Monkey Business (1952)
For a director as prolific and successful as Howard Hawks, it may seem unusual that he never achieved the mainstream celebrity of his fellow auteurs John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Orson Welles, or even the same public stature as directors from a later generation, such as Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. But Hawks was never an easy director to categorize he did not have a deep sense of cinematic stylization, preferring to focus on his actors and scripts, and he refused to stay within one or two genres (as Hitchcock and Ford did, for example). A former World War I aviator, Hawks started his directing career before movies had sound, and he found early successes with such hard-boiled pictures as The Dawn Patrol (1930) with its story of Air Force pilots, and Scarface (1932), loosely based on Chicago mobster Al Capone. Other aviation films followed (Only Angels Have Wings , Air Force ), and he also directed Humphrey Bogart in two of his most famous pictures, To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). Actually, while Hawks often is associated with the western, thanks to 1959's enduring Rio Bravo, he did not even direct his first western until 1948 with Red River (both starring John Wayne). And while all of these films indicate an American auteur of the first order, none point to a simple fact Howard Hawks practically invented the screwball comedy, starting with 1934's Twentieth Century starring Carole Lombard and moving through such Cary Grant classics as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940). During Hollywood's golden age, Hawks was not only one of the industry's best action directors, he also was its most sublime comedian a combination that seems unthinkable today.
Monkey Business (1952) was Hawks' last stab at screwball comedy, and while the genre was in decline by the 1950s, it is a fitting finale to a bygone matinee staple. Cary Grant stars as Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded chemist who is working on a "fountain of youth" formula (dubbed "B-4" by his employers) that, if successful, will secure his career for life. But each experiment has resulted in failure, until Barnaby decides the formula requires heating. And after a mix-up in the laboratory (thanks to an overactive chimpanzee), Barnaby has a swig and suddenly buys a sportscar, which he speeds through the city with sexy secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe), going roller-skating and swimming with his young date. The effect wears off before the day is done, but Barnaby's wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) is intrigued, and thus tries the formula herself, causing her to drag her studious, note-taking husband on an impromptu second honeymoon. In the meantime, Barnaby's aging boss Oliver Oxley (Charles Coburn) is impatient to try some of the "B-4" himself, but he experiences no results while a further mix-up reduces both Barnaby and Edwina to a pair of bickering children.
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One need not apologize for comedy when it's done right, it's the most impressive of all film genres. And in the case of screwball comedies, doing it right means holding very little back. Monkey Business is a perfect lark for its two leads, as Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers initially appear as a reasonable married couple (both playing the parts a bit older than their actual ages), and then have great fun dismantling the carefully staged premise with increasingly juvenile behavior. Grant a leading man who always enjoyed playing against his smoldering good looks with comic turns dons Coke-bottle glasses as the dignified Barnaby, only to get completely unhinged in a top-down roadster (with Marilyn Monroe along for the ride yowza), and all it takes is a trendy crew-cut and a pair of swimming trunks before he swan-dives (er, belly-flops) into the local pool. Rogers holds her own against the estimable Cary, and her transformation not only makes her eager to run her husband ragged on the dance floor, but also an hysterical emotional mess who suddenly finds flaws in every part of her marriage. Throw in some more potion, and Grant's urge to play cowboys and Indians with some local kids has him tromping about the neighborhood in war paint, planning to ensnare his own lawyer for a good old-fashioned scalping which isn't just funny because of that, but because it's Cary Grant doing that. Meanwhile, the splendid Charles Coburn gets in some funny asides as Barnaby's boss Oxley, and in a supporting part Marilyn Monroe plays the airless blonde receptionist to perfection (after asking the shapely secretary to find somebody to type a document, Oxley dryly explains to a puzzled Barnaby "Anybody can type.")
Fox's DVD release of Monkey Business features a strong transfer of a restored black-and-white source print in the original full-frame ratio (1.33:1), with audio in monaural Dolby 2.0. Features include a restoration demonstration, stills, and trailers for films in the second wave of Fox's "Diamond Collection" of Marilyn Monroe films. Keep-case.
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