Sunday, January 28, 2018

Stubs - The Shape of Water


The Shape of Water (2017) Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor. Produced by J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro. Run Time: 123 minutes. USA Color. Fantasy, Science Fiction, Drama, Romance

A Creature From the Black Lagoon comes to the big city, in this case, Baltimore, story is one of this year's leading films to win a Best Picture Oscar. The film is also nominated in 12 other categories, in addition to Best Picture, including Best Director (Guillermo del Toro), Best Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and Best Original Screenplay (Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor). And after watching the film, I would have to say that it deserves these nominations, if not the awards.

Sally Hawkins, a gifted actress, plays Elisa Esposito, a mute who works as a janitor for a secret government agency. She lives above a struggling movie theater, next door to a lonely artist, Giles (Richard Jenkins), a recovering alcoholic with a penchant for finding old Fox films on local TV. She is accompanied at work by Zelda Delilah Fuller (Octavia Spencer) whose main purpose seems to be interpreting Elisa's sign language for the higher-ups. Those include Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who are both working on a secret project, which turns out to be Amphibian Man (Doug Jones).

The film takes place during the Cold War, with the Space Race just starting to take shape, so there is some Russian espionage at work as well. Though neither side is really sure of what to make of the Amphibian Man, that doesn't prevent them from fighting over him. While I can't say that all the hairdos and suit styles are spot on, the feeling of the era is definitely captured.

Curiosity leads Elisa to find the Amphibian Man and an unlikely relationship begins. If you haven't seen the film, then saying more would be giving away the plot. And this is definitely a film you should see.

Del Toro directing a scene from The Shape of Water.

The name Del Toro is not always a sign of greatness, see Pacific Rim (2013), which like this film is a mixture of influences and genres. However, while Pacific Rim was sort of stupid, this time the combinations seem to work much better. Originally conceived as a remake of the aforementioned Creature From the Black Lagoon, an IP that Universal is not yet willing to part with, this time the creature is a much more sympathetic character and the film's heartwarming touches sort of catch you a little by surprise. There are the occasional plot holes, but not enough to take away from the overall film.

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water.

Sally Hawkins, who is unafraid of nudity here, plays a very sweet character who finds an inner strength when she needs it. Hawkins overcomes the shortcomings that Elisa is unable to talk, but she still manages to get the character across to the audience.

Richard Jenkins plays Giles, Elisa's neighbor and confidant in The Shape of Water.

Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, who play Elisa's personal and work best friends, are both good in their roles and deserve the accolades they've received. The film seems to give every main character a life away from the main story. While Giles is painted with more depth, Zelda is also drawn in three-dimensions.

I would say equally deserving is Michael Shannon's performance as Col. Richard Strickland. Unlike many movie villains, you see him as a somewhat believable character, a family man driven by an overzealous misplaced fervor for both the Bible and patriotism. A definitely flawed man, you never root for him but you have to appreciate the actor who brings him to life.

Michael Shannon gives his character a lot of depth, even though you can never root for him.

I am not going to predict the whims of the Motion Picture Academy, but I will highly recommend this film. There is so much to like here and every aspect seems to be done at a very high level from the acting to the story to the direction. This is one that you want to be sure to see so that you'll understand what all the fuss is about.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Stubs - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Starring: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Ralph Truman, Daniel Gélin, Mogens Wieth, Alan Mowbray. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Based on a Story by Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis. Run Time: 120 minutes. USA Thriller

Throughout his long career, Alfred Hitchcock only remade one film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, one of his more successful British films and the one many credit with his long-running fascination with Thrillers. The remake was not initially his idea, but rather David O. Selznick’s, the producer Hitchcock was under contract to when he first came to Hollywood. Selznick bought the rights to the film. However, Hitchcock wasn’t ready to remake it until he was out on his own and under contract to Paramount Pictures. Then he looked at the remake as a way of fulfilling his contract with that studio.
And while he wanted to remake the film, he didn’t want it to be too closely similar to the original.

The writer, John Michael Hayes, who had worked with the director on such films as Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955), was not allowed to watch the original nor read the screenplay. Instead, Hitchcock told him the story and Hayes would outline the script from his notes. He had barely finished the first draft when production got underway.

For casting, James Stewart was a given as the father. The actor and director had worked together prior, in Rear Window, so there was already a familiarity. But Stewart represented a sort of everyman that Hitchcock wanted for his leading man and protagonist.

For the wife, Hitchcock had to fight for Doris Day for the mother. Best known as a singer, Day had appeared in Storm Warning (1951), a film noir thriller; a performance Hitchcock had seen and liked. But Associate Producer Herbert Coleman was not so sure. He suggested other actresses, including Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak but eventually, Day was cast.

Production began on April 29, 1955, in Marrakech, Morocco. Riots broke out against the French protectorate that ruled the country and the production barely escaped Morocco before the French administrator was assassinated. Second unit photography had to rush their work as well, getting out of Morocco before Ramadan.

The production would move back to London, with shooting in and around the city, including The Royal Albert Hall. After that, the shooting returned to Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where it concluded on August 24, 1955.

The opening credits take place in Albert Hall, where the orchestra is playing Arthur Benjamin's "Storm Clouds Cantata"  which will later play a significant part in the film.

The cymbals are played at the climax of the piece.

After attending a medical conference in Paris, American physician Ben McKenna (James Stewart) takes his wife Jo (Doris Day) and son Hank (Christopher Olsen) to Casablanca, where he had been stationed during World War II and to Marrakech, Morocco. The film opens with the trio on the bus to Marrakech. Hank accidentally pulls the veil off a Muslim woman when the bus lurches, which angers her husband.

After rescuing Hank (Christopher Olsen), Louis (Daniel Gélin)
talks with Ben (James Stewart) and Jo McKenna (Doris Day)

Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), a Frenchman and fellow passenger, intercedes and calms the man down. For the rest of the bus ride, he questions the family, learning much about them, including that Ben is a doctor in Indianapolis, but Bernard avoids reciprocal information about himself. Jo is suspicious of Louis as a result. Louis says that he has business to attend to and can’t accompany them to the hotel. Before they separate, they make plans to have dinner that night and to meet for drinks in the McKenna’s hotel suite before.

The bus arrives in Marrakech.

Soon afterward, Jo notices that Louis speaks to the man from the bus as if they are old friends, only adding to her suspicions.

Jo is suspicious of the Draytons, Edward (Bernard Miles) and Lucy (Brenda De Banzie).

When they arrive at their hotel, Jo notices that a passing British couple seems to be watching them, but Ben thinks she’s being paranoid.

That night, Louis meets the McKennas for a drink in their hotel room before dinner. While Jo is getting Hank ready for bed, the two of them sing “Que Sera, Sera” as if this is part of their bedtime routine.

Their plans change when Rien (Reggie Nalder) appears at the McKennas' hotel room door. Rien says he’s looking for someone and leaves quickly, but it’s clear he and Louis have made eye contact. Louis makes a call before telling Ben and Jo that he has a business appointment and promises they’ll do dinner another night.

The Draytons show the McKennas the customs of eating in a different culture.

Later, at an Arab restaurant, Ben and Jo seem out of their element, that is until they meet a British couple, the Draytons, Edward (Bernard Miles) and Lucy (Brenda De Banzie), the same couple who had been eyeing Jo when they arrived at the hotel. The Draytons explain the staring by claiming to be fans of Jo, who was a well-known singer prior to her marriage to Ben. Lucy had seen her on the London stage. The Draytons help the McKennas manage local customs which also involve how to eat without utensils.

