Universal // 1931 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // June 12th, 2011
"I was going to bring along the wife and kiddies, but the grocer couldn't spare another barrel." -- Groucho Marx
Monkey Business is a little different from the two other Marx Brothers movies that I've screened recently for DVD Verdict. How so? Zeppo gets a little bit to do. Zeppo Marx was a perfectly normal, charming guy with leading man looks and personality, which was a major liability for a Marx Brother. He made appearances in Duck Soup and Animal Crackers, but there wasn't much to say about him in either film. In Monkey Business, Zeppo plays the romantic lead, courting the daughter of a racketeer.
Zeppo only appeared in five Marx movies; IMDb says he went on to develop a pulse rate-checking watch and a company of his made a piece of the A-bomb.
Viewers will also get a look at Thelma Todd, who plays a mobster's moll who fancies Groucho. About four years after appearing here, she died mysteriously -- and young.
Four cruise ship stowaways sing "Sweet Adeline" while hiding in herring barrels, attracting the attention of the captain and crew. Hiding out, they end up encountering rival gangsters -- with Groucho and Zeppo ordered to try a hit, but discovering that Harpo and Chico are their target's bodyguards. Back stateside, Zeppo is invited to a party for a gangster's beautiful daughter, and some uninvited would-be kidnappers threaten to spoil the fun.
Everyone knows the Marx Brothers are pretty much the Marx Brothers, so the characters don't get names; Groucho identifies himself as "the fellow who talks so much" when asked his name. They reveal their characters as they flee the captain and crew on the cruise ship: Groucho and Chico lock the captain in his closet to steal his lunch, and then grab food while running around his table after being caught; Harpo poses as a puppet in a Punch and Judy show; and Zeppo blends into the crowd by introducing himself to Mary, a mobster's sweet daughter.
Zeppo Marx actually makes a decent, but bland, romantic lead, even getting to stage a real fistfight in the final reel to save his girlfriend -- although brother Groucho steals the show even then with a mock radio commentary. He also gets to croon like Maurice Chevalier while posing as the singer to get off the cruise ship, showing off his voice talent.
What's actually surprising is sarcastic Groucho's romantic subplot. He finds rapport with gangster moll Lucille instantly -- so much so that they do a romantic dance around a small ship stateroom -- but turns out to be more of a sounding board and friend than an adulterer. Even though he's the most famous Marx, Groucho might be the one who was underestimated as an actor for his role in the team.
The picture has occasional signs of age, with the flecks and lines you'd expect from a 1931 black-and-white movie. There isn't even a trailer with this one, so it's probably lost.
The screen time given to Zeppo seems to have been taken away from Chico and Harpo, so some fans might be disappointed. They get to cut up (bloodlessly, thankfully) in a barber shop, and Harpo gets to chase women -- and his lost pet frog.
Monkey Business made AFI's "100 Years...100 Laughs" list. Ironically, it's about as restrained as the Marx Brothers get, giving screen time to Zeppo, the romantic lead of the team and softening Groucho's character just a bit. However, a relatively calm trip with the Marx Brothers shows just how twisted their humor is. What other comedy team could create a world that leaves you feeling sorry for Zeppo Marx for being...normal? Thus, in a way, fans could find this relatively unmemorable Marx Brothers film the most memorable of the recent slate of releases. If you're looking for a complete cinematic sample of the Marxes, pick up this one and Duck Soup.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1931
MPAA Rating: Not Rated