Monkey Business

Monkey Business. Twentieth Century Fox 1952.
Monkey Business. Twentieth Century Fox 1952.

Before watching the movie:

Here’s another that I found rattling around my automated recommendations, having never heard of it before The log line for this movie goes something like “a scientist discovers the fountain of youth, and a screwball comedy ensues”. It looks like there’s a love triangle, and there’s probably some dispute over who gets control over the youth serum, but I’m fairly clueless about it otherwise. Maybe it’s a bit like The Man in the White Suit?

I often think about how I’d like to watch a movie without knowing anything other than the genre, the cast, and the title, if that. But while it’s nice to watch a movie without preconceptions, it’s not as enjoyable to write about a lack of them.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Cary Grant handle witty screwball dialogue well before, but I don’t think I know Ginger Rogers as anything but Fred Astaire’s dancing partner, which now occurs to me as almost certainly unfair to her.

After watching the movie:

Dr. Barnaby Fulton is a somewhat dull and absent-minded middle-aged scientist working on a rejuvenating formula for the pharmaceutical company he’s employed by. He and his wife Edwina love each other, but both are somewhat concerned by how stale their marriage has gotten. One of the chimps he’s experimenting on escapes and mixes random compounds into the lab water cooler, just when Fulton is about to try a breakthrough idea on his own formula and test it on himself. He swiftly finds his thick glasses no longer necessary, his body invigorated, and his attitude that of a thrill-seeking college student. When the effects wear off, he asks his wife to observe him as he tries a larger dose, only for her to take it herself. Barnaby finds himself chaperoning his wife in a mental state equivalent to no more than her early teens.

Grant and Rogers are almost playing multiple characters. I can somewhat see the older versions in each of their first regressions, though the younger they get, the less it seems like they’re playing younger versions of the same character than like they’re doing stock “adult playing a child” characters that actually feel halfway between “child” and “drunk” (and I’ve seen this kind of performance used to play drunk).

It’s entirely farce, so it’s forgivable when it leads to funny or interesting scenes, but as the movie goes on, each sequence feels increasingly overlong. Especially the sequence where Barnaby joins a band of boys playing Indians and the movie spends quite a while on developing a war chant and dance with them, which would be fatiguing even if it wasn’t of an outdated sensitivity.

Don’t be fooled by some modern packaging. Marylin Monroe has a very minor role in this movie, even though it may be the main thing it’s remembered for anymore. She’s a young secretary whose biggest contribution is getting swept up in Barnaby’s initial sophomoric regression, barely able to keep up with him. There’s a slight jealousy from Edwina about her involvement, and jealousy from Barnaby about something similar between Edwina and her old boyfriend/their current lawyer, but nobody ever connects them, leaving the threads apparently hanging loose.

The conceit of the story is used for some musing about the benefits of youth vs. age, but mostly it’s just about watching adults act like children and create messes they’re left to clean up when the effects wear off, which is pretty much the kind of fun I was looking for. I would have preferred more of the golden years of young adulthood moments and less of the childish brats part, but it was still an enjoyable bit of silliness.

One thought on “Monkey Business

  1. Valerie March 20, 2015 / 9:46 am

    Sounds like you have the germ of an idea for your own movie. Go for it!

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