While they’re eating, the McKennas see Louis come into the restaurant with a woman.  At first, Ben doesn’t seem to think too much of it, but Jo manages to rile him up and then has to restrain him from confronting Louis.

Hitchcock makes his appearance at the marketplace.

The next morning, the McKennas and Draytons meet at the local marketplace. Lucy seems to take Hank under her wing so Jo and Ben are free to explore on their own. Besides shopping, there are performances by locals. Everyone seems to be having a good time until the police are seen chasing a man through the crowd. But the man is purposefully and fatally stabbed by another man who is also running from the crowd.

The two families witness a murder in the marketplace.

With the knife sticking out of his back, the man stumbles into the crowd toward a surprised Ben. When he collapses in Ben’s arms, some of the dark make up comes off and Ben realizes that it is Louis disguised as an Arab. When Ben leans down, Louis tells him that there is a plot to assassinate an unnamed statesman in London. Ben hurriedly writes down the little bit he’s heard.

The makeup comes off, revealing the victim to be Louis.

The police want to question them. Edward offers to go with them since he speaks French. Lucy offers to take Hank back to the hotel with her. Edward’s presence isn’t required since the police detective speaks English. Ben thinks he’s being accused of somehow being a part of Louis’ murder and bristles. When he’s informed there is a phone call for him, he leaves Jo and goes to take it.

The unidentified man on the other end of the phone threatens Hank if Ben tells the police what he knows. Edward tries to call the hotel to speak to Lucy, but she hasn’t returned. Ben asks him to go back to the hotel to make sure everything is all right and Edward willingly goes.

Ben sedates Jo before telling her Hank has been kidnapped.

When they get back to the hotel, Ben learns that the Draytons have checked out and are gone. Realizing that Hank is now missing, he gives Jo a sedative before telling her what he suspects. She is not surprisingly upset, but too sedated to do anything about it.

By the time she wakes up, Ben has found that the Draytons have flown out on a private plane headed to London, so that’s where they’re going to look for Hank.

At the London Airport, Jo and Ben hear their son's voice on the phone.

When they arrive in London, they are surprised to be greeted by Jo’s fans and the police. Inspector Buchanan of Scotland Yard (Ralph Truman) is already aware that their son has been kidnapped and informs them that Louis was, in fact, a British Secret Agent. Jo pleads with Ben to tell the inspector what he knows, but he refuses. The Inspector, who is also a father, seems to appreciate their situation.
While they’re there, Jo receives a phone call from Lucy, who lets them speak briefly to Hank. Ben tries to get Hank to tell them where he is, but the call ends. The police manage to have traced it to a public phone.

Jo's London theater friends Val (Alan Mowbray) and Helen Parnell (Alix Talton),
 Jan Peterson (Hillary Brooke), and Cindy Fontaine (Carolyn Jones) come to visit and drink.

After checking into a London hotel, the McKennas attempt to call Ambrose Chappell, the name Louis told Ben, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Jo's old acquaintances: Val (Alan Mowbray) and Helen Parnell (Alix Talton), Jan Peterson (Hillary Brooke), and Cindy Fontaine (Carolyn Jones), old friends of Jo’s from her days in London. While Jo stays behind with her friends, Ben sneaks out through the hotel's service entrance to meet Chappell.

Ben goes to the wrong Ambrose Chappell.

The address he has is for the Ambrose taxidermy shop and Ben is slow to realize that neither Ambrose Sr. (George Howe) nor Ambrose Jr. (Richard Wordsworth) is involved in his son's kidnapping, and is forced to make a quick escape after the employees try to detain him for the police.

Ben gets into a scuffle at the taxidermist.

Meanwhile, at the hotel, Jo realizes that "Ambrose Chapel" is a place, not a person, and she leaves her friends to go there. Her friends are still there when Ben returns and he is only there for a few minutes when Jo calls. He leaves again and goes to meet her.

Inside the church, we see that Hank is being held captive by the Draytons, with the help of their assistant, Edna (Betty Baskcomb), who we had seen at the airport when Ben and Jo arrived. Edna is growing tired of babysitting Hank, but Lucy wants her to be nice to the boy.

Edward shows assassin Rien (Reggie Nalder) the musical cue to shoot.

Rien is also there is being instructed by the Draytons as to the exact moment during an Albert Hall concert that it would be safe for him to commit the assassination. It is a climactic cymbal crash in the performance of a cantata, which Edward plays for him several times. It is revealed that they were in Morocco to bring him back for this very mission.

The McKennas go to the right Ambrose Chapel.

Meanwhile, the McKennas enter the chapel just as the service, administered by Mr. Drayton, is about to begin. Lucy is walking around with the collection plate when she sees them standing in the church. She tries to warn her husband, but it is not until he sees Jo leave to call the police that he cuts the service short, sending everyone home to meditate.

The McKennas try not to be seen during the church service.

Ben gets locked in after everyone else leaves. Hearing his son's voice, Ben rushes to Hank's aid, only to be knocked unconscious by one of Draytons' henchmen.

The police arrive, but there is no answer at the church’s front door and they can’t enter without a warrant. The police are told to wait for Scotland Yard. In the meantime, Jo calls Buchanan, but he is unreachable as he is attending an important diplomatic function at a concert at Albert Hall.

In the meantime, the Draytons with their henchman and Hank leave out a back way undetected by the police. They take refuge at a foreign embassy.

When Rien sees Jo in the lobby he tells her Hank is a fine boy.

When the police are ordered to leave, she asks if they can take her to Albert Hall, but they take her to a taxi stand instead. In the lobby, Rien sees her and the assassin makes a point of telling her she has a fine boy as if to remind her that Hank's safety depends on her silence.

Ben makes his escape out of the church through the bell tower.

Meanwhile, Ben makes quite a stir as he escapes the locked chapel by climbing the church bell's rope. Once out, he also makes his way to the concert.

Bernard Herrmann, the film's composer, conducts the orchestra inside Albert Hall.

The concert, which features the "Storm Clouds Cantata", is conducted by Bernard Herrmann, who is playing himself. In the audience, Jo senses that Rien is about to shoot a visiting foreign prime minister and she screams at the appropriate moment causing the startled assassin to merely wound the dignitary in the arm.

Rien's aim is thrown off when Jo screams.

Ben then jumps Rien, and in his attempt to escape, the assassin falls from the balcony to his death. After the concert, the grateful Prime Minister (Alexis Bobrinskoy) invites them back to his embassy.

Lucy is protective of Hank.

Back at the embassy, the Draytons are informed by the ambassador (Mogens Wieth) that their assassination attempt on the prime minister has failed. Over Lucy's objection, the ambassador then orders her husband to kill Hank.

Jo belts out "Que Sera, Sera" at the embassy.

The police are unable to go into the embassy due to diplomatic immunity, so the McKennas enter alone. Jo is asked to perform for the guests, and her singing voice is soon recognized by Hank, when she sings their song “Que Sera, Sera”. Mrs. Drayton, who seems to have taken a liking to the boy, instructs him to whistle along with his mother’s singing. This guides Ben to the room in which Hank is being held.

Edward tries to use Ben and Hank as shields to get out of the embassy.

Lucy encourages them to hurry, but before they’re out of the room, Edward appears, gun in hand and pointed at the boy’s head. Rather than kill them, he decides to use Ben and Hank as human shields so he can escape from the embassy.

As they make their way down the grand staircase, Ben pushed Hank out of the way and pushes Drayton, who is killed when he falls on his own gun and it goes off.

