Monkey Business – A Marx Brothers Retrospective

Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, and Zeppo Marx in Monkey Business. Courtesy of Universal.

The Four Marx Brothers star in their first original film, Monkey Business, as they relocate to sunny LA for filming on the Paramount lot.

“Oh, I know it’s a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.” – Groucho

Norman Z. McLeod knows a thing or two about comedy. Interestingly enough, the film served as his solo directorial debut. He would stay the course and direct the brothers in Horse Feathers, too. However, it is this film that really starts to place the Marx Brothers at the top of their game. It is the first of five Marx Brothers films to be among the top 100 comedies in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs rankings. Duck Soup, which turns 90 this week, is arguably the best of the bunch. In any event, we certainly see what the Marx Brothers are capable of doing when they can stage an original production without any Broadway constraints. Rather than 90 minutes, Monkey Business ends up running shy of 80 minutes.

The scene where they impersonate singer and Paramount star Maurice Chevalier is one of the funniest in the entire movie. Of course, Harpo being Harpo, he mimes along to a recording. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the silent Marx brother! Meanwhile, Thelma Todd takes over the role of female foil. Unfortunately, she would die a few years later, leading Groucho’s line to be a case of morbid foreshadowing: “I know – I know. 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.”

The large bulk of the film takes place on an ocean liner as it crosses the Atlantic Ocean. Herman J. Mankiewicz produced the film but reining in the Marx Brothers is no easy feat. Arthur Sheekman gets sole screenwriting credit but there were many cooks in the kitchen over the course of five months. In any event, they do get lazy when it comes to character names. The brothers are simply referred to as the stowaways aside from the credits. Regardless, the film serves as a venue to show off their skills on screen as they do their best to avoid being arrested by Captain Corcoran (Ben Taggart) and the crew. There’s not much else to the film, really–stowaways find themselves getting mixed up with gangsters.

The Marx Brothers do Marx Brothers things in Monkey Business and it’s hysterical watching them in action. Would you expect anything less from them?!?

DIRECTOR: Norman Z. McLeod
SCREENWRITER: Arthur Sheekman
CAST: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, with Thelma Todd, Rockliffe Fellowes, Ruth Hall, Tom Kennedy, and Harry Woods

Paramount released Monkey Business in theaters on September 19, 1931. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.