(On DVD, May 2018) Even as I get deeper and deeper in film history, I’m still amazed at older movies’ ability to get big laughs nearly a century later. So it is with the Marx Brothers’ The Cocoanuts, their first surviving film and yet amazing self-assured in the way it features the Brothers at their best. At this stage of their career, of course, the Marxes weren’t amateurs: they had a solid vaudeville career already, and the movies were merely a way to capture many of their stage routines. Where movies went a bit further were in featuring musical numbers, part of the late-1920s definition of what a musical film could be. The plot merely helps arrange the comic routines and the musical numbers—although it does offer a satirical glimpse at the 1920s Florida real estate boom. Despite the uneven picture quality and the not-so-good sound, some sequences are still very funny: the auction scene in particular is still remarkably amusing. While The Cocoanuts is far from the brothers’ best work, it’s still very much aligned with their most successful films and can be seen in continuity without trouble.
(On DVD, May 2018) The Marx Brothers’ brand(s) of humour has aged exceptionally well, and even their earliest movies such as Animal Crackers prove it. The forgettable plot (about the theft of a painting at a party given in honour of a returning explorer) is just strong enough to feature the various set pieces that everyone remembers. The “Hello, I Must Be Going” reference comes from here, and there are other moments worth savouring: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know” is hilarious no matter the time or the audience. The film also features Zeppo cracking a joke at Groucho’s expense, and Groucho is always funny, no exceptions. The look back at 1920s society can be amusing as well. Animal Crackers is not the best of the early Marx pictures, but it already showcases them in the mode they’d keep up for the rest of the decade. I’m not sure it’s possible to be a Marx Brothers fan and only see one of their movies.