Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#1,198. Monkey Business (1931)

Directed By: Norman Z. McLeod

Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx

Tag Line: "You who have laughs to spread, prepare to spread them now!"

Trivia: The first Marx Brothers film not to feature Margaret Dumont. It was felt she wasn't "sexy" enough for the part

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Monkey Business; far too long, actually. In fact, of all the Marx Brothers’ early films, this is the one I’m the least familiar with, so to finally sit down and watch it again proved a real treat.

The four Marx Brothers, aka Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo, stow away on a luxury ocean liner bound for New York. Hoping to avoid the ship’s First Mate (Tom Kennedy), the Brothers become entangled in a gangland power struggle, with Groucho and Harpo agreeing to act as bodyguards for mobster Alky Briggs (Harry Woods). Unfortunately, this pits them against Harpo and Chico, who, in turn, are protecting Briggs’ rival, Joe Helton (Rockliffe Fellowes). Things get even more complicated when the ship finally reaches New York, at which point the Brothers, having crashed a party at Joe Helton’s house, learn that Briggs’ gang has kidnapped Helton’s daughter, Mary (Rith Hall), with whom Zeppo is deeply in love.

As it is with every Marx Brothers movie, the laughs come quick and often in Monkey Business, with several sequences that rank alongside the sibling’s best. Soon after volunteering to protect him, Chico and Harpo follow Helton as he takes a stroll on-deck, only to end up “protecting” the wrong guy (which they do more than once). Then, when the boat docks, the brothers try to get through customs by pretending to be French singer Maurice Chevalier (whose passport they’ve stolen). As usual, Groucho fires off dozens of hilarious one-liners; with no Margaret Dumont to harass, he instead turns his attention to Briggs’ wife, Lucy (Thelma Todd). When she rebukes his advances out of fear her husband would “wallop” her if he found out, a dejected Groucho replies “You’re always on about your husband. Couldn’t I wallop you just as well?”

A quick glance at the Marx Brothers’ early filmography, which includes Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, and Horse Feathers, reveals how remarkable Groucho, Chico, Harpo (and yes, even Zeppo) were at turning out screen comedies. In my opinion, every one of these movies is a classic (yes, even the flawed Animal Crackers), and Monkey Business is yet another feather in the Brother’s cap. If you need a smile, look no further than this film.

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