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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
COPACABANA (United Artists, 1947), directed by Alfred E. Green, stars the legendary Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers comedy team in his screen introduction as a solo performer, quick with the insults, minus his traditional black mustache and eyebrows to a more natural appearance, and surrounded by gorgeous show girls of the popular New York City night club where much of the story takes place.
Decades before singer Barry Manilow made "Copacabana" into one of his song hits of the 1970s, and during the time when the Copacanana was the place to be for entertainment, Hollywood worked up a musical where almost anything can happen at the Copa, especially when Lionel Q. Devereux is concerned. Devereux (Groucho Marx) and Carmen Navarro (Carmen Miranda) are entertainers who have been engaged for nearly ten years. They are down on their luck financially and living in separate rooms at the Booth Hotel for theatrical people. Because they are unable to pay their hotel bill, they have quite a time dodging a desk clerk (Chester Clute), as well as Mr. Green (Dick Elliott), the hotel manager, who's close to having them evicted. Since Mr. Green doesn't think much of Devereux as a performer, he suggests breaking up the act by having Carmen work as a solo performer. Devereux takes his advise (which is better than starving) and assumes his new role as Carmen's agent. He approaches Steve Hunt (Steve Cochran), manager of the Copacabana, to oblige Carmen, "the greatest discovery since penicillin," an audition. Her act goes well, but Steve is more interested in hiring a chanteuse than a Brazilian act. Bluffing his way through a list of clients taken from his racing form, Devereux comes up with the fictitious "Mademoiselle Fifi" actually Carmen disguised in blonde wig and veil covering her face. Although Carmen makes a success as the French singer, Steve decides to use both Carmen and "Fifi" on the same bill. At Devereux's urging, Carmen agrees to the masquerade, performing nightly as two different personalities doing two separate acts with little time to change in between. Further complications occur as Steve starts to show more interest in the French bombshell than his loyal secretary, Anne Stuart (Gloria Jean), who silently loves him.
Sam Coslow, who produced, is also credited with its handful of songs, including: "Hollywood Bound" (sung by the Copacabana Girls); "Tico Tico" (by Ervin Drake, Aloynso Oliveir and Zequina Abrew/ sung by Carmen Miranda); "Je-Vous Armour" (Carmen Miranda); "My Heart Was Doing the Bolero" (sung by Andy Russell); "He Hasn't Got a Thing to Sell" (sung by Miranda and Russell); "Make a Hit With Fifi," "Stranger Things Have Happened" (sung by Andy Russell); "Stranger Things Have Happened" (reprise by Gloria Jean); "Go West, Young Man" (by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, sung by Groucho); "Je-Vous Amor" (Andy Russell); and "Let's Go to the Copacabana" (finale/cast).
A silly comedy that rests more on the assurance of Groucho's one liners and exchanges (Carmen: "Why are you always chasing women?" Groucho: "I'll tell you as soon as I catch one.") than the overall production, COPACABANA is a far cry from the comedies Groucho enacted with his brothers, Harpo and Chico, and sometimes Zeppo, during the 1930s. Heavy on song numbers, quite typical for night club musicals of the 1940s, only a few are memorable. Carmen Miranda's performing in her traditional fruit basket hat, is noteworthy as well as reminiscent to the act in those Technicolor musicals over at 20th Century-Fox. Gloria Jean, a former child star for Universal musicals of the early 1940s, now a young woman, is wasted as a secretary. A fine singer, she gets an opportunity to only one song, set in the mind of her daydreams, with Devereux as her agent, and winning an audition by Steve. Newcomer Andy Russell, looking very much like a youthful Jerry Seinfeld of 1990s television fame, vocalizing love songs in the manner of 20th-Fox's Dick Haymes, is limited as an actor and no threat to the more successful Frank Sinatra.
Occasionally amusing, especially with scenes involving the hungry Groucho stealing a fish from Genevieve the seal in order to acquire a meal of his own, along with Carmen and Groucho splitting their hardboiled egg in half for dinner, no Groucho movie is complete without one of his show stopping solo acts. The highlight of the evening is his rendition of "Go West, Young Man," where he assumes his traditional Groucho mustache and cigar and surrounded by lovely cowgirls. This is not Groucho's character of Devereux staging a comeback for himself, which would had made a lot more sense, but Devereux showcasing his latest discovery. Is it Groucho Marx himself or a Groucho playing a Groucho imitator? We'll never know.
Others in the supporting cast include Ralph Sanford as Leggett, the one who buys Carmen's contract for $5,000; John Meredith and his Orchestra; Andrew Toombes as Anatole Murphy, a Hollywood producer; and Abel Green of "Variety" as himself. Aside from the noteworthy highlights, and the potential of pairing the wisecracking Groucho and the temperamental Carmen with her broken English for the only time, COPACABANA comes off a bit weak. Regardless of that, it's not a forgotten film, in fact, it's more associated with Carmen Miranda today than the musicals she did at 20th-Fox mainly due to her partnership here with Groucho.
Presented on video cassette during its early years of home video in the 1980s, and currently available on DVD, COPACABANA did enjoy frequent revivals on cable television, especially American Movie Classics from 1996 to 2000. (**1/2 Cigars)
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