It takes about seventeen minutes for Monkey Business to start. The first seventeen minutes are the Brothers running around a cruise ship, on the run from the ship’s officers. In those seventeen minutes–about a fifth of the picture–they manage to get in a number of gags, including Zeppo discreetly laying the groundwork for his romance with Ruth Hall, and play some music for a minute. Director McLeod choreographs it all beautifully.
Then Harry Woods and Thelma Todd show up–as cruise ship passengers–and the “plot” starts. Woods is a two-bit gangster after a now retired, but successful, gangster’s empire. Rockliffe Fellowes plays the retired gangster (and Hall plays his daughter–see how it all comes together?).
For another twenty minutes or so, the Brothers interact with the gangsters in various combinations, while Chico and Harpo wreck their usual havoc on ship. Groucho is, of course, far more concerned with romancing Todd away from her husband.
All of a sudden, with a half hour left, Business changes gears once again. The cruise ship has docked and the passengers are disembarking. There are some great gags here with the Brothers trying to get through customs before the story returns to the gangster angle.
Business gets a little long towards the end, with Chico and Harpo’s musical interludes awkwardly inserted (even though they’re wondrous to see and hear), but the finale’s outstanding.
Monkey Business is great. Zeppo as the romantic lead makes up for a forgotten subplot or two.
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod; written by S.J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone and Arthur Sheekman; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Groucho Marx (Groucho), Harpo Marx (Harpo), Chico Marx (Chico), Zeppo Marx (Zeppo), Rockliffe Fellowes (J.J. ‘Big Joe’ Helton), Harry Woods (Alky Briggs), Thelma Todd (Lucille Briggs), Ruth Hall (Mary Helton), Tom Kennedy (First Mate Gibson), Cecil Cunningham (Madame Swempski) and Ben Taggart (Capt. Corcoran).