April 02, 2016

The Hottest Cocoanut

Well, half the family's on the night plane to Chengdu, and the in-laws are staying here.  It's a recipe for domestic bliss.  So this evening I cast about in vain for some form of mass entertainment that would keep me, one child, and two babas nonya occupied for an hour or three.

It was the child who suggested a Marx Brothers movie, and me, having run out of fucks to give some time around Wednesday, signed off on the proposal with a flourish and clear conscience.  And as we opened up the box I realized that, mirabile dictu, there was one Marx Brothers movie from the Golden Age that I have never watched, the Gilgamesh of comedy talking pictures:  The Cocoanuts.

So we put that on, and there is much to say about this movie, which starts out about the way you'd expect except JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH WHO IS THAT?!

That, my good man, is the stupefyingly hot Kay Francis, appearing in just her second picture.  And she is perfect:  a lithe and cynical foil for Harpo, and I believe the only woman on record who does not run from him.  She exudes evil without remorse and is not a good sport.  She classes up every scene she's in, sometimes playing along, sometimes just sitting there smoldering like a pale, slender, libidinous pool of magma.

Who is this Kay Francis person?  Front, you idiot.  As every schoolchild knows:
From 1932 through 1936, Francis was the queen of the Warners lot and increasingly her films were developed as star vehicles. By the mid-thirties, Francis was one of the highest-paid people in the United States. From the years 1930 to 1937, Francis appeared on the covers of 38 film magazines, the most for any adult performer...

There are couple of good books about her, apparently - the sort a man of a certain age might read, I suppose - and 12 shelf-feet of personal papers on file at Wesleyan, which perhaps could be skipped.  Dan Callahan's 2006 essay gets so deep into her, one wonders if he ever got out:
Though her work is quite variable, Francis is generally more interesting to watch than everyone else around her, even when she’s just walking through a crazy-quilt soap opera. She was made for the camera: sleepy sloe eyes set wide apart, a large, tempting mouth, thick raven black hair, orchid-in-the-moonlight skin, and strange, slanted eyebrows...

Her ability to wear clothes made her an icon of the 30’s, and she was especially appealing in backless evening gowns and hats that hid half of her face. Francis’ detractors said she was a star just because women wanted to see what she’d be wearing next, but she was much more than that. Francis gives herself to the camera completely and you can read all of her emotions — she’s usually slightly out-of-it and weary, and this functions as part of her open-faced charm. 

[T]hose who watch Turner Classic Movies late at night know that Kay Francis movies can become an addiction — when you look at her, you know that all the most salacious stories about old Hollywood are based in truth...    [She] was the ultimate purveyor of easy-virtue glamour, projecting the lure of soiled, sated goods.

She's great in The Cocoanuts, but apparently the definitive work is Trouble in Paradise.


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