Monkey Business (1952)

Directed by Howard Hawks

Although it’s released on DVD as part of Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection II, the movie Monkey Business isn’t really what you would call a Monroe movie. Yes, she’s in it but she’s a supporting player.

This is a Cary Grant movie. More to the point perhaps, it’s a comedy from director Howard Hawks.

As a Hawks comedy, it falls into the category of screwball and while not the best example, and certainly not close to Hawks’ His Girl Friday, it’s a great movie.

It’s thoroughly silly and makes no apologies for being that way. Grant plays a somewhat preoccupied scientist (a common type in screwball comedies as with Grant in Bringing Up Baby or Gary Cooper in Ball of Fire). He’s searching for a youth formula, something that will make people feel young again. He fails but one of the monkeys in his lab succeeds, although no one knows it.

Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business (1952).

This is essentially the movie: unbeknownst to them, various characters (including Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers) take the youth-making formula and become younger.

It’s not a lot to hang an entire movie on – basically it’s one gag. But in Hawks hands it works because of the standard quick pace common to all his films, especially the comedies.

Also common to Hawks comedies is the tension, sometimes fighting, between the male and female leads. Usually, there’s a degree of antagonism.

While there’s a hint of this in Monkey Business the film is a bit different in that this is not a particularly predominant element. (Compare Monkey Business to another film such as His Girl Friday, which is pure Hawks.)

As with all Hawks films, it’s not entirely the movie Hawks would have made had studios and the Hays commission left him alone. Ginger Rogers would not have been in it (Hawks’ choice was Ava Gardner) and there would have been more obvious sexual innuendos.

Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant in Monkey Business (1952).

As for Marilyn Monroe, she’s clearly in the film for the value of her name and shape and little else. The part is small with little for her to do except wiggle and appear like an airhead. This is not a movie for seeing what Monroe could do as an actress, though it does show what sort of male-dominated Hollywood environment she had to deal with as an attractive actress.

However, if you’re in the mood for something silly, and want to see how good Cary Grant was as a comic actor, Monkey Business is a great movie.

1 Response

  1. Fidel Espolsito says:

    There was a baby in this film. Does anyone know his name.

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