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