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Talent agent Lionel Devereaux sells his girlfriend/client Carmen Novarro to New York City's famous Copacabana nightclub as a Latin-American singer/dancer and, pressed for another act, he sells her again, this time with a blonde wig and Moroccan veil, as a French singer...for the same presentation. The wear and tear on Carmen, changing back-and-forth between numbers, leaves to a heated exchange of words between the performer and her fiancé agent. This leads to the disappearance of Carmen's alter ego, which arouses suspicions by the management...and the police. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Carmen and Groucho: a pair made in Nonsense-Heaven wasted in second-rate musical
"Copacabana" could've been GREAT fun. Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda together: weren't they just born for each other? Unfortunately Hollywood has a recurring tendency of wasting unconventional talent, and "Copacabana" (and Groucho's film career, and Carmen's film career) is a sad evidence thereof. John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable or Bob Hope had no problem strutting their old stuff over and over again; but in 1946 Hollywood decreed that the public was tired of Carmen's "exoticism" and Groucho's routines and came up with this B-budget turkey.
The film departs on embarrassingly deprecating premises: that Groucho should play a passé comedian who is no longer funny (!); that Carmen should play a singer who isn't electrifying enough (!), so that she has to assume a new persona as romantic French (!) chanteuse Mlle. Fifi and sing incognito (!). Now, come on: even wearing a mushroom blonde wig and a veil that hides most of her face, who except the very blind wouldn't recognize Carmen Miranda's hyperactive, pure-joy rolling eyes and those boomerang eyebrows?
The film is a dead duck that only comes to life when Groucho is allowed to deliver his peculiar one-liners and, especially, when Carmen sings and dances her "exotic" numbers (her "romantic" ones are totally unsuited to her talents). There's no point trying to resist the irrepressible, unique, sensuous Carmen, with her infectious smile, the arms and hands flashing like lightning, the athletic legs on the 7-inch platform shoes, and the gravity-defying, eye-popping costumes. She sparks with such high voltage she's like shock therapy: we smile just at the sight of how much fun she's having. There has never been anybody like her, a true one-of-a-kind.
But there are four essential things missing in "Copacabana": a) a decent script; b) a bigger budget; c) a minimally creative director and d) Technicolor. "Copacabana" CRIES for color -- it was planned to be shot in color, but the Technicolor preparation process (this was a Beacon Productions movie, not MGM) took so long the producers decided to do it in b&w, as the film HAD to be released simultaneously with the opening of the L.A.'s franchise of "The Copacabana", then NYC's #1 night-club, whose owner was one of the financiers of the film. (By the way, Carmen was the #1 headliner of NYC's Copacabana in the 1940s, she had even a lounge named after her, the "Miranda's Room").
There's a lot of expendable stuff in "Copacabana": pretty much the rest of the cast, especially toothy mellow- voiced dork-looking Andy Russell, and the super- cheesy Steve Cochran/Gloria Jean subplot. The songs are uniformly awful, with the soporific "Je Vous Aime" and "Stranger Things Have Happened" sung T-W-I-C-E each, with great exceptions being Carmen's tongue-twisting tour-de-force of Brazilian hit "Tico-Tico no Fubá" (a major hit in Brazil since 1917 and internationally famous since Ethel Smith's version in Disney's "The Three Caballeros" in 1943; later performed by Denise Dummont in Woody Allen's "Radio Days") and Groucho's performance - - or rather his "anti-performance" - of "Go West".
"Copacabana" is that kind of disappointment that drives you mad with rage for what it could have been, but fans of Carmen and Groucho have got to see it anyway. Shame on Hollywood for wasting such talented, one-of-a-kind performers with third-rate material and filmmakers.
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