The reunited McKennas then head back to their hotel room, where Jo's friends, now asleep, have been waiting the entire time.

The film was released in the U.S. on June 1, 1956 and turned out to be a box office success, taking in $11.333 million in domestic box-office receipts and $4.1 million in theatrical rentals. The film also received mostly positive reviews, including Bosley Crowther at the New York Times who called it “lean and fluid” and that even in “mammoth VistaVision, the old Hitchcock thriller-stuff has punch.”

Hitchcock must have been pleased with his remake. In his famous interview with François Truffaut, after the French New Wave director asserts that aspects of the remake were superior to the original Hitchcock replied, "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."

And there are certain aspects that are far better. While the original film seemed to be in a hurry, the remake seems almost languid in its approach to getting the story going. But it does allow Hitchcock to better set up the relationships between characters. Ben and Jo are shown to be a happily married couple and are presented as a typical American couple for the time period of the film. She naturally gave up her career when she married, to be a wife and mother, again expected of women at the time.

Their relationship with Louis is allowed time to develop and seems more realistic than the Lawrences had with their Louis Bernard in the original. Rather than an intimate stranger, Louis is presented here as a real stranger that the couple is simply friendly with, but still keep him at arm’s length.

James Stewart is, as usual, pretty good. While not my favorite role of his, he seems to really be living the character, warts and all. He is reserved but with a bit of a temper. Ben can be manipulated by Jo but also knows how to manipulate her in turn. He’s a lanky American who can’t help but stand out in the marketplace of Morocco.

Doris Day, despite Herbert Coleman’s reservations, seems like the perfect fit for the role of Jo, especially given her background as a singer. Her best acting here may be when she learns that Hank has been kidnapped. Despite having been drugged by her husband, she is still distraught.

The film is filled with interesting characters besides the main leads, especially the Draytons, who are surprisingly villainous for what appears at first glance to be a doting old English couple. Hitchcock has always liked to show people we think of in one regard in a different light. The nicer and more normal they appear, the more the character is hiding. The Draytons may seem like a God-fearing religious couple, but in the end, Edward would think nothing of putting a bullet through little Hank’s head.

Jo's London theater friends have small roles, but they seem to make quite an impression. You get the real sense that they are a tight-knit group who enjoy talking and drinking. They provide just the right amount of comic relief at the end of the film.

While the original film ends with the mother shooting and killing the assassin, here the ending is more comedic. Jo’s theater friends are still waiting, after many long hours, asleep in their chairs in the hotel suite’s sitting room. There are some other comedic touches, like Ben struggling to figure out how to eat with only two fingers and a thumb on his right hand but the one at the end works best.

The film looks good, though Hitchcock works against himself when he cuts between location shots and obvious studio ones. You have the same thing with other Hitchcock films, like the crop duster scene in North By Northwest (1959). While Hitchcock liked the control that a studio provided, the technology wasn’t there to seamlessly mix the two. Instead, it can be a little jarring at times.

The song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” which is featured prominently in the film, was written by Jay Livingston (composer) and Ray Evans (lyricist). Doris Day wasn’t actually thrilled with the song herself, thinking it was a children’s song. According to Livingston, “She didn't want to record it but the studio pressured her. She did it in one take and said, 'That's the last you're going to hear of this song.'” Instead, it would become Day’s signature song, reaching number two on the U.S. Billboard charts and win the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song under the title: "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)".

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) like many of Hitchcock’s 50’s films, takes its time getting to the point. Helping to build tension and add to the suspense of the film, but you have to be willing to stick with it. If you can stick with it, the film is worth watching. While the payoff might not be as good as the original's, there is still a lot to like about the movie. If you have the time, stay with it, you’ll like it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Stubs - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) Starring: Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam, Frank Vosper. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis. Produced by Michael Balcon (uncredited). Run Time: 75 minutes. The United Kingdom. Black and White. Thriller

While Alfred Hitchcock is probably best known for the films he made in Hollywood, he was a prolific filmmaker back in his native England. Born in 1899, Hitchcock got his start in the film business in 1919 as a title card designer. He was studying to be an engineer when he read that Famous Players-Lasky, the production arm of Paramount Pictures, was planning to build a studio in London and was planning to make The Sorrows of Satan by Marie Corelli there. He made up some title card designs and sent them and they hired him.

The first film he directed was Number 13 (1922), the same year Famous Lasky pulled out of London. He went to work for Gainsborough Pictures where he was an assistant director. In 1925, he directed The Pleasure Garden, a co-production between Gainsborough and the German film company Emelka which had him working in Munich. Even though the film was a flop, Hitchcock was hired to direct a second film in Germany, The Mountain Eagle (1926), which even Hitchcock called "a very bad movie".

Things turned around for the young director with his film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), which turned out to be both a commercial and critical success. A series of films followed: The Ring 1927); Downhill (1927); The Farmer's Wife (1928); Easy Virtue (1928); Champagne (1928); and The Manxman (1929). Hitchcock made the transition to sound with Blackmail (1929) followed by Juno and the Paycock (1930); Murder! (1930); Elstree Calling (1930); The Skin Game (1931); Mary (1931); Rich and Strange (1931); Number Seventeen (1932).

In 1931, Hitchcock began working with screenwriter Charles Bennett on preparing a scenario based on the "Bulldog Drummond" series of books, written by Herman Cyril McNeile. However, the head of the British International Pictures studio where Hitchcock and Bennett worked, John Maxwell, thought the project, then called Bulldog Drummond’s Baby, was too costly to make and shelved the project.

When Michael Balcon signed Hitchcock to Gaumont-British in 1933, the studio also acquired Bulldog Drummond’s Baby from BIP. But when they couldn’t acquire rights to the Bulldog Drummond book, Hitchcock and Bennett jettisoned the Bulldog Drummond character from their screenplay. Needing a new title, Hitchcock took the name "The Man Who Knew Too Much" from a G.K. Chesterton book which he owned the film rights to.

Hitchcock worked on the screenplay with screenwriter Charles Bennett; Ivor Montagu, who became Hitchcock's supervisory producer; Angus MacPhail, who was in charge of Gaumont's story department; and Alma, Hitchcock’s wife, and frequent contributor. Hitchcock began to plan out two climatic set-pieces for the film — the assassination attempt at the Albert Hall during an orchestral performance, and a shoot-out between the police and the kidnappers. The latter was based on a real event, the notorious 1911 "Siege of Sidney Street" gunfight that took place in Stepney, London. (The siege marked the first time the police had requested military assistance in London to deal with an armed stand-off.)

Before the screenplay was finished, satirist D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, actor and playwright Emlyn Williams, playwright Edwin Greenwood, and actor-writer A.R. Rawlinson had also made contributions to the final script. While Bennett sought to downplay the contribution of the other writers, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis would receive a screen credit for his work.

Casting included French actor Pierre Fresnay, whom Hitchcock had seen in a stage production in London; Nova Pilbeam, a then fourteen-year-old actress who had been called "the world's greatest child actress" by the British press; and Peter Lorre, the Hungarian-born actor, who had found his success in Germany. His best-known film until then had been M (1931). Jewish, Lorre fled Nazi Germany in 1933, traveling first to Paris and then to London. Associate producer Ivor Montagu referred Lorre to Hitchcock.

In their first meeting, Lorre made a good impression on Hitchcock by smiling and laughing as Hitchcock talked, disguising his limited command of the English language. Originally considered for the role of the assassin Ramon, Hitchcock wanted him to play the larger role of Abbott. During filming, Lorre would learn his lines phonetically.

