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  The Cocoanuts (1929)
 
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 Margaret Dumont.

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 thieves.

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.

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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 scam artists who use similar techniques to separate us from our hard-earned cash.

 
 
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