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November 11th, 2011 - Yew Erdri Ming

About November 11th, 2011

Business Between Primates 04:36 pm


It was good to be Cary Grant. The man who began his career playing opposite Mae West and afterwards wooed onscreen both the famous Hepburns, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr, and here, of course, Marilyn Monroe in Howard Hawks' Monkey Business. And it never really seems to go to his head. The guy's better than James Bond, because not only does he always keep his cool, he never really seems misogynistic and you get the impression he smiles with his leading women rather than at them.

Yet at the beginning of the film I started to think about how Grant may have been slowing down by 1952. Monkey Business is a screwball comedy, similar in tone and pace to other Howard Hawks directed screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday(1940), both of which starred a more manic Cary Grant than we see at the beginning of Monkey Business. The 1952 film at first shows a Grant more like the genially bothered and put upon gentleman from To Catch a Thief (1955) or Charade (1963). But he suddenly manages to seem like his 1930s self again when the plot point about the rejuvenating youth potion sets in. It almost seemed like a commentary by Grant on his own evolution as a performer.

Monkey Business I think could be described as a Science Fiction comedy because of this plot--Grant plays a chemist who's under contract to create a formula that restores youth in some way. In a scene I actually found somewhat chilling, one of the chimpanzees he'd been experimenting on steals out of her cage and concocts a potion that actually works and then dumps it into the water cooler leading to the rest of the movie concerning the titular business. I guess it might have been more appropriately called Ape Business but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it.



We watch the chimpanzee mixing the formula in a long, quiet, unbroken take and, maybe it's just me, but I thought it was a bit unnerving. I know the fellow was trained and maybe guided from off-screen, but you can see in her eyes she's thinking about what she's doing. She even seems to get upset when she accidentally dumps part of the contents of one tube outside the destination beaker. Grant, Monroe, and co-stars Charles Coburn and Ginger Rogers all behave around chimpanzee quite comfortably but I kept thinking of the woman who recently had her face torn off by one. How much faith was placed in chimp grace.



Ginger Rogers is good though not as cute as she was in the 1930s. It was kind of exciting seeing her dance a little bit, and her age made her appropriate for the plot about older people acting much younger than their age, but, as Peter Bogdanovich apparently observed, it would've been nice to see Monroe as the female lead opposite Grant. Though I'd wonder if he'd have the patience for her, since he didn't want to do A Star is Born because of Judy Garland's unreliability, though I doubt Monroe could've been as far down that road in 1952. Jeez, what a business.



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