The film began principal photography on May 29, 1934, and wrapped on August 2.

The film opens in St. Moritz Switzerland, where Betty Lawrence (Nova Pilbeam) runs out onto the course of a ski-jumping competition, affecting the landing of Frenchman Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay). She is looking for her father, Bob (Leslie Banks), and while Louis could have been severely injured, the incident is more or less laughed off. Louis says that he’s done with jumping for the day because he has a train to catch that night. In the crowd is Abbott (Peter Lorre).

Betty (Nova Pilbeam) and her father Bob (Leslie Banks) come to watch her mother Jill (Edna Best) shoot skeet.

Bob and Betty end up at a clay pigeon shooting contest that her mother Jill (Edna Best) is competing in. She has reached the finals against a male sharpshooter, Ramon (Frank Vosper). Jill gives her daughter a brooch.

At a crucial moment, Jill is distracted and loses the match.

At the crucial moment, Jill is distracted by a chiming watch that Abbott tries to show to Betty. Jill loses, but once again, the incident is laughed off, especially when Louis arrives. While Jill and Louis openly flirt, their relationship is never really spelled out. We learn later that they’re staying at the same hotel, but they do seem very chummy for being only passing acquaintances.

Louis (Pierre Fresnay) is shot while dancing with Jill.

Later, that evening, while dancing with Jill, Louis is fatally shot. As he lies dying on the floor, he tells Jill that there is a note in his hotel room that must be delivered to the British Consul. She tells Bob, who goes and searches Louis’ hotel room, just ahead of investigators and Ramon. Bob reads the note which he finds rolled up in Louis’ shaving brush, “Wapping G Barbor Make Contact A. Hall March 21st”.

Bob reads the note Louis was hiding.

Since they can’t retrieve the note, the criminals involved in the shooting kidnap Betty, threatening to kill her if the parents tell anyone about what they know.

In what seems almost inexplicable, the couple returns to London. The Lawrences are questioned by the police and by an official from the British Foreign Office. The latter informs them that Louis had been a spy working for the British and was trying to prevent a politically-motivated assassination of an important foreign official.

Clive (Hugh Wakefield) joins Bob on his quest.

Since it is March 21st, Bob with their friend Clive (Hugh Wakefield) in tow, uses the clues from Louis’ note and goes to the Wapping, a district in London near the Docklands. There they find a dentist’s office with the name of George Barbor (Henry Oscar). They gain access to the office by pretending Clive needs dental treatment. When Clive is given quick treatment, Bob claims he needs help, too.

They find the dentist office in Wapping.

Once inside, he discovers that two people he’d met in St. Moritz, Abbott and Ramon, are involved in some intrigue, using Barbor’s office as a front. Bob manages to turn the table on the dentist, who tries to kill him. Using the anesthesia, Bob keeps Barbor unconscious and pretends to be him when Abbott and Ramon leave the office.

Bob turns the table on George Barbor (Henry Oscar).

Having escaped detection, Bob and Clive find a nearby tabernacle devoted to Sun Worshipping that has the same building markings as were on Louis’ note. The vaguely sinister-appearing cult members inside are suspicious of the two interlopers and refuse to let them leave. Soon afterward, Abbott and Ramon show up, and it is clear that Abbott is the gang ringleader and that Betty is being held prisoner there. Ramon, the marksman, is to be dispatched to the Royal Albert Hall to carry out the planned assassination at a concert that night. Bob manages to cause enough chaos to enable Clive to escape and to inform Jill to rush to the Albert Hall.

Bob creates a diversion by fighting using the chairs in the tabernacle.

Bob is taken prisoner and is in the room when Abbott shows Ramon the musical clue he’s to listen for to mask the sound of his gunshot. Ramon must be a quick study, because Abbott gives him one needle drop to figure it out.

Abbott (Peter Lorre) shows Ramon (Frank Vosper) the musical cue to listen for.

Jill does as instructed but soon after arriving, she is approached by Ramon who gives her the brooch belonging to her daughter. Apparently, the concert is not a sellout as she manages to get a seat near the center of the auditorium. Jill grapples with indecision about what she should do. She can clearly see the target of the assassination but her daughter’s life hangs in the balance if she makes any move. During the concert with Jill sitting in the audience and the orchestral music building up to a deafening crescendo, the pressure becomes unbearable, and Jill screams, which startles Ramon’s intended target and prevents Ramon’s shot from being lethal. After the shot is fired, Ramon rushes from the building, with the police and Jill in hot pursuit.

Jill waits in Albert Hall, unsure what to do.

Ramon returns to the Tabernacle and soon a shootout develops between police and Abbott’s gang with members on both sides being killed. Inside Bob and Betty are both being held prisoner in separate rooms. The criminals hold out until their ammunition runs low and nearly all of them have been killed. In the commotion, Bob helps Betty to get up on the roof of the building. However, Ramon follows after her and aims his gun at her.

Bob helps Betty escape to the roof, but she's not out of danger.

The police sharpshooter can’t get a clear shot on Ramon since he’s too close to Betty. But Jill, who has arrived on the scene, takes his rifle and, in a rematch of sorts, shoots Ramon dead.

Jill takes the sharpshooter's rifle and kills Ramon.

The police storm the building. Abbott is the only one of his gang still alive. He hides behind a door, but his chiming watch gives him away and he is shot and killed by police. Soon after, a terrified Betty is reunited with her parents.

At the end, Betty is reunited with her parents.

The film was released in England in December 1934 and had its general release in the US on April 15, 1935. Reviews at the time were mostly positive, with C.A. Lejeune of The Observer calling it “the most promising work that Hitchcock has produced since Blackmail". The New York Times praised the film as the "raciest melodrama of the new year.”

If you’ve seen Hitchcock’s own remake of this film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) starring James Stewart and Doris Day, you’ll see a remarkable change in the way the director tells the same basic story, aside from the fact that the remake was in color and starred two well-known Hollywood stars. Hitchcock developed a very leisurely directing style, taking his time to set up characters and story points. As an example, the remake has a run time of 120 minutes, the original only 75 minutes.

The expanded length of the remake may have as much to do with Hitchcock’s evolving story-telling but the original film seems to be in a hurry to get from start to end, which means things get shorted sometimes. There is no time to really explain why the Lawrences are in St. Moritz. Is it a family vacation? Or is Jill there specifically to take part in what seems like an amateur skeet shoot? We’re really never sure and there is no time wasted explaining.

Everything seems to get short shrift. The initial relationship between Louis and the Lawrence family seems too intimate at first blush. He is major-league flirting with Jill, but Bob doesn’t seem to mind, as if he’s a harmless old friend that they’ve known for a long time, when, in fact, they haven’t. This might seem like a small plot point, but it might have helped better explain how much of a stranger Louis really was, especially since they don’t know his real secret.

Likewise, the relationship between Bob and Jill seems a little ill-defined. They are obviously not newlyweds and seem to spend a good deal of the film apart. To say they're reserved is an understatement.

That seems to be typical of the film; relationships are never spelled out. Clive, an old and trusted family friend, appears out of nowhere and becomes integral to the plot, but only long enough to serve a purpose and then disappears when his job is done.

The acting is fairly good, though I never really get the feeling Jill or Bob is all that worried about finding Betty. No sense of urgency from either parent. Leslie Banks, in particular, takes a very laidback approach to pretty much every situation, from a man flirting with his wife, to his daughter being held hostage, to thwarting an attempt on his own life to meeting the man who had his daughter kidnapped. I never get the sense he is ever desperate, scared or worried.

