Monkey Business (1952)

I adore Cary Grant, and Ginger Rogers? Yessir! Unfortunately, the last Cary Grant-Ginger Rogers flick I watched was the somewhat incoherent Once Upon a Honeymoon: a major disappointment, since it couldn’t seem to figure out whether it wanted to be a war movie, a comedy, a romance, or what. Monkey Business, on the other hand, was very watchable and loads of fun. Farce, true; and definitely slapstick in a lot of places, but good for a lot of laughs. And it has a luscious Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe in Monkey Business

Dr Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) is an absent-minded scientist, an employee at the Oxly Chemical Company. He’s married to the ever-patient and sweet Edwina (Ginger Rogers), who had, seven years earlier, turned down lawyer Hank Entwhistle (Hugh Marlowe) and defied her mother in order to wed Barnaby. They’re happily married, and love each other a lot—enough, in fact, for Edwina to forgive Barnaby for having forgotten they’re going out dancing just as they’re leaving home.

Barnaby and Edwina

It turns out Barnaby’s preoccupied with work. He’s been working on a formula that’ll reverse aging and bring back lost youth—at least that’s what Barnaby’s boss, Mr Oxly (Charles Coburn), thinks. Barnaby’s more realistic—especially as he hasn’t completely figured out the formula yet. At dinner, Barnaby has a sudden brainwave that heating the formula may do the trick, so the next morning at work, along with his assistant, he gets down to work.
[Aside: Bollyviewer may not think very highly of this lab, but it reminded me uncannily of the chemistry lab in my school when I was a kid.]

Barnaby at the lab

The two men leave the lab to heat part of the formula, chill another part, and so on. While they’re gone, one of their lab specimens—a six-month old chimpanzee called Esther—breaks out of her cage. She plonks herself down at one of the tables, and surrounded by all those lovely beakers and jars and pipettes and whatnot, decides to try her hand at mixing up a cocktail.

Esther at work

It doesn’t appeal to her much, so she wanders over to the water cooler—left uncovered by the janitor, who’s gone to get a fresh bottle of water—and empties all of it in. When the janitor returns, he doesn’t realise anything’s wrong, and after replenishing the water cooler, he locks Esther up again. Shortly after, Barnaby and his assistant return, and Barnaby, in the interests of science, decides to test the formula on himself. It’s a bitter brew, so he washes it down with a swig of water from the cooler.

Barnaby drinks the formula

The results are astounding. Barnaby’s blind as a bat at the best of times, but suddenly his vision turns 20/20. His aches and pains are gone, he turns cartwheels, and his sense of humour turns uncomfortably juvenile. As per Edwina’s instructions, he goes off to get a haircut—a short crop—and buys a loud (for 1952!) jacket.

Barnaby's new haircut - and jacket

Meanwhile, Mr Oxly sends off his airhead of a secretary, Miss Laurel (Marilyn Monroe), to look for Barnaby. She discovers him buying a swish new car, and is persuaded to come along for a spin. They spend the next few hours together, with Barnaby urging Miss Laurel on to everything he wants to do: rollerskating, swan diving, and driving at crazy speeds. Miss Laurel’s quite charmed by Barnaby’s antics and is quite put out when she discovers he’s married.

Barnaby and Miss Laurel beating it up

When the effects of the formula begin wearing off, Barnaby starts getting sleepy and returns to the lab to snooze. Later that evening, Edwina (having heard he’s back), comes along with a hamper of food. Barnaby narrates everything to her, and says he’s going to try it again, this time with double the dose. Edwina doesn’t think Barnaby should be dosing himself—since he’s the scientist, he should be observing the effects on a test specimen. The long and short of it is that Edwina glugs down the formula, and (because it’s so bitter), follows it with a glass of water from the cooler.

Edwina drinks the formula

And we all know what happens next. Edwina gets all cheery, clapping and dancing (yes, well: what did you expect with Ginger Rogers?), and even drops a goldfish down Mr Oxly’s trousers. Finally, she pesters Barnaby into taking her back to the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. It’s a long drive, and they reach near midnight, but Edwina’s all pepped up and wants to dance, even though Barnaby nearly falls asleep in the process.

Goin' dancin'!

Back in their room, Edwina’s coy, playful and truculent by turn. She finally blows up at Barnaby, tells him she should’ve married Hank instead, and then pushes him out, breaking his glasses in the bargain. Barnaby has a hard time fumbling his way through the hotel, and when a now-recovered Edwina finds him in the morning, he’s sleepy and upset.
When they get home, Barnaby gets even more upset—because Edwina’s mother’s there, raving and ranting. And so is Hank, whom Edwina phoned last night, asking for help with a divorce.

Mother, Edwina, Barnaby and Hank

By the time all that gets sorted out, Barnaby’s convinced about one thing: the formula’s not worth it.
Edwina accompanies him back to the lab, where he tears up his research notes. They’re both feeling pretty frazzled by this time, so Edwina makes them a big batch of coffee. And guess where the water comes from? And guess how many cups of coffee each of them has? And guess what happens next? Ha-ha!

What I liked about this film:
It’s plenty of fun: the type of film I like to watch at the end of a hard day to get the kinks out of my system.
Cary Grant. That man was so good at comedy. Arsenic and Old Lace is still my favourite, but this one’s a gem too.

What I didn’t like:
Some of the scenes—the fight with the paint, for instance—go enough over the top to be a little tedious. Funny, I guess, but all that got out of me was a pained smile.


2 thoughts on “Monkey Business (1952)

  1. Once Upon A Honeymoon was bad? I was so sorry to have missed it the last couple of times it played on TCM. :-( Guess its just as well…

    This one was awesome. Cary Grant should have been debarred from doing anything but comedy (I love Arsenic… too, but my absolute Cary-favorite is Charade which isnt really a comedy but is such fun)! And Ginger Rogers is so good. I used to avoid her like the plague because I thought Fred Astaire would turn up in all her movies (until Bachelor Mother changed it)! Do Cary-Ginger have any more movies together?

    And I think the Chemistry lab for monkey experiments was absolutely essential to the plot and shouldnt have been compromised for reality! ;-)


  2. Oh, yes, Once Upon a Honeymoon was not good at all. I love war movies, I adore romances, and I love comedy – and if they’re judiciously fitted together in a plot…well, then – bliss! But this one was pretty awful, because it sort of jumped from one element to another, also bringing in more serious elements like the Holocaust along the way. Not worth a watch.

    I don’t think Grant and Rogers did any other movies together; I wish they had… I like both of them so much! (and yes, I have to admit, I don’t usually watch her movies with Fred Astaire. Okay, he could dance, but that was about it, as far as I’m concerned). Give me Cary Grant any day!


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