM  
Blogger jeffm12012 said...

There was a 16mm home movie reel made from Copacabana, but apparently only released in England. It was titled (of all things) MIRACLE MIRANDA; and it's listed in some old British home movie rental catalogs I have. (One of which includes a shot of Laurel & Hardy visiting the firm; ex-projectionist Ollie, true to his old job, is unrolling a reel and peering thru the frames!)

10:47 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Jeff --- Do you still have that catalogue? I'm doing a post on Oliver Hardy as a showman/projectionist, and would love to include that image if it's accessable. Thanks, John.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Real guffaws are hard to come by in this film. Most of the supports are wooden. This film does look good, especially some of the dance sequences.

10:09 AM  

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