Nova Pilbeam, for all the press, has very little to do in the film after the first sequence and, even then, she comes off as little more than a spoiled brat. To be honest, none one in the cast is all that memorable, save for Peter Lorre.

Peter Lorre in his first English-language film.

Even Lorre’s performance lacks subtlety. He’s presented as being the evil leader of the assassination plot and we learn nothing more about him than we do the members of his gang. He’s so flat as to almost not be interesting. But you have to cut him some slack as this was his first English-language film. He would go on to deliver more memorable roles, after moving to Hollywood, in such films as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942).

Still, there are earmarks of better Hitchcock films to come. In what would become a hallmark of his Hollywood films, the most exciting scene is at the end of the film. Everything seems to be building toward the final confrontation between assassin Ramon and mother Jill. While he may have gotten the better of her on the deck of the lodge, this time her aim is true. This gives the film a good bookend.

According to a Hitchcock wiki, The Man Who Knew Too Much saw the first proper introduction of a "MacGuffin" — a storytelling device often attributed to Angus MacPhail, which appears in many of Hitchcock's subsequent films. A MacGuffin is defined as “a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The MacGuffin's importance to the plot is not the object itself, but rather its effect on the characters and their motivations”. In this film the MacGuffin appears in the guise of the message about the planned assassination of a foreign dignitary in London.

Hitchcock must have thought he could do better by the story but turned down the first opportunity to remake it. Producer David O. Selznick, to whom Hitchcock was under contract, bought the rights to the original movie in 1941 and urged Hitchcock to make a U.S. version. At the time, Hitchcock thought he had no new spin to put on the story and declined. Instead, he would direct Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) and Suspicion (1941). When Hitchcock was his own producer he came back to the story in 1956, looking for a picture to help fulfill his contractual obligations with Paramount Pictures.

The original The Man Who Knew Too Much may not be the greatest film Hitchcock made, but it does deserve to be viewed. There are many of the trademarks present here that Hitchcock would develop in his later films. The pace is quicker and the acting flatter, but the film has a much more satisfying ending than then his own remake in 1956.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Stubs - The Cocoanuts (1929)


The Cocoanuts (1929) Starring Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton, Kay Francis, Margaret Dumont, Cyril Ring, Basil Ruysdael, Sylvan Lee Directed by Joseph Santley and Robert Florey. Screenplay by Morrie Ryskind. Based on the Musical Play by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Music by Irving Berlin. Produced by Walter Wanger. Run Time: 93 minutes. U.S.A. Black and White. Musical, Comedy.

While the Marx Brothers appeared in a silent film, Humor Risk (1921), now lost, their humor is very much associated with the coming of sound. While Harpo Marx could have been, and in essence was, a silent comedian, so much of not only his personality as well as the humor of Groucho and Chico requires sound. While part of the Brothers’ act was physical humor, it is the fast-talking, sarcastic, wordplay the propels much of the dialogue throughout their film career.

The group, which had started as singers, didn’t discover comedy until one night in 1912 while performing at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas (or in Ada, Oklahoma, according to Harpo in Harpo Speaks; or in Marshall, Texas, according to the San Antonio Express) a runaway mule outside interrupted the performance and the audience even left to investigate what was going on. Angered by the interruption, Groucho, then a singer, made snide comments at the audience’s expense, but rather than getting angry, the audience laughed and the family realized there was potential as a comedic troupe.

While the act evolved from singing to singing with humor to comedy with music, the brothers numbered four, but that fourth was Gummo Marx. The brothers performed an act "Fun in Hi Skule" with Groucho playing the part of a German-accented professor presiding over a classroom that contained his brothers. In 1915, in Flint, Michigan, a 14-year old Zeppo joined his brothers on stage and there were five Marx Brothers. However, Gummo, thinking anything was better than being an actor, left to join the war effort. Zeppo stayed with the troupe from then through the Paramount years.

Under Chico’s management and Groucho’s creative direction, the brothers turned Vaudeville success into Broadway success with their first play, I’ll Say She Is, in 1924. Written by Will B. Johnstone, the musical comedy made stars out of them, when such notable critics such as Alexander Woollcott raved about the show. This was followed up the next year by The Cocoanuts, which ran on Broadway initially from December 8, 1925, through August 7, 1925, and revived with the Marx Brothers again in May 1927 for 16 performances.

Monta Bell, Paramount’s East Coast production head, wanted to make stage acts into sound movies, see The Letter (1929), so it is no surprise he was attracted to the Marx Brothers' stage success. That doesn’t mean he didn’t want to make changes. Most notably, he objected to Groucho’s thick greasepaint "mustache." Bell didn’t believe audiences would believe anything as "phony-looking" as that. Groucho is said to have replied, “The audience doesn't believe us anyhow. All they do is laugh at us, and isn't that what we're being paid for?"

To direct, Paramount brought in French-born Robert Florey for the dialogue sequences and Joseph Santley to handle the musical numbers. Referring to them later, Groucho was obviously not impressed, "One of them didn't understand English and the other didn't understand comedy.”

On January 12, 1929, it was announced that Paramount was expecting to begin production on February 1 in the studio’s Astoria Studio soundstages in Queens. Filming would take place during the day while the Brothers were performing in the musical Animal Crackers on stage at night. Animal Crackers, which would also be the Marx Brothers’ next film, ran at the 44th Street Theatre from October 23, 1928, until April 6, 1929. Like Cocoanuts, the musical comedy was written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Filming on The Cocoanuts lasted until late March.

The opening dance number of The Cocoanuts.

Despite the song and dance routine at the beginning, things are slow at the Hotel de Cocoanut, so much so that the Bell Hops have not been paid in a couple of weeks. When they confront the owner, Mr. Hammer (Groucho Marx), he tries to make them believe that is a good thing. “Well, what makes wage slaves? Wages! I want you to be free.”

Jamison (Zeppo Marx) delivers a telegram to Hammer (Groucho
 Marx) while the bellhops are demanding pay.

The encounter is stopped when Hammer’s assistant Jamison (Zeppo Marx) delivers some telegrams that have come in and things go from good to worse.

HAMMER (to the bellboys) There you are. Business is beginning to pick up already. Now, if you gir--boys will only be calm... (reads telegram) Uh huh. (reads aloud) "We arrive this afternoon on the 4:30. Kindly reserve two floors and three ceilings." (aside) Must be mice. (reads) "If we like your property, we will immediately buy it." (to the delighted bellboys) See that? Things have started our way already.

JAMISON Who's it from?

HAMMER (reads) Western Union. (to the bellboys) And they've got a lot of money, too. On the 4:15, eh? Well, I'll take the bus down myself.

JAMISON Here's another one, Mr. Hammer.
Jamison hands a second telegram to Hammer who opens it.

HAMMER (to the bellboys) See? We're gonna be stuffed by tonight. This hotel will be so crowded that we'll be turning away thousands of people. (reads telegram) "If there's another hotel in Cocoanut Beach, cancel our reservation." (aside) I knew it. It was too good. The bellboys groan in disappointment.

Penelope (Kay Francis) conspires with Harvey Yates (Cyril Ring).

