Identity Crisis: Copacabana, 1947
Copacabana - 1947. Directed by Alfred E. Green.
Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda (as Lionel Q. Devereaux and Carmen Navarro) are getting down to their last dime as a failing theatrical team, and in desperation Groucho assumes the role of an agent to get work for Carmen. This effort pays off immediately with Groucho understanding what it is the nightclub owner Steve (Steve Cochran as Steve Hunt) wants for his stage and Groucho promising everything he can think of to nab the booking.
Groucho's quick work creates a problem, though. To get credibility as an agent he has pretended he reps for more than just one performer, and after all of his fast talking he realizes he's now booked Carmen as Brazilian performer Carmen Navarro but also the platinum-haired french singer Mademoiselle Fifi, who is also Carmen but with a different wardrobe, wig and a veil over her face.
Most of Copacabana is Groucho and Carmen trying to keep the two personalities separated and the night club in the dark that all this singing and dancing by two performers is being done by only one hard-working bilingual Carmen. What multiplies the stress of the balancing act is that Groucho sells Mademoiselle Fifi's contract to a competing agent for a small profit, but that turns into an impossible commitment to appear in Hollywood for a film performance by Fifi but to also keep performing on stage at the night club as Carmen Navarro at the same time.
At this point in the film we're watching Groucho and Miranda racing about through the hallways and dressing rooms of the night club to keep up the phony pretense of two different star performers and its become untenable, to put it politely, and to solve this they decide to kill off one of the performers. This turns into a whole new problem as Carmen Navarro gets blamed for the homicide of Mademoiselle Fifi and now the police are all over the building.
Copacabana is a fairly fleet-footed comedy except for the more modulated speed of the plentiful musical showcases. Of course Carmen Miranda dances and sings quite a bit across the screen, but also singer Andy Russell (as himself) does three numbers, Gloria Jean does a song, and Groucho sings Go West, Young Man accompanied by a posse of cowgirls (one being a young Mari Blanchard).
Copacabana has flashes of the old Marx Bros frenzy but it is really a standard musical comedy with Carmen Miranda front and center and the back up performances from Jean, Russell and Steve Cochran certainly professional but not on the same level as the fast moving and talking Carmen and Groucho.
One of the more unusual aspects of Copacabana is that Groucho generates new characters to fit the situation he is in (like the creation of a whole new persona of a theatrical agent), and he appears on stage in the old Marx Bros regalia for Go West, Young Man. We see Carmen play both herself as the brazen "Brazilian Bombshell" and as the veiled Mademoiselle Fifi, but we also get a few short scenes of Carmen backstage, out of costume and with her own hair and in street clothing, and you realize she's actually playing three characters in toto for this film.
Keeping it all straight for the audience is visually simple because of how outsized both Groucho and Carmen were as screen performers, but the hint of reality beneath all of the varied personas, with the two together at the beginning of Copacabana needing work, about to be kicked out of their hotel and the funny but cruel necessity of cutting apart a single hard boiled egg for a meal, yields up the dark conundrum of aging performers everywhere.
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Original Page December 27, 2023