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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
If Duck Soup was their greatest critically, this one is my personal favorite.
In all my years of criticing films, I have never found a team of comedians more funny, more satirical, or more flexible as the four original Marx Brothers. Their comedy and their formula works in ways that no other comedy team has ever worked, and results like this, their third and, IMHO, funniest film, prove what film historians already know: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo are some of the most influential Hollywood legends to ever live!
"Monkey Business" works because all of the brothers are given the same amount of screentime, and each of their characters were very important to the plot. In movies before and after this picture, more emphasis would be spent on different brothers in each film (i.e. Groucho in "Animal Crackers," Harpo in "Love Happy"), and the other bros would have little to do but stand their with their mouths open. Not so in this. They are all main characters here, and each of them are allowed to stick to their own unique formulas that they are best at: Groucho with his wisecracks, Chico with his conning, Harpo with his silent antics, and Zeppo the straight man with his women-swooning.
As far as plotline goes, the four brothers play themselves, stowing away on an ocean-liner and constantly avoiding the captain and his crew by any means neseccary (and I do mean by any means!). The story itself is a very serious one, and it could have passed for a pretty good, if by-the-numbers gangster movie: There are two dueling mob bosses on this boat, one of which is trying to come clean after making his fortune. He has a beautiful young college daughter, and he is trying to get his life straightened out. The other mob boss has a failing marriage with a beautiful young wife (Thelma Todd), and he by no means is trying to reform. He wants his part of the other boss's money, or else he plans on kidnapping the daughter and holding her for ransom.
So what we have here is a pretty standard, serious plotline....The writers were very smart in choosing to make it one, so that it would eventually become all-the-more funny. Suddenly, into this serious movie, the Marx Brothers are dumped into the scene, and everything becomes chaotic. Groucho falls for the bad guy's wife. Zeppo falls for the good guy's daughter. Harpo falls for any girl in a dress. Chico falls for a cow. Chico and Harpo are hired to protect the goodguy. Groucho and Zeppo are hired to kill him. In the meantime, they are still on the run and are constantly trying to foil the plans of the Captain, who wants to put them in irons. The results of their slapstick are all the better now, because they are surrounded by a bunch of straight men who are acting in a very serious film...and it is their job to make it funny.
There is no greater film that better demonstrates just how genius the Marx Brothers' brand of comedy truely is. Groucho's constant insults and depression puns, Harpo's....whatever you call what Harpo does.... Chico's conning and comebacks, and Zeppo's romantic Renniasance man ("Mary, I'll never leave you," he promises his love before deserting her as he runs away in terror at the sight of the approaching the Captain) all make this the greatest of comedies. It also features probably their greatest screen moment: All four must do a Chevalier impression to get off the boat, and the results are....well....interesting.
Don't miss this movie if you want your sides to split in half!
"Would you mind getting off that flypaper and giving the flies a chance?"
**** out of ****
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