Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stubs - Monkey Business (1952)

Monkey Business (1952) Starring: Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe Directed by Howard Hawks. Produced by Sol C. Siegel.  Screenplay by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I.A.L. Diamond. Run Time: 97 minutes. U.S. Black and White. Screwball Comedy

Sometimes it seems that Hollywood becomes derivative, telling the same stories over and over again, rebooting, retelling and making sequels of the same story, whether it’s Spider-Man or Batman or the Fantastic Four or the Pirates of the Caribbean. The excuse is the cost of making big budget films. Studios are cautious, if unwilling, to spend large amounts of money on untried stories, rather hoping that the tried and true will bring audiences in for more of the same.

Of course, this retelling of stories is nothing really new. Hollywood has always been making films like other films that were popular. In the case of Hollywood during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, the assembly line approach sometimes did not allow for great innovation and originality. Sometimes filmmakers were forced to rely on their own works for inspiration. In the case of Monkey Business (1952), I would not be the first to recall Hawks' earlier film Bringing Up Baby (1938) to which this has more than a passing resemblance, including the male lead.

Howard Hawks is one of the true greats of the Hollywood studio era, so you can’t blame him for borrowing from himself. Originally called Darling, I’m Growing Younger, the film was not going to star Grant, with whom Hawks had already worked four times, but rather Danny Kaye and with Ava Gardner instead of Marilyn Monroe.

But casting weren’t the only changes. The original screenplay was rejected on February 6, 1952 by the Breen Office stating: "the reason for this unacceptability lies in the fact that the story of Dr. Fulton's youth formula amounts to a story of the invention of an aphrodisiac, which mainly exploits the lurid, or what might be called 'sexsational' aspects of such a drug."  Sex was a definite no-no under the Production Code, which was definitely being enforced at the time. Hawks and producer Sol C. Siegel met with the PCA and agreed to make changes, including changing formula name from “Cupidone" to a "pseudo-scientific type of vitamin," and toning down Oliver Oxly’s sexual interest in Lois Laurel.

The changes must have not been too severe, since the PCA approved the amended screenplay and production began on March 5 and continued until late April, 1952. The film would have its opening five months later on September 3, 1952.

The film begins with Cary Grant opening the front door of a house and being told by an off-screen Howard Hawks "Not yet, Cary” several times; an obvious breaking of the fourth wall, not common at that time.

After the sufficient credits have run and the film actually starts, Cary is now Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded scientist who can’t help but think about his work. He is developing a formula he hopes will reverse the aging process. He is so lost in thought about it, that even after his wife, Edwina (Ginger Rogers), gives him exact directions on locking up the house, so they can leave, he still gets it wrong, ending up inside rather than out.

Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) would rather stay home and think
than go to a party with his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers).

After more than one false start, Edwina gives up and decides that instead of going out to a party, they’ll stay at home so Barnaby can keep thinking. Edwina slips off her dress (off camera, of course), puts on a house coat and starts to make them eggs for dinner.

Hank Entwhistle (Hugh Marlowe), a family friend and lawyer, comes over to encourage them to go the party. He tells Edwina that if she had married him she wouldn’t have to stay home and cook. It is about then that Barnaby realizes Edwina’s backside, clothed in only undergarments, is visible. In the first scene that is reminiscent of Bringing Up Baby, Barnaby covers her up, the same way David (Grant) covers up Susan (Katherine Hepburn) when her dress gets torn. In this case, he puts an apron on her backwards. Hank takes some convincing, but he does finally leave.

When Edwina serves Barnaby soup, his mouth gets burned, which gives him an idea that he takes with him to the office the next day, using heat to encourage the absorption of the formula. He arrives at Oxly Chemical Factory, where he works, and is immediately summoned to President Oliver Oxly’s (Charles Coburn) office for an update on the formula Oxly is anxious to exploit, already having worked up an ad campaign for what he calls B-4.

Barnaby's boss at the plant is Oliver Oxly (Charles Coburn). His
secretary is the curvaceous Lois Laurel (Marilyn Monroe).

While Barnaby waits to see Oxly, Lois Laurel (Marilyn Monroe), Oxly’s curvaceous secretary, shows him the hosiery his acetate formula had led to and her leg on which they cover. Oxly is not amused when he walks in on the tableaux.

But Oxly is more interested in money and brings Barnaby into his office. But they are quickly called away to the lab, where one of the older monkeys they are experimenting the formula on, the 84-year-old equivalent Rudolph, is bounding around like a youngster. Everyone is fooled until Barnaby discovers that the monkey’s numbers have been accidentally switched and the much younger Esther is wearing Rudolph’s number.

Once the mistake has been noticed and Esther is back in her unlocked cage, Barnaby begins to work on his idea, but when he leaves the laboratory, Esther frees herself and, copying Barnaby’s actions, mixes a batch of the ingredients that he uses in his formula. Hearing him return, Esther pours her chemicals into the water cooler, after which Barnaby mixes his own batch.

Esther the monkey mimics Barnaby's actions and mixes up her own batch of chemicals.

