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
When Groucho Marx and Chico Marx hide under the table in the chart room (before their encounter with the Captain) Chico has a cigarette in his right hand. He didn't have it before diving under the table. See more »
Groucho, Chico, and Harpo land themselves in another fine mess, and it's up to that heroic, charismatic dynamo Zeppo to bail them out and save the day.
Oh, well, I tried to validate my love for the under-appreciated Marx Brother. Yes, "Monkey Business" is the one where he clouts the bad guy and wins the girl, not to mention performs a mean Maurice Chevalier impression to help his brothers escape imprisonment. But he doesn't get much appreciation for his efforts. The fact the Marxes have little to do once they get off the boat is not my problem, unless I'm looking for a plot in this intentional shambles of a movie.
Recognized as the first Marx Brothers comedy to be based not on a stage play but original material, supplied by S. J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone, Arthur Sheekman, a couple of uncredited script doctors, and probably much ad-libbing, "Monkey Business" is the first comedy the boys shot in Hollywood, after replicating a pair of their stage shows on a set in Astoria, New York. We meet them as stowaways on an ocean liner, staying one step ahead of the ship's crew, with no money, no food, and a lot of complaints.
"I don't care for the way you're running this boat," Groucho tells the captain. "Why don't you get in the back seat for a while and let your wife drive?"
When the first mate (Tom Kennedy) suspiciously asks Groucho if he knows about a stowaway going around with a mustache, Groucho is unperturbed: "Well, you couldn't expect a mustache to go around by itself."
"Monkey Business" is shorter on plot than one has a right to expect, even from a Marx Brothers movie. It's 20 minutes before one even puts in an appearance, when we meet gangster Alky Briggs (Harry Woods) and his restless wife Lucille (Thelma Todd). How Briggs gets the idea that Groucho and Zeppo would make ideal hit men is something that never makes sense. Nor is it supposed to. The plot is just something to keep us occupied in-between comic bits and odd musical interludes involving various Marxes.
The film at times seems to make fun of this very fact. Groucho can't even bother to help out when his brother Zeppo is getting roughed up in a climactic battle, instead providing boxing commentary as he watches overhead. Chico seems to sleepwalk through this film until he spots a piano to play, while Harpo has his most famous moment taking over a puppet show.
The jokes aren't all winners, but it's hard to complain when Groucho delivers them rapid-fire: "With a little study, you'll go a long way, and I'd wish you'd start now."
About the only person other than the Marxes to make an impression is Todd, with whom Groucho has a couple of amusing scenes. She'd be back for the next film, "Horse Feathers," playing up her sexy flapper persona to even bigger effect.
There are several odd cuts, and the pacing really drags in the last half hour, but give director Norman Z. McLeod points for giving the Marx Brothers a platform to play off of. "Monkey Business" is not a great film, but it's a fine comic vehicle that holds up well.
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