Thursday, May 1, 2014

My Romantic Comedy Blogathon Entry: "Monkey Business," or My Chemical Romance

This is part of the Romantic Comedy Blogathon co-sponsored by Backlots and Carole & Co. Visit them for more entries!

Cary Grant enters the 1952 film "Monkey Business" bespectacled and befuddled -- so much so that he is given verbal direction by Howard Hawks:


Hepburn ...
... Rogers.
Seeing Grant like this brings to mind "Bringing Up Baby" -- also directed by Howard Hawks, also featuring Grant in glasses as an absentminded man of science, also featuring a female lead (Katharine Hepburn in "Baby," Ginger Rogers in "Business") wearing a dress without any back to it.

So can I help it if I like "Monkey Business" more than "Bringing Up Baby"? To me, it's a more consistently funny, if sometimes too silly, movie -- on the other hand, to me the charms of "Bringing Up Baby" have always been intermittent.

"Monkey Business" also has a quality that I value more as I grow older -- perspective. The married couple at the center of this romantic comedy, Barnaby (Grant) and Edwina (Ginger Rogers), have been together for a while, but are still very much in love. They tolerate each other's imperfect qualities with an easy affection and can look back fondly on a past when they were more physically romantic with each other. Considering their numerous real-life marriages, Grant and Rogers play a contented, committed couple very convincingly.

Miss Laurel displays the new stockings that Barnaby
helped invent. He's very interested in her acetates.
Barnaby is preoccupied because he's a chemist working on a new formula that won't come together -- a kind of youth elixir that will be marketed as B-4, with a phoenix rising from the ashes as its logo (in today's market it would be a smiling guy giving a woman a footlong hot dog). Barnaby's elderly boss, Mr. Oxley (Charles Coburn), is particularly interested in perfecting the formula for many reasons, not the least of which is his secretary, Miss Laurel (Marilyn Monroe). As Oxley explains to Barnaby, "Anybody can type."

Back in the lab, Barnaby still isn't having any luck with B-4, and to make matters worse, the test monkeys keep escaping from their cages. While the janitor is changing the bottle on the water cooler, one chimp mixes his own formula by dumping chemicals into the cooler reservoir. Going against scientific protocol, Barnaby tries his formula and then washes it down with some H2O from the cooler. Then he tries it out.


(To be able to turn cartwheels in your late 40s? Well played, Cary Grant.)

Barnaby thinks his own formula has worked, but we know the truth -- hey, the movie isn't called "Barnaby Business." Barnaby's dose of the simian solution is enough to revert him to the showoffy teenage stage, and he hooks up for a day of fun with Miss Laurel that includes driving a new MG and going swimming:


Next to try the formula is Edwina, whose energy level goes through the roof and who dances the evening away with an exhausted Barnaby:


Edwina has taken Barnaby to their honeymoon hotel. There she reverts to her wedding day, which means she locks herself in the bathroom crying and Barnaby falls down a laundry chute. It's totally nonsensical, and it brings to mind this exchange from "Bringing Up Baby," just after Grant slips on an olive dropped by Hepburn and crushes his hat.



Hepburn: Well, Joe here was just showing me a trick, and the olive got away. 

Grant: First you drop an olive and then I sit on my hat. It all fits perfectly.

Finally, both Edwina and Barnaby unknowingly take larger doses of the mixture and revert to childhood. Child Barnaby smears his face with war paint and recruits the neighborhood kids in his plan of revenge against a romantic rival (Hugh Marlowe) for Edwina, and Hawks favorite George "Foghorn" Winslow adds spice:


Oh -- and Barnaby and Edwina get into a Laurel and Hardy-style paint fight:


Meanwhile, back at the lab, Oxley is convinced that Barnaby's formula is successful, and an effort is made to buy him out:


Soon enough, the origin of the formula is discovered, the chimps are put back into their cages, and Edwina and Barnaby emerge older and wiser. We end where we begin -- with the Fultons going out for the evening:


Barnaby: You're old only when you forget you're young. ... It's a word you keep in your heart, a light you have in your eyes, someone you hold in your arms.

Edwina: My, I'm glad I'm going out with you tonight.

As much as I love "Monkey Business," it disconcerts me to read about what Howard Hawks thought of it. Apparently only Grant's character drank the formula in the original script, but when Rogers saw that she was missing the fun, she wanted the script changed so that Edwina drank the formula as well. To Hawks, Rogers's desire messed up the picture.

I couldn't disagree more -- I'm not always a fan of Rogers's late-career performances, but her comic work in "Monkey Business" ranks right up there with her work in "The Major and the Minor" or "Bachelor Mother." That accomplishment is all the more impressive when you consider that Hawks reportedly badgered her on the set and let her know she wasn't his first choice for the role. For a guy who had a hand in creating some memorable feminist characters, Hawks definitely had his piggish, crotchety side -- maybe he could have used a dose of B-4.

9 comments:

  1. I'm with you. I love Ginger Rogers as Edwina. She is that extra something that makes the movie so much fun to watch.

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  2. It's been waaay too long since I've seen this funny film. There are parts that have me howling out loud.

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  3. I completely agree! Ginger Rogers on B-4 is my favorite part of the movie! It's fun to see both Rogers and Grant go wild! Great review!

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  4. Hi, I agree with you. Ginger Rogers doesn't get the attention she deserves, 'outshined' by some other actresses of the time. Thought of more for her dancing? It's a cute film, may also suffer a little from the title confusion Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers Monkey Business vs the Marx Brothers. Both good. Thanks for the informative review.

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  5. I've never been a big fan of Bringing up Baby, which (to me at least) tries so hard to be funny that it's much less amusing than others. The Major and the Minor, however, I love, so I'll have to try this one. Rogers & Grant is a great pairing. Thanks for the rec! Leah

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  6. I too prefer Monkey Business to Bringing up Baby which tries too hard for laughs. Rogers and Grant are a great comic pairing (in fact, it's sad they didn't do more together!) although I wasn't aware Hawks was anything less than impressed with her performance. It's testament to Gingers' professionalism that she made the role a success.

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  7. Very interesting about Hawks' opinions, I didn't know that either and don't agree, I like the movie as is. Great comic pairing

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  8. Ginger did a wonderful job! Yet, I still think Grant has the best scenes. The one in which he plays with the little boys dressed like indians always makes me laugh a lot.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Greetings!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/05/adoravel-vagabundo-meet-john-doe-1941.html

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  9. You have well said my friend, Le.Ginger performed really marvelous in this movie. I am a great fan of these kinds of romantic comedy movies since my childhood. Have you seen the videos listed here in this blog? These all are too much funny. I enjoyed a lot.

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