(directed by Howard Hawks, 1952)
***** (out of 5)
> After last month’s heavy focus on catching up with classic titles I had missed, I’m becoming addicted to them. When I realized I had yet to see this Howard Hawks-Cary Grant-Ginger Rogers-Marilyn Monroe screwball classic, I moved it to the top of the queue, and I was not in the least disappointed.
. The ever-charming Mr. Grant does his best absent-minded professor routine, opposite Ms. Rogers as his patient, loving wife who seems to handle and caretake him expertly. A brilliant eccentric, he stumbles upon a compound that makes the user feel young again for a limited time- but only if they drink the catalyst, made and mixed into the drinking water by an errant lab monkey when no one was looking! It’s a crazy set-up, delivered with wit and grace by celebrated screenwriter Ben Hecht and his team, and directed with a light, deft touch by the expert director. Under the influence of the drug, it’s fun to watch these stars regress from their adult selves, into the people they were in their childhoods. Ginger Rogers is particularly good in this transformation. (Watch as she places a cocktail on her forehead and then gracefully lowers herself to the floor, then rises steadily back to her feet, without spilling a drop.) As an added treat, Marilyn Monroe does her usual dumb-bunny secretary thing, with a kind of sad sympathy.
. It all works here, from the impeccably timed slapstick to the clever wordplay, the characterizations sparkle, the situations delight. In one wonderful segment, Ginger awakens from her joyride into youth, to find a stray baby a neighbor was supposed to be watching, laying naked in bed beside her. Knowing the effects of the drug on the psyche and seeing Cary’s discarded clothes draped over a chair- she assumes the naked baby is her husband, having overdosed and physically regressed to infancy!
. The best term for this stuff: “inspired lunacy”. All is untangled in the final reel, and a wiser Cary Grant notes that youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Ain’t that the truth! This MONKEY BUSINESS is sheer wonderfulness. Delight in it.
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