A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Monkey Business is all about the silliness, and mature content is at a minimum. At one point Groucho tries to cultivate an affair with a married woman, and there's a slapsticky fistfight at the movie's climax. Some of the jokes deal with topics and people -- especially French crooner Maurice Chevalier -- better known in the 1930s. This film is not to be confused with another comedy from Hollywood's black-and-white era, 1951's Monkey Business with Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, and Marilyn Monroe
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What's the story?
The filmmakers didn't even both assigning character names to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo this time. They're "the stowaways," four brazen, bizarre freeloaders, first seen hiding in barrels on a luxury cruise ship from the angry captain and crew. They get in the midst of some kind of feud between a shady businessman and a mob boss. Zeppo (mostly the straight man/action hero) romances the businessman's daughter, while the remaining Marxes hire themselves out as bodyguards to both sides. Groucho, in a great bit of double-talk, offers to be both the mobster's bodyguard and his attacker; any other way, he argues logically, is 50 percent waste. Once the ship arrives, the comics sneak off and later wrap things up with a confrontation at a costume party and debutante ball.
Is it any good?
Nearly as loosely plotted as you can get, MONKEY BUSINESS is a rambunctious outing for the Marx Brothers in their prime. It was the first Marx Brothers comedy to be written directly for the screen -- not an adapted stage show like Animal Crackers -- that looks like it could have been shot in one long take through a security camera. This is fluid and fun, with some bits that could only have worked due to cinematography and editing (the mute Harpo "singing" like Maurice Chevalier thanks to a full-size record player secretly strapped to his back), even if the storyline is nothing but a weak bridge from one Marx bit to another.
This is zany stuff, with only a few slow spots during the musical numbers (a chronic ailment in Marx movies). Monkey Business and its follow-up Horse Feathers are probably the most a lot of young viewers will get to see of Thelma Todd, a sexy and funny comedic actress (the "vamping Venus") of the 1930s, who holds her own against Groucho -- not an easy feat -- in her role as the gangster's restless wife (Todd died mysteriously at age 29, in what may have been suicide or a mob-connected murder, still one of Hollywood's most tantalizing unsolved mysteries).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of the Marx Brothers. Who is the funniest? How are their approaches to comedy different? How do they stack up next to the Three Stooges? Or Laurel and Hardy? Or Abbott and Costello, among other favorites of old-school comedians? How about kid comedy favorites of today?
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