Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Merrie Melodies Short: The CooCoo Nut Grove (1936)

Directed by Friz Freleng
Music by Carl Stalling
Original Release Date: November 28, 1936
Voices by Verna Deane, Bernice Hansen, Peter Lind Hayes, Tedd Pierce, The Rhythmettes, Wini Shaw, Danny Webb



Before the Merrie Melodies short, Hollywood Steps Out, there was the CooCoo Nut Grove, which featured caricatures of celebrities of the 1930s and was based on the famed Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood. It is a delight to classic movie fans, but likely a mystery to everyone else. I saw this short as an extra on The Petrified Forest DVD from TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection, but it can also be found on the single disc release or on The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 3. It opens with a view of the club, and a close up of the sign reveals that it is illuminated by fireflies.




Our first glimpse of the celebrities within include Charles Laughton in the foreground, with Joe E. Brown seated behind him, Joan Crawford at the third table back and Irvin S. Cobb seated behind her. I initially thought it was Bette Davis because of the large eyes, but the shoulders make it definitely Joan.


As we pan to the right, we see Fred Astaire in the foreground, and Jean Arthur has turned to look at Lionel Barrymore waving behind her.


Our bandleader is well known conductor, Ben Bernie, who composed Sweet Georgia Brown.



Gossip columnist, Walter Winchell, appears as a rat called Walter Windpipe in what may be a reference to the supposed feud between the two which was characterized in the movie Wake Up and Live the following year.


Hugh Herbert is seated alone, clapping his hands together and giving his trademark hoo-hoo giggle.


W.C. Fields and Katharine Hepburn are given rather unflattering caricatures, as he compliments "Miss Heartburn" on her beautiful hand, which is actually a hoof, and she whinnies in response.


Deadpan Ned Sparks complains about going everywhere, doing everything and never having any fun.


Lupe Vélez is seated at a table with husband, Johnny Weismuller, who gulps a glass of wine and beats his chest while giving a Tarzan yell. They were married from 1933-1939.


Ben Birdie announces the profile of profiles as John Barrymore enters and maintains his profile no matter which way his body turns.


A mystery girl is running away from Harpo Marx, who appears to be a chicken of sorts. This is reminiscent of Clark Gable following an unknown blonde in Hollywood Steps Out.



As Ben Birdie instructs the clientele to indulge in the light fantastic, a lot of birds get up and dance.


One of the birds is Mae West, who tells her turtle partner, George Arliss, "Atta baby! Keep up the good work, handsome."


Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appear as a pig and a monkey and share a coconut drink. As they suck on their straws, Stan grows large while Ollie shrinks.


Clark Gable is seated alone with his enormous ears, and John Barrymore shares a table with Greta Garbo as the next act is about to begin.


Edna May Oliver jumps onto the floor and performs an impressive dance routine to "The Lady in Red" that you would not expect from Hildegarde Withers.


A slim Gary Cooper slinks by while glancing back.


 The Dionne Quintuplets sing "My Old Man," though they change the lyric to "Our Old Man."


Johnny Weissmuller is frightened by a mouse and when he passes out, Lupe beats her chest, gives a Tarzan yell and grabs him by the waist and swings off with him on a vine.


Harpo catches up to the mystery lady and grabs and holds on to her until...


...she reveals herself to be Groucho Marx in drag, just as he does to Clark Gable in "Hollywood Steps Out." Harpo beats a fast track out of there.


Torch singer Helen Morgan tearfully sings, "The Little Things You Used to Do," causing the patrons to weep.


Wallace Beery sobs at a table alone, grabs a nearby banana and squeezes it onto a knife and slurps it off, crying all the while. Harpo Marx is also in tears, and engages a windshield wiper from his hat to wipe them away.


Edward G. Robinson and George Raft are appearing as some of the gangsters they played, but as they turn to look at each other, they suddenly burst into tears and embrace, sobbing.


There has been so much crying in the club, that a pool of tears has formed and all the tables float away with the guests, followed by the George Arliss turtle.
 

Ben Birdie says, "Cheerio, pip pip, au revoir and a goody good night."


For moviegoers in 1936, this may have been an amusing prelude to a film. It is bewildering why some of the celebrities are portrayed as animals while others are not, though it entertains nonetheless.




































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