Meanwhile, Penelope (Kay Francis) is out front on the hotel terrace conspiring with Harvey Yates (Cyril Ring). Harvey is worried that his chances with Polly Potter (Mary Easton) and more importantly her mother’s, Mrs. Potters’ (Margaret Dumont) millions are being undercut by hotel clerk Robert Adams (Oscar Shaw), to whom Polly is courting. Penelope devises a plan to have Robert accused of stealing Mrs. Potters’ diamond necklace, which is in an unlocked box in the room next to Penelope’s.

Robert Adams (Oscar Shaw) and Polly (Mary Easton)
plan for "When My Dreams Come True".

Not far away, Robert and Polly are discussing their own plans for the future. Robert, who wants to be an architect, has a design he’s anxious to sell that would transform the hotel and its property. He’s sent it to a developer named Berryman and has hopes they are reviewing his plans. If everything goes according to plan, that will be "When My Dreams Come True" for both young lovers.

Penelope and Harvey catch Robert and Polly kissing.

Penelope and Harvey come across the two sealing their dreams with a kiss, but when Robert realizes they’ve been discovered, he pretends that he’s been telling Polly a story, Little Red Riding Hood.

In the hotel lobby, Mrs. Potter tells her daughter that she’s unhappy that she’s in love with the wrong man. She desperately wants her daughter to marry Harvey, for the supposed status.

When Hammer returns empty-handed after waiting for the afternoon trains, he finds Jamison asleep at the desk and fires him.

Hammer tries his sales pitch out on Mrs. Potter (Margaret Dumont).

Soon, Mrs. Potter comes through the lobby and Hammer goes into the same sales routine she has apparently heard before.

MRS. POTTER You told me about this yesterday.

HAMMER (takes a map from his pocket) I know, but I left out a comma…

Soon afterward, Chico and Red (Harpo) arrive at the hotel and Hammer mistakes them for paying guests. He notices that their luggage is empty.

CHICO That's all right. We fill it up before we leave.

While they’re at the front desk, Chico and Red disrupt Mr. Hammer and Red starts eating inanimate objects and drinking the inkwell. When Hammer goes to attend some business, he leaves the two alone, telling them to register. Instead, they hit the cash register and empty it. Chico and Red then discover that ringing the service bell brings one pretty bellhop after another until Red can no longer control himself and they chase after the girls.

Chico (Chico Marx) and Red (Harpo Marx) start to raise havoc right away in The Cocoanuts.

Chico and Red overhear Penelope and Harvey still planning the break-in. As is their way, the two disrupt the planning, forcing Penelope and Harvey into dancing with them before leaving them alone. Penelope adds them to the plan, telling Harvey that she’ll flirt with them and invite them up to her room, which is next to Mrs. Potter's. Then she’ll complain to management and when the necklace disappears they’ll be questioned as well.

Later, Red returns to the lobby with a salt shaker and begins again to eat the inanimate objects including the telephone. Chico stops him.

CHICO All the time you eat. That's a no good. We got to get-a money. Right now, I'd do anything for money. I'd kill somebody for money. I'd kill you for money.

Red looks slightly worried.

CHICO Ha ha ha! Ah, no, you're my friend -- I kill you for nothing.

Red smiles.

Enter Hennessy (Basil Ruysdael), a plainclothes detective. Hennessy thinks something’s suspicious about the two of them and tries to identify them using photos he’s brought from headquarters, but Chico and Red get into a diversionary fight. Hennessy gets fed up and leaves.

When a hotel guest comes through the lobby asking about the next train, Chico answers him. Red relieves him of his jacket which he gives to Chico to wear, but not before relieving it of its wallet. Red leaves, but Penelope returns.

She flirts with Chico and invites him up to her room.

PENELOPE Tell me, what are you doing tonight?

CHICO Maybe you got a good idea, eh?

PENELOPE Well, don't you dare come to room three-twenty at eleven o'clock.

CHICO All right, I come half past ten.


After he leaves, she tries her charms on Red, who instead of picking up her handkerchief when she drops it, pockets it. She still invites him up to her room at 11 that night.

Later that night, Hammer returns with Mrs. Potter and they sit down together. But when Hammer makes him move, Mrs. Potter pushes him away.

There is an interlude in which Red plays a soulful chorus of "When My Dreams Come True" on a harp that happens to be there.

Harpo plays "When My Dreams Come True".

What follows next is known as the Door Routine. There are little snatches of dialogue but it is mostly a visual gag. To give you the idea how much frenetic energy is in the scene, which lasts 5 minutes and 49 seconds, I consulted a script that detailed the action:

We see Rooms 318 and 320 with a connecting door. Room 320, on the right, is Penelope's.  Mrs. Potter’s is 318 on the left. Penelope opens the connecting door carefully and enters Mrs. Potter’s room. Simultaneously, Red enters 320, sees Penelope in 318 and moves to the connecting door. Getting down on hands and knees he tries to peer under the door. Red crawls backward as Penelope re-opens the connecting door. When she finally re-enters 320, Red crawls under Penelope’s bed.

Harvey enters 320 soon after and he and Penelope make their final plans. They can’t be found with the necklace on them and Harvey thinks up a solution. There is a hollow tree stump in Cocoanut Manor where they can hide it. He draws Penelope a map. He wishes her luck and leaves. Penelope studies the map and then throws it away in what she thinks is a waste can, but it is, in reality, Red’s hat.

Penelope moves to the connecting door, Hammer opens
 the door to 318, while Chico peers in room 320.

Penelope moves to the connecting door and slowly opens and closes it. As she does, Hammer opens the hall door to 318, peers in, then closes the door. Penelope slowly opens and closes the connecting door, then Hammer opens and closes the hall door to 318. Now, simultaneously, Hammer opens the door to 318, Penelope opens the connecting door and Chico opens the hall door to 320 and enters. He sees Penelope at the connecting door and slams the hall door. In turn, Penelope slams the connecting door. And in turn, Hammer enters 318 and slams his door. Penelope confronts Chico who takes her hands romantically. Hammer knocks at the connecting door and bursts in on Penelope as Chico ducks out the hall door.

Somehow, Red is now in 318, sitting in a chair. He gets up and hops around on a sore foot as 
Hammer, in 320, listens at the connecting door. We hear a knock at the hall door to 320. 
Instantly, Red exits 318 by the hall door, Hammer enters 318 by the connecting door and Chico enters 320 from the hall to confront Penelope. Chico enters 318 by the connecting door, Hammer exits 318 by the hall door and Red enters 320 from the hall and gives Penelope a big hug. Hammer pounds on the hall door to 318. Instantly, Red exits 320 by the hall door, Chico enters 320 by the connecting door, and Hammer enters 318 from the hall where he dizzily paces the room and does a nifty spin.

HAMMER (to the camera): This hotel not only has running water, it has running guests.

In 320, Chico confers with Penelope. In 318, Hammer knocks at the connecting door. Instantly, Chico exits 320 by the hall door, Hammer enters 320 by the connecting door, and Red enters 318 from the hall. Listening at the connecting door, Hammer hears the phone in 318 ring. Red answers it. Since he either can't or won't speak, he merely HONKS his horn several times, then slams down the earpiece. Instantly, Red rushes out of 318 by the hall door, Hammer enters 318 by the connecting door, and Chico enters 320 from the hall, arms outstretched to greet Penelope who is listening at the connecting door. The hall door to 320 opens and Chico ducks under Penelope's bed to hide. Red enters from the hall, sees Penelope listening at the connecting door, quietly closes the hall door, then knocks on it.

Red immediately exits 320 into the hall. Hammer enters 320 by the connecting door, much to Penelope's surprise. Before Hammer can say or do anything, there's a knock at the hall door to 320. Hammer quickly hides under Penelope's bed as she moves to answer the hall door.

