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Monkey Business (1931)
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by MP Bartley

"Even genius takes the occasional day off."
3 stars

Ordinarily, this would be four-star movie every time. It's inventive, with some great one-liners and when are the Marx brothers anything less than watchable? It beats anything Steve Martin has done in the last ten years into a hat. But by their own high, towering standards, 'Monkey Business' is sadly far from their best.

'Monkey Business' is the one otherwise known as 'the one on the boat'. The Marx brothers (all playing characters with their own names) are stowaways, and cause chaos on the ocean liner before getting mixed up with gangsters and wrecking a high society ball.

It's a set-up just ripe for their own brand of anarchy, but it unfortunately limits them instead of giving them free range to do whatever they want. The Marx brothers are always at their best when they're not constricted by the plot and can just run amok throughout the film, but this isn't the case here unfortunately.

The plot is too constrictive on them and strangles a little bit of life out of them, meaning 'Monkey Business' is that rare thing indeed: a Marx brothers film that has dull patches. The gangster storyline (they become bodyguards in a running battle between two rival gangsters) is full of potential but never fully comes off and just gets in the way instead. It's as if director McLeod didn't have the full confidence in the brothers to carry the film and so insisted on hampering their style with an overly fussy plot.

Put it this way, Zeppo has almost as much screen and plot time as Groucho. And that is never a good thing. Chico and Harpo seem unusually subdued too, with only a practice punching moment being anywhere near their best.

But for as much as the first forty minutes may be dull, the last forty are much brighter, much sparkier and much funnier. 'Monkey Business' really kicks into gear when the Marx brothers are trying to sneak off the boat and past passport control. From there on in, it's pretty much classic Marx brothers tomfoolery as the lecherous Groucho proceeds to devastate everything he comes into touch with. It's just a shame that it's such a wait to get there.

There are the odd classic moments, the occasional brilliant line (You call this a party? The beer is warm, the women cold and I'm hot under the collar.), and enough flashes of genius to justify their legendary status. But deep down you know it's a long way behind 'Duck Soup' or 'Horse Feathers'.

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originally posted: 03/02/05 23:10:45
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User Comments

2/03/10 Dr.Lao Worth renting for the "Maurice Chevalier: scene alone 5 stars
7/07/05 John MacKendrick Zeppo Gets the girl! 5 stars
11/08/04 sbpat21 not the best effort of Marx Brothers 4 stars
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  DVD: 09-Nov-2004



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