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arts / rec.arts.sf.movies / MONKEY BUSINESS (1952) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)

o MONKEY BUSINESS (1952) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)Mark Leeper

MONKEY BUSINESS (1952) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)


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Subject: MONKEY BUSINESS (1952) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)
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 by: Mark Leeper - Tue, 30 Nov 2021 14:31 UTC

At least for the record Howard Hawks did not direct THE THING FROM
ANOTHER WORLD, though he certainly did contribute to the creative
process of that film. But a year after that film was made Hawks
really did direct a science fiction film. It is not remembered
like THE THING, but that is because it was really not intended for
a science fiction audience. The film was a comedy with Cary Grant
and Ginger Rogers. It was a somewhat half-hearted film at that,
neither good science fiction nor good comedy. Even if it was
Christian Nyby who directed THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, that film
better represents the best of Hawks, and not MONKEY BUSINESS.

Cary Grant plays the absent-minded Professor Barnaby Fulton and
Ginger Rogers plays his wife Edwina. As the film opens they are on
the way to a party. But before he can leave Barnaby gets involved
thinking about a problem he is having with an (as yet) unexplained
formula he is trying to develop for Oxley, the chemical company for
which he works. Edwina humors him and fixes him a hot bowl of
soup. This gives Barnaby the idea he thinks he needs to use with
his formula-he has to heat it. Too late to go to the party at
least his mind is off of his problem. He has a romantic evening
home alone with Edwina rather than going to the party. Having
romantic evenings when they are expected at parties is a continuing
theme of this film.

The next morning at the office at Oxley Chemical we learn a little
more about the formula. His boss Oxley (Charles Coburn) is waiting
on his results and wants to call it B4. As we learn what he is
working on is a rejuvenating formula, a sort of chemical fountain
of youth. Almost immediately it seems that he has it. An elderly
experimental chimpanzee is acting like a baby again. Barnaby and
Oxley go to see and are impressed until Barnaby notices the
chimpanzee really is another chimpanzee entirely, a young
experimental subject. An accidental clothing switch has led to its
being mis-identified. Disappointed Barnaby goes back to work on
the formula. But when he is out of the room the playful young ape
escapes again and starts mixing chemicals. The chemicals end up in
the water cooler. Barnaby is ready to try his formula on himself
in what should be a safe dosage. The drug is bitter, however, and
he takes water from the water cooler with it, getting some of the
chemical that the ape mixed up-which just happens to be the right

Barnaby starts getting an odd reaction all over his body, but then
he identifies it as feeling younger. He starts feeling like a
twenty-year-old. He finds he cannot be serious talking on the
telephone. He leaves the lab by a window and goes out to get a
younger haircut, a flashy jacket and pants, and a sport car. Oxley
has sent out his sexy secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe) out to find
him. She finds him buying the car and joins him. He takes her out
in the car and soon plows it into a truck. He leaves the car at a
body shop and takes Lois out roller-skating, swimming, and for a
general good time. At then end of the afternoon they pick up the
car again.

Driving back to the lab Barnaby finds that he is reverting to his
older self as the effect wears off. Again he wreaks the car.
Edwina comes to find him as the lab and finds him resting up. He
tells her about his adventures. She is a little suspicious of the
lipstick on Barnaby's face, but is trusting enough. Barnaby tells
her he has discovered his formula and it is a success. Barnaby is
ready to try the formula again that same evening, but Edwina is not
so trusting of her husband after all. She gets to it first and
drinks it with water from the water cooler. After a few minutes it
is her who is acting like a twenty-year-old. She insists that
Barnaby take her to the hotel where they honeymooned. They even
get the bridal suite. There is a dance floor and a band playing in
the hotel and though it is now 11pm after a hard day they go out on
the dance floor where Edwina dances like Ginger Rogers. From there
it is up to the room.

What starts like a romantic interlude is even more like the first
night of a honeymoon. Suddenly Edwina gets cold feet and ends up
locking Barnaby outside the room in his pajamas (without the
drawstring) and without his glasses. Barnaby ends up spending the
night in the hotel laundry. Next morning Edwina is back to normal
and takes Barnaby home, still in his pajamas. There Edwina's
lawyer and her mother, called by Edwina under the influence of the
formula, are waiting to castigate Barnaby.

Barnaby and Edwina return to the lab. The whole experience has
been an eye-opener to him. He is ready to destroy the formula.
But he still does not know the real formula is in the water cooler.
Edwina makes coffee using water cooler water and the two of them
are acting like children. Meanwhile the Board of Directors of
Oxley Chemical knows the formula does not work and assume that
there is an ingredient missing in Barnaby's recipe. However,
coaxing a non-existent ingredient from a young child is more
difficult than they had realized. Together Barnaby and Edwina
wreak havoc through the neighborhood just acting like children.
Barnaby uses some neighborhood children to have revenge on his
wife's old boy friend.

There are the expected comical mix-ups including Edwina finding a
young child and thinking that it is Barnaby. While the Board of
Directors of Oxley Chemical are waiting for the formula to wear off
the infant the board all drinks for the tainted water cooler and
are all reduced to children. Finally all problems are resolved and
Barnaby concludes that you are young if you feel young.

If this is science fiction, and it is by virtue of a technicality,
it really is more the feel of a fantasy film. I do not think
anybody writing the film seriously wanted to look at the human
effect of the aging process and the affect it would have on society
if it could be turned back. If the film had been made ten years
earlier it would have used magic rather than science.

This is a film made for a few minutes diversion, but no thought of
any great depth. It is the cinematic equivalent to playing
solitaire. In spite of itself there is some serious content to the
film, though it is easily overlooked. It suggests, somewhat
complacently that youth is not as good as we like to think. Youth
is associated in this film with superficiality. Basically it is a
film made for adults that pokes fun at the behavior of young
people. These days with young people going to digitized theaters,
films are more likely to make fun of mature adults.

The film tells us there is nothing that a youth drug can do for you
that cannot be better done by just getting in the proper frame of
mind. Youth is not wasted on the young, but it would waste anyone
else. "You are old only when you forget you are young," Grant
tells his wife.

Of course the only way to put a happy ending on this film is to
have people accept their aging and look on it as if it is a good
thing. The film is somewhat contrived for this ending. Of course
that is not all that is contrived. The chimpanzee is over-trained
and behaves like no chimp ever would. This is chimpanzee behavior
from the Tarzan school of animal acting. The adult imitations of
child behavior are equally unconvincing. The script is mediocre in
most regards. It is a Fifties film so it could not be explicit
about sex, nor would that have fit well into the period, but there
is plenty of sexual innuendo in the dialog without actually saying
anything overt. Presumably that was part of the art of script
writing at the time.

It makes the film a little more interesting is the reprise of two
actors familiar from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Douglas Spencer
who played Scotty and Robert Cornthwaite who played Carrington are
two of the chemists at Oxley. It is not enough to salvage the film
and their roles are quite small, but it is still a minor reward.

I would give MONKEY BUSINESS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:

Mark R. Leeper

arts / rec.arts.sf.movies / MONKEY BUSINESS (1952) (a film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)


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