Simultaneously, Chico crawls out from under the front of the bed, then follows Hammer back under again. Penelope opens the hall door to reveal a bellhop who enters with a pitcher.

Bellhop puts the pitcher on the table. Bellhop heads for the door and exits as Hammer's voice drifts in from under the bed and chides Penelope.

Now, Mrs. Potter enters her room (318) from the hall door and closes it. As she moves toward the connecting door, there's a knock. Red enters from the hall, grinning like a maniac and carrying a pitcher of ice water. Red hops on Mrs. Potter's bed and lies down, inviting her to join him. She is completely offended. Red leaves the pitcher on her bureau, waves goodbye and exits out the hall door. As Mrs. Potter again moves toward the connecting door, there's another knock. Red enters from the hall, grinning, turns right around, and exits again.

Hammer enters from the connecting door and flops down in an armchair next to Mrs. Potter.
Meanwhile, Red has entered 320 from the hall just long enough to approach Penelope, HONK at her, and exit again. In 318, Hammer rises and, after feinting an exit through the hall door, moves to feint an exit at the connecting door. Instead, he grins mischievously and starts to take his jacket off. Hammer has moved to the hall door. Mrs. Potter moves to the phone. A knock at the hall door. Hennessy enters 318 and looks around.

Mrs. Potter exits out the hall door as Hennessy knocks at the connecting door. He opens it and enters 320, looking it over. Penelope watches as Hammer exits the closet and, with a crouching saunter, passes through the connecting door and circles Hennessy who fails to notice Hammer keeping pace behind him. Finally, Hammer, having circled Hennessy, exits out the connecting door unnoticed.

Hennessy exits out Penelope's hall door. Hammer enters 320 through the connecting door and puts his arms around Penelope whereupon there is a pounding at the door. Hammer ducks under Penelope's bed just as Hennessy enters 320 from the hall door and Penelope enters 318 through the connecting door.

In 318, Penelope opens the drawer of Mrs. Potter's dressing table and removes a necklace from a case. She slips the jewelry down the front of her dress, rises and exits out the hall door. A moment later, Hennessy enters 318 through the connecting door to find the room empty. He exits out the hall door just as Penelope enters 320 from the hall door. Penelope leans against her door and breathes a sigh of relief. She sits on the edge of her bed. Red's head emerges 
from the center of the mattress, startling Penelope.

Hammer shows Chico a map of his planned development, including the viaduct.

The next morning, Hammer and Chico sit down to have a talk. Hammer is about to auction off some swamp land and needs Chico’s help in driving up the prices. In order to help familiarize Chico with the layout, Hammer sits down with a blueprint. While the Door Routine was essentially visual, the humor in this scene is all verbal, ending with what may be the most famous question in film.

HAMMER Now, right over here, this is the residential section.

CHICO Oh, people live there, eh?

HAMMER No, that's the stockyard. Now, all along here, this is the riverfront. And all along the river, all along the river, those are all levees.

CHICO That's the Jewish neighborhood?

HAMMER (pause) Well, we'll Passover that. You're a peach, boy. Now, here is a little peninsula, and, eh, here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

CHICO Why a duck?

There’s more to the exchange, but you get the idea.

Later that day at the auction, after Polly performs “The Monkey-Doodle-Doo", Groucho starts the auction. To his frustration, Chico keeps raising his bid, outbidding everyone, including himself. It is during the auction that Mrs. Potter announces that her necklace has been stolen and offers a thousand-dollar reward, whereupon Chico offers two thousand. No one, except the perpetrators and Harpo, knows that the jewels are only a few feet away.

Detective Hennessy decides that the culprit is Bob Adams, Polly’s suitor. Penelope and Harvey help to frame him and Bob is taken off to jail. Even though Polly is heartbroken, Mrs. Potter decides that for her own daughter’s reputation she will wed Harvey and announces that there will be an engagement party that night at the hotel. Polly is distressed and stays behind after everyone else has gone, finally breaking down and crying when she is left alone.

That night, Chico and Red go to the jail and hide from view when Hennessy leaves. Red positions himself so that when Hennessy thinks he’s putting the keys in his own pocket he is actually putting it in Red’s. With the key, they go inside and let Bob out of his cell. Chico tells him about the engagement party that night and that Polly needs him.

Playfully, Red lets himself into the cell and closes the door. When he realizes that he’s locked himself in, he briefly panics and honks his horn for help. Then he realizes one of the bars is loose and lets himself out through the very small opening.

Robert examines the writing on the map Harvey drew for Penelope.

Back at the hotel, Bob tries to convince Hammer of his innocence but doesn’t know how. Red produces a folded-up piece of paper, but it’s a newspaper story about him, "Silent Red wanted by the police." Red snatches it away, but while he’s searching his pocket other items fall out, including an alarm clock, fruit, silverware, etc. The three men scramble around trying to pick these things up.
Red finally hands Bob the right piece of paper but continues his shenanigans including snatching Bob’s handkerchief out of his breast pocket with his teeth and continuing to snatch it no matter where Bob puts it. He then steals Bob’s watch and Hammer’s tie. Bob finally manages to read the note, which, in Harvey’s handwriting, is the directions he had written for Penelope.

Later, the engagement party is in full swing. Guests are dressed in vaguely Spanish or South American styles. There is a chorus line with dancers in a number similar to the type Busby Berkeley would become famous for, complete with an overhead camera view, one of the first times this was used in a feature. Polly is once again called upon to perform, singing a sad refrain of "When My Dreams Come True."

Guests are greeted by Mrs. Potter and Harvey, while Irving Berlin’s “Tango Melody” plays, including Penelope who makes a point of telling Harvey what a lucky man he is.

Hammer shows up in a fez with extra-long tassels, much to the amusement of Mrs. Potter.

Hennessy (Basil Ruysdael) about to sing "The Tale of a Shirt" to the tune of Bizet's Carmen.

Hennessy also attends, offering that Mrs. Potter can use protection from a couple of shady characters to which Red and Chico take offense. In an effort to humiliate Hennessy, Red steals the shirt off his back and from under his vest, even going so far as to put it on himself. Chico draws using a crayon on Hennessy’s undershirt. This leads the lawman to launch into song, "The Tale of a Shirt" sung to Bizet’s Carmen with special lyrics by Irving Berlin. During the number, Red returns the shirt to Hennessy who exits in triumph.

Harpo pretends to be drunk at the party.

There is some nonsense in which Red pretends to be drunk throughout the dinner, getting up and walking away, only to come back. Repeat and repeat again.

Chico plays a verse and two choruses of Victor Herbert's "Gypsy Love Song” 

Chico finally sits down at the piano and plays a verse and two choruses of Victor Herbert's "Gypsy Love Song”. He plays half the song in a classical style and the second half in a more upbeat jazz idiom, complete with Chico’s own unique fingerings. Audiences would become accustomed to his style of playing in future films, but it had to seem somewhat unique to many at the time.

Hammer introduces Polly, who reveals to everyone two pieces of paper. The map that he drew Penelope of the hiding place for her mother’s stolen necklace and a note that he wrote her as an engagement present. Before things get figured out, Harvey makes his escape.

Bob Adams shows up wearing a tuxedo. He has good news: not only have his architecture plans been accepted, but a Mr. John W. Berryman is there to buy Cocoanut Manor for the development.
Mrs. Potter, realizing that Bob is a better choice, tells those gathered that they are invited to the wedding of Polly and Bob Adams, to which there are cheers from the party.

