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Monkey Business (1952)
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by Jay Seaver

"A comedy where the adults are actually supposed to act like teenagers!"
4 stars

The high concept comedy has been relatively common at various points in cinematic history, and while the type that go past high concept to outright fantasy are more common now than ever, they're not new: You've always had the likes of "Topper" and "Bell, Book and Candle". Something like "Monkey Business" is still an odd thing to see sixty years later, a goofy comedy less driven by (then) current societal mores than absurd innovation.

The chief innovator is Dr. Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant), a research chemist for Oxley Chemical Company searching for a rejuvenation formula. Well, maybe it's actually the chimp who gets out of her cage, randomly mixes some chemicals, and then dumps the result in the water cooler. After drinking it, not only does Barnaby feel twenty years younger, he starts acting it as well, opting to play hooky from work. Company owner Oliver Oxley (Charles Coburn) sends secretary Lois Laurel (Marilyn Monroe) to find him - and while she's not that bright, she sure is radiant, which could potentially cause trouble with Barnaby's wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers).

Director Howard Hawks made great movies in several genres, but when he turns sights on screwball comedy, well, it can get exceptionally screwy. Monkey Business is deliriously silly, even more so than Hawks's and Grant's Bringing Up Baby, but in many ways the story (by four credited writers, with Hawks involved as well) is actually pretty tight, in that once you accept the premise that a concoction mixed by a chimp can revert otherwise stiff people to their more freewheeling youth, everything else follows pretty logically from that; it's just a matter of arranging things so that the characters stumble into gags rather than tragedy. Well, OK, some bits toward the end are a bit off, though they still draw laughs even if one is a stretch and the other would be seen as kind of politically incorrect nowadays.

This silly stuff works because Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers give a pretty terrific pair of comedic performances. They quickly build a strong foundation as an absent-minded scientist and his understanding, steadying wife before sampling the secret formula, and then things get even more fun. Both Grant and Rogers seem to have a blast playing overgrown kids (where "kids" can indicate anything from kindergartners to undergraduates), keeping just enough adult in them things to be hilariously incongruous as opposed to something that breaks the audience's trust. The pair get odder and funnier by stages, right up to the end.

The great cast extends from top to bottom, with some of the funniest bits coming from George Winslow as a kid whose deadpan delivery suggests what a nightmare he must be for his parents. Charles Coburn and Hugh Marlowe (as an old boyfriend of Edwina's) both turn in amusing, energetic bits. There's some well-trained chimps, a bevy of scientists who make their moments on-screen better, and, hey, there's Marilyn Monroe. Miss Lois Laurel isn't close to a major role - her purpose is pretty much summed up when the camera lingers on her walking out of a room to have one of the other secretaries transcribe a memo before returning to Oxley, who matter-of-factly explains "anyone can type".

She's got the kind of beauty and utter lack of guile that can set a scene in motion without it getting catty, and Hawks knows how to use it. Making a comedy this well-constructed is harder than it looks, but Monkey Business is cleverly built and paced - breaking the fourth wall for a couple of moments during the opening credits gives the audience a preview of what kind of silliness is in store, for instance, as well as giving the audience little breaks before escalating things further. And while a lot of filmmakers, especially at this time, would sum the movie up with a moral of sorts (whether not to mourn one's lost youth or that you're only as old as you feel), there's a refreshing lack of sermonizing here.

Heck, that's something they do enough today; I could easily see Adam Sandler remaking this and beating the audience over the head with a cloying message (note to Hollywood: NOT A SUGGESTION!). This sort of comedic fantasy being relatively rare back then, it's a pleasant surprise to see it come off so well.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=9714&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/13/12 22:10:21
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User Comments

7/16/12 keith miron Too silly 3 stars
7/06/05 John MacKendrick Ginger Rogers sure can dance! Funny and heartwarming. I love Marilyn. Cary Grant is good. 5 stars
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  DVD: 06-Jan-2004



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