Monkey Business (1952) – A Review


A review of the 1952 screwball comedy Monkey Business starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe, directed by Howard Hawks

Monkey Business Cary Grant Marilyn Monroe

Director Howard Hawks and Cary Grant teamed up to make five films during their careers – Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday, I Was A Male War Bride (1940), (1949) and their final collaboration 1952’s Monkey Business.

Grant plays Dr. Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded professor-type of scientist who is attempting to create a fountain of youth pill. Completely stuck and discouraged, his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) has confidence in his talents, even if searching for the solution to the elusive ingredients makes his mind ridiculously preoccupied. His boss Charles Coburn is very eager for a successful youth potion.

Unbeknownst to Barnaby, a monkey back at his lab is playing scientist and happens to mix all the right ingredients in the right amounts to make this seemingly impossible formula work! As is typical with screwball comedies, there are some mixups and Barnaby drinks the formula and what do you know, he starts acting like an energized teenager.

Monkey Business 1952 Cary Grant Marilyn MonroeThe plot of the movie is pretty thin. It’s almost a storyline from a forgettable sitcom. It’s certainly not as good as Hawks’ Baby or Friday, but I did find it mildly entertaining for a period of time. That was mainly due to Grant and co-star Marilyn Monroe.

As Barnaby begins acting young and carefree Monroe’s secretary Lois Laurel tags along with him. She swoons, is puzzled and frightened by his behavior. It’s a fun collection of scenes as Grant tries to rollerskate, drives a sportscar and attempts a high dive. That was probably my favorite as the fearless Barnaby yells down to Lois, “Is everyone watching me?” and the camera cuts to all the men staring at Monroe standing poolside in her bathing suit.

Barnaby hanging out with the sexy Lois is the closest the movie gets to some sexual tension, out of hand misunderstandings and possible repercussions from his wife when she finds out what he’s been up to. Unfortunately, that’s dropped and the most we get is Grant getting an up close view of Monroe’s leg.

Monkey Business 1952 Marilyn Monroe bathing suit pool
Marilyn by the pool

After the formula wears off on Barnaby that’s when Edwina drinks some and Rogers gets to misbehave for an evening adventure with her husband on a second honeymoon. Then finally both of them inadvertently drink it together.

It all starts to become a bit tedious and never really results in a laugh riot. Despite the intriguing idea of the more they drink the younger they’ll act, it doesn’t payoff in making things any more funny than it was the first time around.

At times their conduct doesn’t seem as though they drank a fountain of youth formula, but more like they’re just drunk. The escalation of wacky antics and confusion doesn’t build to any fun conclusions. Like I said, it’s a thin plot and unfortunately the film can’t think of anywhere to go with it.

For the first thirty or so minutes it’s mildly entertaining. Grant is always fun to watch and he does some cool acrobatics and is his usual charming self. Monroe looks absolutely dynamite. The monkey co-stars are convincing. After that the movie like the formula wears off.


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