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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Monkey Business
Monkey Business
Fox // Unrated // May 14, 2002
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by D.K. Holm | posted May 2, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Fox Home Entertainment is pulling a trick on its customers, but it is a most enjoyable trick. The distributor has released Monkey Business as part of its second edition of the Marilyn Monroe Diamond collection. MM's image appears on the box cover, which is uniform with the set, and on the menus. However, Monkey Business is not really a Monroe film in the conventional sense. It is really a Howard Hawks comedy with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. Released in 1952, the film plays host to Monroe in only about 15 minutes of screen time. She's billed fourth, after Grant, Rogers, and Charles Coburn, but her role is that of a typical dumb blond secretary.

Which is all well and good, for we are happy to have an addition to our Howard Hawks collection under whatever circumstances. In his comedies, Hawks often flirted with the decline of civilization and the lure of infantilism, and that's what he does here. The plot concerns a scientist named Barnaby Fulton (Grant). An absent minded professor in the Bringing Up Baby mode, Fulton is now married, to Edwina (Rogers), a smilingly tolerant wife. Fulton is charged by his boss Oxley (Coburn) to find a youth tonic, and in his lab an escaped monkey actually brews by accident the very notion they are searching for (42 monkeys did not type the screenplay however—that task fell to Hawks standbys Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, with an assist from newcomer I. A. L. Diamond, later to partner with Billy Wilder). What ensues is hilarity as first Grant regresses to his college are, and then both he and Rogers revert to childhood, when accidentally taking the potion (which for complicated reasons is in the water dispenser). But what they become is not just their younger selves; they become selves they never really were: irresponsibly, hedonistic, selfish (as Robin Wood has pointed out in his definitive essay on the film). In the end, after Oxley's board regresses, and Fulton revenges himself on a rival for his wife's affections (Hugh Marlowe), everyone reverts back to normal, and Fulton realizes with weary sobriety that maturity is better than childishness.

Monkey Business finds Hawks in a rather lethargic mode. Though the film is an obvious attempt at screwball comedy in the '30s mode, the pace makes it feel more like a slow-take, slow-burn George Stevens film, such as Woman of the Year). The whole first 15 minutes of Monkey Business is very stagy and slow-paced. While setting up characters and situations, it is also rather low energy and actually comes across rather odd: you don't know if Fulton is absent minded or senile.

In a way, Monkey Business is a Monroe movie, but it's a scary Monroe. Her breasts jut out like KC Headlighters. They terrify anyone who comes under their fierce rays. Women like this in '50s movies are more frightening than alluring, and fortunately in later films Monroe was softened up. By the way, look for Roger Moore in a very small role.


The DVD

VIDEO: As with other discs in its Diamond Collection, Monkey Business has been restored and looks good. According to the disc, a new wet gate print (this reviewer isn't sure what that is) was struck from the original camera negative, with additional repairs, and a fine grain master positive was made from that. It's a black and white, 1.33:1 full frame image. There are still a few nicks and scratches here and there, but nothing distracting. The blacks are deep and rich. It's not the most distinguished black and white photography you are ever going to see (the cinematographer was Milton Krasner), but effective for this form of comedy.

SOUND: Sound options are limited for a film 50 years old: English Dolby Digital stereo, English two channel mono (which sounds tinny), and French mono (the French version of Cary Grant sounds more like Alfred Hitchcock). There are English and Spanish subtitles.

MENUS: A static, silent menu offers 20 chapter scene selection for this 97 minute movie.

PACKAGING: Monkey Business comes in a keep case whose cover art is consistent with other boxes in the Diamond Collection, rather soft color or colorized multiple images of Monroe. The label on the disc borrows the photo of Monroe in a black one piece bathing suit from the box cover.

EXTRAS: Besides scene selection and sound and subtitle options, the disc offers the trailers for this film, Let's Make Love, Don't Bother to Knock, Niagara, and River of No Return. There's a general Diamond Collection commercial, a brief restoration demonstration that shows two brief moments in split screen, and 19 image stills gallery, not in chronological order.

Final Thoughts: Monkey Business is one of Hawks's weirder, and therefore more interesting films, but not as funny as it could be, and sluggish in pace. The excellent image makes up for the modicum of supplements.


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