While stowing away on a ship to America, the boys get involuntarily pressed into service as toughs for a pair of feuding gangsters while trying desparately to evade the ship's crew. After arriving stateside, one of the gangsters kidnaps the other's daughter - and it's up to our unlikely heroes to save the day. Written by
The first Marx Brothers film to be produced in Hollywood. See more »
During the Passport scene, when the brothers try to get off the boat by impersonating Maurice Chevalier, neither Zeppo (the first brother to try) nor Groucho (the third to try), get Chevaliers passport back from the officer in charge, yet Chico and Harpo each have it as they approach the front of the line. See more »
Everybody seems to be having nearly as much fun as I am.
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The opening credits are painted on the sides of barrels (In the film's opening, the Marx Brothers' characters are stow-aways on a cruise ship, hiding in barrels marked "Kippered Herring"). See more »
MONKEY BUSINESS (Paramount, 1931), directed by Norman McLeod, and written by S.J. Perelman, presents those four zany Marx Brothers in their third feature comedy. Following their previous efforts in THE COCOANUTS (1929) and ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930), each based on their 1920s stage works filmed at Paramount's Astoria studios in Long Island, NY, MONKEY BUSINESS, produced in Hollywood, was the team's first original comedy and one of their most funnier outings. While no relation to the 20th Century- Fox 1952 comedy starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, except in title only, and having nothing to do with monkeys, this presentation does get right down to business when comedy is concerned.
Here Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo play four stowaways aboard ship bound for the states who, after being discovered hiding in barrels singing "Sweet Adeline," they are pursued by First Officer Gibson (Tom Kennedy) and his crew, which has the foursome running all over the ship, eluding authorities and driving practically everybody out of their minds. Eventually the four stowaways separate, with Chico and Harpo posing as barbers; Groucho acting as the captain, invading the sanctity of the captain's quarters where he and Chico makes themselves at home by eating his meals; Harpo later chasing the young ladies as well as entertaining little children at a puppet show while at the same time making a fool out of Gibson. Harpo even finds time making friends with a frog, but keeps it under his hat. As for Zeppo, in between chases, he finds time escorting a young lady named Mary (Ruth Hall) around the deck. Afterwards, they all encounter rival gangsters, Groucho encounters Alkie Briggs (Harry Woods), after being found with his wife, Lucille (Thelma Todd) in her state room. Briggs, however, takes a liking to Groucho and offers him a job, along with Zeppo, as his personal bodyguards. Chico and Harpo encounter Briggs' rival, Joe Helton (Rockcliffe Fellows), Mary's father and Zeppo's love interest, each becoming Helton's bodyguards as well. After docking in New York, the Marx Brothers find they must get past custom officials to get off. After obtaining the passport belonging to the popular French entertainer, Maurice Chevalier (who does not appear), they pass themselves off as Chevalier, singing one of his current hit songs, "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me," but to no avail. How the silent Harpo gets by with this must be seen to be believed. While the final 25 minutes shifts over to a swank party given by Kelton to introduce his daughter, Mary, to high society, the Marxes join in the function with dysfunctional tendencies as Groucho insults the guests, Chico and Harpo entertain with their traditional piano and harp interludes, while Briggs and his gang sneak in, posing as musicians, to carry out their plot of kidnapping Kelton's daughter, Mary, by holding her hostage inside a barn.
Virtually plot less in a sense, MONKEY BUSINESSS plays like an extended comedy short that would have worked equally well had it starred the Three Stooges. MONKEY BUSINESS is pure Marx Brothers nonsense that appears to be every bit as funny today as it possibly was way back in 1931. Anything goes with this film, including many memorable shipboard moments including Groucho's comedic dance with Thelma Todd; Groucho doing his bit by posing as a reporter interviewing and insulting the cultured Madame Pucchi (Cecil Cunningham, in a manner somewhat similar to Margaret Dumont, Groucho's frequent foil and straight-woman). GROUCHO: "Is it true you're getting a divorce as soon as your husband recovers his eyesight? Is it true you wash your hair in clam broth? Is is true you used to dance in a flea circus?" MADAME PUCCHI: "This is outrageous! I don't like this innuendo." GROUCHO: "That's what I always say. Love flies out the door when money comes innuendo."; the Chico and Groucho exchange regarding Christopher Columbus: GROUCHO: "Columbus sailed from Spain to India looking for a short cut," CHICO: "Oh, you mean a strawberry short cut?;" Harpo coming out from a barrel of hay in the barn and seen kissing a calf, and much more.
As with most of the Marx Brothers films produced by Paramount, MONKEY BUSINESS is pure comedy at best. Had this been done over at MGM, where the Marx Brothers would be employed (1935 to 1941), MONKEY BUSINESS most definitely be toned down some in comedy antics with extended romantic subplots and straight-forward and lengthy musical numbers. MONKEY BUSINESS has none of that. Unlike most Marx Brothers comedies, their characters in MONKEY BUSINESS have no background, no professions and no spoken character names (the closing cast credits them with their first names only). They are just unusual stowaways trying to keep themselves from being caught and taken to the brig. However, in this case, MONKEY BUSINESS has its full quota of belly-laughs. Nothing really drags and nothing provided is unnecessary. And whatever scenes may not be of importance or interest to the viewers, it passes by very quickly.
MONKEY BUSINESS, hailed as one of the top 100 comedies by the American Film Institute, has become a perennial favorite to many Marx Brothers enthusiasts. After many years being presented on commercial television on the afternoon or evening to after midnight hours, it became available on video cassette through MCA Home Video in the 1980s, and to cable television on several channels, from the Comedy Channel shortly prior to 1990, then to American Movie Classics (1991-1992), and, a decade later, on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered December 2001. Regardless of its age, MONKEY BUSINESS, for all its silliness, continues to bring laughter to a new generation of movie lovers whenever shown, thanks to those funny men billed as The Marx Brothers. Because of them, no ocean voyage would ever be the same again, which is why no self respecting ship should ever set sail without them either. Bon Voyage. (***)
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