The Cocoanuts (1929)

I’m surprised quite often by chance DVD discoveries, with the local availability of The Cocoanuts being a recent one. Universal have started a new budget line called Studio Classics, a fairly random assortment of titles by the look of things, with this being the most random; even for a $10 budget release this is hardly an obvious choice, neither their best nor their best-known film… I didn’t realise until tonight that, owing to the limitations of early sound technology, every bit of paper in the film had to be soaking wet to stop the rustling overwhelming the microphones (now that I know this, of course, it’s blindingly obvious on screen, particularly at the start of the “why a duck” scene). But the film is a victim of the time of its making in other ways, though, not least its propensity to visual stasis (most of “why a duck” plays as a single unbroken shot lasting nearly five minutes) and generally uninventive camera work; the film began life as a stage musical and pretty much remained one on the screen too. And, of course, it suffers the same problem that most of the brothers’ films did, i.e. it’s only particularly interesting when they themselves are on screen, meaning it’s kind of bitty; parts of it are screamingly funny, the rest (which amounts to most of the film’s actual plot involving a jewel theft and romance between the supporting characters) isn’t. I wonder if it’s not just as well that a large chunk of the film may in fact be lost; the existing print itself is apparently missing a few minutes (the DVD print is very obviously patched together from multiple sources of visibly and audibly varying quality), but the preview print apparently ran nearer to 140 minutes—the lost footage may have included scenes in which the ironically top-billed Zeppo was actually given stuff to do—and, on the basis of the existing film, another three-quarters of an hour of it would’ve been ludicrous. Hard to recommend except for historical reasons, really, but if you want a cheap PAL standard DVD of the film then the Australian one is obviously hard to beat…

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