Against the wishes of his assistant, Dr. Jerome Lenton (Henri Letondal), Barnaby swallows his version. The bitter taste forces him to get some water from the cooler, soon after which Barnaby notices that the bursitis he suffers from no longer hurts and he no longer needs his thick glasses to see.

Barnaby feels so good and youthful that he leaves the laboratory. Wanting a more youthful look, he gets a then popular crew cut. Next he changes his appearance by buying a loud sports coat. His last stop is a car dealership where he trades in his sedan for a sports car, a 1950 MG TD.

Miss Laurel has been sent to find him and shows up just as he is concluding the purchase of the car. He asks her if she wants to go for a ride. Miss Laurel, who has a crush on the older man, gladly accepts. While they race through the city, it is obvious that Miss Laurel is getting aroused by the speed, the danger they’re in and by him. But Barnaby gets distracted and can’t stop before he runs into a truck that blocks the street.

Barnaby and Laurel go for a drive in his new MG.

They take the car to the shop and are told it’ll be good as new by five o’clock. To kill time, the two go roller-skating and, after Barnaby falls, they go swimming. At the pool, Barnaby attempts a swan dive, but ends up doing a belly flop. But no one is watching him, but rather Miss Laurel in a one-piece.

She only have eyes for Barnaby, but everyone else has eyes on Lois in her one-piece.

After the car is fixed, Barnaby drives them back to Oxly. While they’re driving, she kisses him on the cheek, but pouts when she discovers that he’s married. Before they get back to the office, the formula starts to wear off. Barnaby’s eyesight starts to fade and he ultimately crashes the car into a chain-link fence.

When he returns to the lab, Barnaby falls asleep. By the time he awakens, Edwina, who has been called by a night watchman, has arrived. She’s not happy to hear about his haircut or by his antics, especially the lipstick on his cheek from Miss Laurel. Barnaby insists it was the formula and tries to reassure her that the kiss meant nothing to him.

Barnaby wants to retest the formula on himself, but Edwina has other plans, drinking the latest double strength batch, so her husband can observe her. Again she takes a glass of water after drinking the sour concoction. The formula starts to take effect when Oxly comes in to inquire about Barnaby’s progress. Edwina is overly playful, putting a goldfish down the side of Oxly’s pants.

Barnaby and Edwina get away and Edwina demands that they drive to the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. When they get to the hotel, Edwina wants to go dancing, eventually exhausting Barnaby. When they finally get back to the room, Edwina gets emotional, acting like a new bride and crying for her mother.

Their honeymoon reenactment doesn't come off as planned.

Barnaby tries to find out what’s going on with Edwina, but it quickly turns into a quarrel, in the middle of which Barnaby’s glasses fall off. When he pushes her gently away from them on the floor, she throws him out of the room. While the nearly blind Barnaby feels his way through the halls in his pajamas, missing the tie string, which has been caught in the room’s door, Edwina calls Hank. She tells him that Barnaby has brutalized her and she wants to file for divorce.

Meanwhile, Barnaby, who is looking for help, ends up going head first down the laundry chute and ends up in one of the large wheeled carts. The force of his entry sends the cart rolling straight into a wall on which poor Barnaby hits his head and passes out.

The next morning, Edwina has fully recovered from the formula and is checking out of the hotel, when Barnaby has been brought up from the laundry room by a couple of confused maids. He refuses to change, but rather just wants to go home.

When they arrive, they are set upon by a horde of reporters and Hank is inside waiting. Edwina realizes that she still very much loves Hank and wants to call off the divorce. But Barnaby, realizing the harm the formula does, and a little disheartened to have found out Edwina once kissed Hank, decides the best course of action is to destroy the formula.

Edwina goes with Barnaby to the lab and there, using the water from the cooler, she makes them a pot of coffee. After a couple of cups, both are acting like ten-year-olds.

Meanwhile, Oxly has heard about the success of the formula and has called an emergency meeting of the board to come up with an offer to Barnaby for the rights. When it’s pointed out that he made the formula while working for them, Oxly points out that there seems to be an ingredient or step missing as they can’t recreate it with the same results.

Barnaby is called in and enters with Edwina and a monkey between them. When they ask him how much he wants, he says a "zillion" dollars. When he lets slip his idea about adding heat, the board thinks they have the answer they need and Barnaby and Edwina escape.

The couple walks home, too young to drive, and while they do, Edwina starts to annoy the 10-year-old acting Barnaby, who is turning into a girl-hater. After getting into a fight and throwing paint on each other, he runs off to join real ten-year-olds, who are playing “Indian”. Edwina, meanwhile, goes home and calls Hank to complain again about Barnaby. She then takes a nap, which seems to be a side-effect of the formula.

As she sleeps, Barnaby puts on war paint and convinces his playmates to help him scalp Hank, whom he is still jealous about.

When Edwina awakens from her nap, she is once again her old self. But the neighbor’s baby, Johnny, has walked into their house and crawled in next to her. She mistakenly assumes the baby to be Barnaby on an overdose of the formula and dashes back to Oxly with the baby in her arms.

Edwina mistakes the neighbor's baby for Barnaby and rushes him back to Oxly.

