The Cocoanuts (1929) was the first feature-length Marx Brothers film, produced by Paramount Pictures. The musical comedy stars the four Marx Brothers, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton and the person sometimes referred to as the "fifth brother", Margaret Dumont. Produced by Walter Wanger and directed by Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, it was adapted to the screen by Morrie Ryskind from the George S. Kaufman Broadway play. The motion picture is marred by the deficient production methods of the early sound films.
Five of the movie's tunes were scored by Irving Berlin (by then a famous composer), including "When My Dreams Come True", sung by Oscar Shaw and Mary Eaton.
The plot of The Cocoanuts takes place at a resort hotel, during the big Florida development boom of the 1920s. Groucho runs the place, assisted by "straight man" Zeppo. Chico and Harpo arrive with empty luggage, which they plan to fill by robbing and conning the guests. Margaret Dumont, in the first of her many appearances as a stuffy dowager wooed and tormented by Groucho, is a guest, one of the few paying customers. Her daughter is in love with a struggling young architect, who is working to support himself as a clerk at the hotel, but who has plans for the development of the entire area. Dumont's character wants her daughter to marry a man she believes to be of higher social standing. This man is actually a con man out to steal the dowager's diamond necklace with the help of his conniving partner, played by Kay Francis. As viewers who are familiar with Marx Brothers movies, particularly the early ones, are aware, the plot is rather beside the point. The story and setting are little more than an excuse for the brothers to run rampant in their trademark style. The film is also notable for a very early usage of "production numbers" similar to those used in the 1930s by Busby Berkeley, including techniques which were soon to become standard, such as overhead shots of dancing girls imitating the patterns of a kaleidoscope.
One of the more famous (or infamous) gags in the film has Groucho giving directions to Chico, who keeps misunderstanding "viaduct" as "why-a-duck", and a lengthy surreal dialogue plays out.
When the Marx Brothers were shown the final cut of The Cocoanuts (1929), their first film, they were so appalled they tried to buy the negative back and prevent its release. The producing studio, Paramount, wisely resisted — the movie turned out to be a big hit and earned close to two million dollars profit.