Monday, March 10, 2014


(November 1931, U.S.)

The period of the Marx Brothers during their years with Paramount Pictures may very well be considered their best years and their best films with titles like ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930) and DUCK SOUP (1933). This, despite the fact that the fourth brother, Zeppo, was just about as unfunny as you could ever imagine! MONKEY BUSINESS, admittedly, is not their best effort during these years, the reason being a very thin plot line. Perhaps plot is not something you strongly consider when watching a Marx Brothers film, but it always helps with any film, in my opinion.

The story (what little there is of it!) takes place in large part on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The Marx Brothers play four stowaways who get involuntarily pressed into service as tough guys for a pair of on-board feuding gangsters while trying desperately to evade the ship's crew from capture. This, is primarily what takes place through most of the film; the brothers being chased all over the ship and causing their typical unending uproar. After finally arriving stateside, one of the gangsters kidnaps the other's daughter, leaving it up to the Marx Brothers to save the day. Two famous scenes of this film include all four brothers trying to sneak through a passenger checkpoint by pretending to be French actor and singer Maurice Chevalier, and Harpo Marx's attempt to hide from the authorities by posing as a puppet in a Punch and Judy children's show. Another noteworthy feature is a concluding fight scene at the end in which Groucho acts as a wise-ass commentator. Don't get me wrong, though - it's all (or mostly) funny, particularly Groucho's ongoing verbal antics. It's just not worthy of much as a storytelling device. Despite this fact, however, the film was quite successful during an era when laughter was crucial to American survival during the Great Depression. And as usual, my attention tends to get sidetracked as soon as this (or any other Marx Brother's film) turns musical.

Typical for many Marx Brothers films, production censors demanded changes in some lines with sexual innuendos that were considered too racy for the era of the 1930s. Another noteworthy piece of irony with this film is that the female star Thelma Todd died in unexplained circumstances a few years after this film. A line of dialogue in MONKEY BUSINESS coincidentally seems to foreshadow her death. Alone with Todd in her cabin, Groucho Marx says, "You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night." Well, in 1935, Todd died in her car inside a garage, apparently from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Creepy, huh??

Favorite line or dialogue:

Groucho Marx: "I'll thank you to let me do the reporting around here! 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 it true you used to dance in a flea circus?"

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