Meanwhile, Barnaby and his friends succeed in capturing Hank, but instead of scalping him, cut his hair into a Mohawk.

Barnaby convinces the boys in the neighborhood to help his scalp Hank (Hugh Marlowe).

Back at Oxly, everyone thinks Johnny is Barnaby. Edwina puts the baby down on Barnaby’s couch, hoping that if he falls to sleep, the formula will wear off. Out in the lab, the men, including the Board of Directors, Oxly and Lenton, pace and when they’re thirsty, drink water from the cooler. Oxly orders the bitter-tasting water thrown out, but it’s too late to stop the formula from taking effect.

Still wearing warpaint, Barnaby returns to Oxly.

Barnaby shows up and climbs through the window of his office. When Edwina finds him, she realizes her mistake about Johnny. But when they go out to the outer laboratory, they find everyone, Oxly, the board members and the scientists acting like children. It is Lenton who finally deduces that Esther has concocted the formula. While Oxly is chasing Miss Laurel around the lab with a seltzer bottle, the Fultons leave.

Craziness ensues in the lab when everyone drinks the formula.

Three days later, there is a new Oxly contract ensuring Barnaby’s future with the firm. Barnaby tells Edwina that a person is old only when he forgets that he is young.

Hawks was somewhat disappointed by the film, thinking the premise was too unbelievable and that the film was not as funny as it could have been. Hawks was right, but the premise was
only the beginning of the problems. Monkey Business suffers from many ailments, one of which is a surprisingly lackluster screenplay given the talents of Ben Hecht and I.A.L. Diamond. Gags and characters seem to have been recycled from previous films, but what makes it all right at all is that Hawks is mostly stealing from himself.

The best line in the film is delivered about Monroe’s sex appeal. While it is best seen in context, I’ll try to set it up:

Early in the film, Barnaby and Oxly are in the latter’s office with Lois. There is a call waiting for Mr. Oxly and Lois is about to be dismissed.

Oliver Oxly: Oh, yes. Just a moment, Miss Laurel. Find someone to type this.

Lois Laurel: Oh, Mr. Oxly, can't I try again?

Oliver Oxly: No, it's very important. Better find somebody to type it for you.

Lois Laurel: Yes, sir.

As she walks to the door and closes it, both Barnaby and Oxly admire her swaying hips and backside.

As if to answer the unasked question of why he has her as his secretary, but won’t let her type his letters, Oxly turns to Barnaby and deadpans:

Oliver Oxly: Anybody can type a letter.

It’s too bad there’s not more laugh out loud lines like this one. Too much of the humor is based on adults acting like kids and mistaken identity. It doesn’t take much of either to get old.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bad Grant film, that is to say a bad performance by the actor. Even in this film, he is good, but his best scenes are with Marilyn Monroe and not Ginger Rogers. As stated before, his Barnaby Fulton feels like a redo of his Bringing Up Baby David character, so it’s sort of like seeing a photocopy of the original; close, but not as good. It’s too bad that Monkey Business would be his last film with Grant, with whom he’d made Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940) and I Was A Male War Bride (1949).

Ginger Rogers, whom I’ve already gone on record as loving, is not at her best here. In fact, I think she overacts the part. When she’s supposed to be twenty she comes off as being closer to ten. I sometimes think she’s trying too hard, which is bad when it shows. Like Grant, Rogers has played a similar character before, previously playing “young” in The Major and the Minor (1942) a decade earlier.

The film feels over long, especially with the back and forth between Barnaby and Edwina. While both Grant and Rogers are great movie stars, I don’t really get the sense that they have great chemistry together and the off again on again divorce seems a contrivance at best.

The best pairing in the film seems to be Grant with Monroe, but that looks more like a happy accident than the intent of the filmmakers. For all the star power of Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, Monkey Business is often sold as one of Marilyn Monroe’s early films. In some ways, she steals the film, though her part is rather small, she is in a lot of scenes and is often the object of the attention of both Barnaby and Oxly, as well as any other men that might be around. It is the scenes with Grant that give a glimpse into Monroe’s comedic sensibilities mixed with her abundant sexuality.

So much has been written about Monroe that there is no point in getting too deep here. Simply put she is the iconic sex symbol. There have been many contemporary imitators, including Jayne Mansfield and Cleo Moore, but accept no substitute. Monroe was the sex kitten by which all others should be judged as inferior.
Marilyn Monroe is the iconic sex symbol.

While Grant and Rogers seem to be replaying character types from their long film careers, Monroe is at the beginning of hers and there is a real sense that she is bringing something new to the screen. While sex symbols were nothing new in Hollywood, there had never been one like Monroe since perhaps Jean Harlow in the 1930s.

If Monroe had lived longer, we might be looking at Monkey Business as a changing of the guard in Hollywood. However, Monroe would be dead in ten years, her last film being The Misfits (1961). Ginger Rogers’ last film would be Harlow (1965) and Grant’s would be Walk, Don’t Run (1966).

Still, Monroe is the real reason to watch this film, not the proven stars with top-billing. Not a great film, Monkey Business has its moments, but given the director, the writers and the actors involved in the project, it fails to deliver on all of its potential.

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