|The Marx Brothers;
Photo courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection
The Sunshine State is the setting for
the Marx Brothers' first film foray and a zany look at the
world of scam artists.
Groucho is the manager of a struggling
Florida hotel during the state's land boom. Since the lodge
is losing money, he's trying to salvage what he can through
a questionable real estate auction. Meanwhile, he also sets
his moneymaking sights on one of the hotel's few guests, rich
widow Mrs. Potter, played by the brothers' perennial foil
Complicating Groucho's grand plans are
Chico and Harpo, who show up planning to rob the place. Instead,
they end up sabotaging their mustachioed brother's scam, as
well as undermining the schemes of a pair of resident jewel
In between the shady
deals, moviegoers are treated to Irving Berlin songs,
romantic subplots, Harpo's musical talents and plenty of Chico
and Groucho banter.
Part of their verbal jousting includes
one of the most-famous routines to make it from stage to film:
Why a duck? The question is crucial to Groucho's auction scheme.
He's enlisted Chico as a shill to drive up bids, and tries
to provide directions to the auction:
Groucho: Now here is a little peninsula,
and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: Why a duck? ... Why-a-no-chicken?
OK, the "conversation" isn't that concise.
This is, after all the Marx Brothers. Everything about them
is glib, convoluted, confusing and unnerving, at least to
their costars. That's what makes them so funny on film.
In real-life money matters, however, those
same traits are no laughing matter. And we can be grateful
to Groucho and his "Cocoanuts" companions for teaching us
in this movie to beware smooth-talking
artists who use similar techniques to separate us from
our hard-earned cash.