Retro Cinema – Copacabana
“Copacabana” is the type of film that is half-remembered by many people as something of a classic, if only by the virtue of its star power. In reality, this 1947 endeavor was a tired little mess that never caught its groove.
The novelty of “Copacabana” was the teaming of two icons who were beginning to show signs of rust: Groucho Marx, in his first film role without his zany brothers, and Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda, whose Hollywood career was beginning to hit the skids. Miranda plays a carbon copy of her screen persona (named Carmen Navarro), with Marx as her inept agent and fiancé. (The pair has been engaged for 10 years, but a lack of professional success kept them from the altar.)
In a plot twist that only exists in movies, Marx has Miranda auditioning for New York’s Copacabana nightclub in two acts – her own Brazilian-flavored act and as a mysterious veiled French chanteuse called Mademoiselle Fifi. Of course, both acts get booked and Miranda has to pinball between costumes and wigs while fending off the randy nightclub manager (Steve Cochran), who has the hots for Fifi. The Carmen/Fifi confusion somehow spirals into a nonsensical courtroom murder case when Fifi vanishes and Marx is suspected of her murder.
This low-rent production – cheaply produced via a fly-by-night company – offers dull black-and-white cinematography and uninspired musical numbers that give the impression of the legendary Copacabana as being a dull hole-in-the-wall. Miranda plays her roles with her trademark high energy, but Marx – who went into the film openly stating he only took the part because of its paycheck – barely registers. Indeed, film historian David William Foster noted that “Miranda so overshadows and dominates Marx to get her way that he barely has any starring role at all.” Marx only briefly comes alive in a solo musical number, performing the comic tune “Go West, Young Man” while backed by giggling cowgirl chorines.
Miranda would continue doing her fruit-basket headwear act until her death in 1955. Marx, realizing his movie comedy days were over, reinvented himself as a witty quizmaster for the long-running radio and television programs “You Bet Your Life.” As for “Copacabana,” it is best looked upon from afar as an amusing idea for a film – once you get up close to it, you realize it was a bad mistake.