Meanwhile, Hennessy lights a cigarette for Penelope, who we see is handcuffed to Harvey.
While Polly leads the bridesmaids in song, we see Jamison, Hammer, Chico, and Red standing together smiling and waving to the camera.

The four Marx Brothers wave to the camera at the end of The Cocoanuts.

It is reported when the Marx Brothers first saw the film, they were so appalled that they tried to buy back the negative to prevent the film from being released. Paramount, however, was not in the selling mood and The Cocoanuts was released on August 3, 1929. The film, which cost $500,000 to make, made $1.8 million at the box office, which at the time was considered a big hit. This would lead to other films the Four Marx Brothers would make at Paramount: Animal Crackers (1930)Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), and Duck Soup (1933). When the last film didn’t live up to expectations at the boxoffice, they were dumped by Paramount. Zeppo left the group to become an agent and the Three Marx Brothers would move to MGM.

Margaret Dumont will be a foil for Groucho in several Marx Brothers films.

One of the staples of future Marx Brothers films was Margaret Dumont. Dumont appeared with the brothers in the stage musical The Cocoanuts. She would play straight man to Groucho in most of the best Marx Brothers films, including The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), At The Circus (1939), and The Big Store (1941). She would have a career outside her appearances with the Marx Brothers, including the low budget Shake, Rattle & Roll (1957) from American International Pictures (AIP) opposite the likes of Mike Connors, Sterling Holloway, Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino.

Like Dumont, Basil Ruysdael was also in the stage version of The Cocoanuts and revived his role as Detective Hennessy in the film version. An opera singer, Ruysdael appeared with the Metropolitan Opera in New York as a bass-baritone from 1910 to 1918. Given that background, it seems his talents were sort of wasted with “The Tale of a Shirt". Most of his best-known film appearances would come in the late 1940s to the early 1960s, including Colorado Territory (1949), People Will Talk (1951), Blackboard Jungle (1955), The Horse Soldiers (1959) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) - Truck Driver (voice), his final film role.

With the exception of Dumont and Ruysdael, most of the supporting cast would be remembered, if at all, for their performances in this film. As an example, Mary Eaton who played Polly may have had a successful stage career appearing in eight Broadway productions during the 1920s. However, she had a rather brief film career. She seems talented, but the choices of when they have her sing seem forced.

Mary Eaton singing "When My Dreams Come True".

Sadly, Eaton had a rather short film career and died when she was only 42 of liver failure.

A veteran of the Broadway stage, Oscar Shaw would only appear in eight films and only one after 1929. He seems likable in the role, but he was already near the end of his career when he made The Cocoanuts.

Cyril Ring, who played Harvey Yates, would appear in 330 films, between 1921 and 1947, including two more with the Marxes: Monkey Business and A Day in the Races. Ring would also appear in such films as Topper (1937), Young Dr. Kildare (1938), My Favorite Wife (1940), The Great Dictator (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Citizen Kane (1941), Meet John Doe (1941), Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Laura (1944), though he is not often credited. He seems devious enough here, but it may be his best-known role of his career.

Bucking the trend of having The Cocoanuts be their most memorable role, was Kay Francis, who played Penelope. While her part in The Cocoanuts was important to the plot, it wasn’t all that large. While she participated in the Door Routine, most of the humor is thanks to Groucho and Harpo. She had been on the Broadway stage since 1925’s Hamlet, in which she made her debut as the Player Queen; a part she claimed she got by “lying a lot, to the right people”. She would return to Broadway in the play Crime in support of Sylvia Sidney, but Francis was said to have stolen the show. After appearing in Elmer The Great (1928), she was encouraged by her co-star, Walter Huston, to take a screen test at Paramount Pictures for the film Gentlemen of the Press (1929). She made that film as well as The Cocoanuts before coming to Hollywood.

Kay Francis would go on to be the queen of the Warner Bros. lot.

She would find success at Paramount, making 21 films between 1929 and 1932, before being lured away by Warner Bros. From 1932 to 1936, Francis was the queen of the Warner Bros. lot. She frequently played long-suffering heroines, in films such as I Found Stella Parish (1935), Secrets of an Actress (1938), and Comet Over Broadway (1938). But eventually, she tired of these roles and began to feud with Warners, which led to her demotion to programmers and her eventual termination in 1939.

After appearing in The Independent Theatre Owners Association’s 1938 list of “box office poison” 
(along with the likes of Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Mae West, and Katharine Hepburn), Francis could not secure another studio contract. While she would have the lead in King of the Underworld (1939) opposite Humphrey Bogart, Francis began to play character and supporting parts in films like The Feminine Touch (1941).

Essentially, The Cocoanuts is nothing more than a filmed stage play. The camera is pretty much stagnant as it records the action, not unlike an audience member with really good seats might also see. This is due to the practice of making early sound films. Since early sound cameras were noisy, the only way to eliminate the noise was to enclose the camera and the cameraman in a large soundproof booth which forced the camera to remain static. So sensitive were the early sound recording equipment that paper just in the film, like the map, was soaked in water to avoid the sound of crackling paper to avoid overloading them.

However, it is what is recorded that counts. While The Cocoanuts may not be a great film or even a great Marx Brothers film, many of the gags that we will see in all future films have their roots here. While the Marxes will eventually come together, they always seem to start on opposite sides with Chico and Harpo, as the ne’er-do-wells, on one side pitted against Groucho (and Zeppo), the authority figure, on the other. And that is true here, as Groucho’s hotel becomes another place for Chico and Harpo to freeload and rob. They do finally come together to save Robert from jail and to reunite him with Polly. We will see that repeated in other films as well.

A little bit of lunacy, the Brothers imitate the Spirit of '76.

There are the musical interludes which don’t always seem to fit in with the story. Here, some of the songs seem out of place for the story (“The Monkey-Doodle-Doo") or seem to be show-stoppers but not in a good way. And while the Marx Brothers are surrounded by some talent, it is really Chico and Harpo who are the real virtuosos in their films. Harpo’s playing always seems to come as a surprise given the anarchy his character brings to everything else around him. Chico’s piano-playing always looks so effortless.

The film also shows off the group's great wordplay, much of which had been developed through improv over the run of the musical on Broadway. So prevalent was the group's improv that George S. Kaufman, one of the writers of the 1925 Broadway production, was heard to have muttered from the back of the theater, "I may be wrong, but I think I just heard one of the original lines." The brothers would apparently work in bits and keep those that got the biggest laughs. So what we see on film was the culmination of that work. But this sort of wordplay, especially between Groucho and Chico, would be repeated over and over again throughout their film careers.

Despite the predominance of the spoken word, the brothers also relied on physical comedy, not only in scenes like the Door Routine but also through Harpo’s actions. Not only does he seem to get people to hold his knee, but he also eats the telephone and drinks the ink. He is a walking sound effect with the ever-present horn that he uses in place of dialogue or just to make people around him uncomfortable. Physical comedy is the basis of many of the Brothers’ greatest scenes, like the Mirror Scene in Duck Soup.

Now all that said, The Cocoanuts is not a great Marx Brothers film. Their films at Paramount would improve from this point on; which is the best is really very subjective. If you’re new to the Marx Brothers (where have you been?) then this might not be the one you want to start with. However, you should definitely watch it at some point. Also remember that the film is almost 90 years old, so that the film may not be politically correct in today’s world. It’s just funny and that’s what the Marx Brothers were going for.