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Monkey Business (1931 film)

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Title: Monkey Business (1931 film)  
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Subject: Marx Brothers, Duck Soup (1933 film), Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd, Chico Marx
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Monkey Business (1931 film)

Monkey Business
theatrical release poster
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Written by S. J. Perelman
Will B. Johnstone
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Zeppo Marx
Thelma Todd
Music by John Leipold (uncredited)
Cinematography Arthur L. Todd
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • September 19, 1931 (1931-09-19)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Monkey Business is a 1931 American Pre-Code comedy film.[2][3] It is the third of the Marx Brothers' released movies, and the first not to be an adaptation of one of their Broadway shows. The film also stars comedienne Thelma Todd. It is directed by Norman Z. McLeod with screenplay by S. J. Perelman and Will B. Johnstone. The story takes place in large part on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean.


  • Outline 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Songs 3.1
    • Musical numbers 3.2
    • Sequel 3.3
  • Reception and impact 4
  • Awards and honors 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8


On board a ship to America, four stowaways get involuntarily pressed into service as toughs for a pair of feuding gangsters while trying desperately to evade the ship's crew.[4] Prior to this, the film has no real plot, just the brothers causing unending uproar. Except in the credits and in the screenplay, the Brothers' characters have no names in this film. They are referred to simply as "the stowaways". After arriving stateside one of the gangsters kidnaps the other's daughter, leaving it up to the brothers to save the day.[5]

Two famous scenes include all four brothers trying to sneak through a passenger checkpoint by pretending to be Maurice Chevalier, and Harpo's attempt to hide from the authorities by posing as a puppet in a Punch and Judy children's show.[6]



The four Marx Brothers stowing away on an ocean vessel by hiding in barrels in this promotional still for Monkey Business. Left to right: Harpo, Zeppo, Chico, Groucho.

Typical for many Marx Brothers films, production censors demanded changes in some lines with sexual innuendo.[7] Monkey Business was banned in some countries because censors feared it would encourage anarchic tendencies.

This is the first Marx Brothers film not to feature Margaret Dumont: this time their female foil is comedienne Thelma Todd, who would also star in the Marx Brothers' next film, Horse Feathers. A few years after the release of Horse Feathers, Todd died in unexplained circumstances. A line of dialogue in Monkey Business coincidentally seems to foreshadow Todd's death. Alone with Todd in her cabin, Groucho Marx quips: "You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night." In 1935, Todd died in her car inside a garage, apparently from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.[8]

Early on in Monkey Business, the Brothers—playing stowaways concealed in barrels—harmonize unseen while performing the popular song "Sweet Adeline". It is a matter of debate whether Harpo joins in with the singing. (One of the ship's crew asserts to the captain that he knows there are four stowaways because he can hear them singing "Sweet Adeline".) If so, it would be one of only a few times Harpo used speech on screen, as opposed to other vocalizations such as whistling or sneezing. At least one other possible on-screen utterance occurs in the film A Day at the Races (1937), in which Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are heard singing "Down by the Old Mill Stream" in three-part harmony.

This was the first Marx film to be filmed in Hollywood. Their first two films were filmed at Paramount Pictures' Astoria Studios in Queens, New York.

Upon alighting from the ship, the Marx Brothers' real life father (Sam "Frenchie" Marx) is briefly seen in a cameo appearance, sitting on top of luggage behind the Brothers on the pier as they wave to the First Mate.


Chico performs two pieces on the piano, the "Pizzicato" from Sylvia by Léo Delibes, which then morphs into the song "When I Take My Sugar to Tea" written by Sammy Fain, Irving Kahal, and Pierre Norman, in his usual, unique style. Harpo performs "I'm Daffy over You" by Sol Violinsky and Chico. The most famous sequence from this film involves the four brothers attempting to get off the ship using a passport stolen from famous singer (and fellow Paramount star) Maurice Chevalier. Each brother impersonates Chevalier (complete with straw hat) and sings "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" ("If a nightingale could sing like you ...") in turn. This poses a problem for Harpo, who never talks. Yet his rendition is nearly flawless. He is using a hidden phonograph playing a Chevalier record. When the turntable slows down and he has to rewind it, the ruse is uncovered. The dance band at Mary's debut party is playing the song "Ho Hum!" when the Marx Brothers arrive.

Musical numbers


According to TCM's Robert Osborne, a sequel was planned for this film that would continue the mafia theme. During the development of that film, famous aviator Charles Lindbergh's son was kidnapped and killed by gang members. The writers quickly shifted gears, and based the Brothers' next film very loosely on the Marx Brothers' earlier stage show Fun in Hi Skule,[9] which would eventually evolve into Horse Feathers.[10]

Reception and impact

Monkey Business was a box office success,[8] and is considered one of the Marx Brothers' best films.[11] Contemporary reviews were also positive. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote, "Whether it is really as funny as 'Animal Crackers' is a matter of opinion. Suffice it to say that few persons will be able to go to the Rivoli and keep a straight face."[12] Variety's review began, "The usual Marx madhouse and plenty of laughs sprouting from a plot structure resembling one of those California bungalows which sprout up overnight."[2] Film Daily agreed that the plot was "flimsy", but also found the film "crammed all the way with laughs and there's never a dead spot."[13] John Mosher of The New Yorker thought the film was "the best this family has given us."[14]

The film was evidently based on two routines the Marx Brothers did during their early days in vaudeville (Home Again and Mr. Green's Reception), along with a story idea from one of Groucho's friends, Bert Granet, called The Seas Are Wet.[8][10] The passport scene is a reworking of a stage sketch in which the brothers burst into a theatrical agent's office auditioning an impersonation of a current big star. It appeared in their stage shows On the Mezzanine Floor and I'll Say She Is (1924). This skit was also done by the Marxes in the Paramount promotional film The House That Shadows Built (1931).

The concept of the Marx Brothers being stowaways on a ship would be repeated in an episode of their radio series Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel (1933) in the episode "The False Roderick" and would also be recycled in their later MGM film A Night at the Opera (1935).[15] Also, the essence of Groucho's joke, "Sure, I'm a doctor—where's the horse?" would serve as an integral element for their later MGM movie A Day at the Races (1937). Also, the uproarious medical examination that Harpo and Chico give opera singer Madame Swempski (Cecil Cunningham) would later be repeated in A Day at the Races.

Awards and honors

American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. ^ Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 1418.  
  2. ^ a b "Film Reviews".  
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; October 17, 1931, page 167.
  4. ^ trivia at the Internet Movie Database.Monkey Business
  5. ^ at the Internet Movie DatabaseMonkey BusinessPlot summary of
  6. ^ The Marx Brothers Silver Screen CollectionReview of
  7. ^ Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  8. ^ a b c  
  9. ^ Dirks, Tim. """Movie Review: "Horse Feathers.  
  10. ^ a b "Horse Feathers". Marxology. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  11. ^ Griffin, Danel. Monkey BusinessMovie Review: . Film as Art. University of Alaska Southeast. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  12. ^  
  13. ^ "Monkey Business".  
  14. ^  
  15. ^ trivia at the Internet Movie Database.A Night at the Opera

External links

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