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"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
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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