is the third of the Marx Brothers
' movies and the first not to be an adaptation of one of their Broadway
shows. The film stars the four brothers: Groucho Marx
, Chico Marx
, Harpo Marx
, and Zeppo Marx
, and screen 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
While stowing away on a ship to America, the brothers get involuntarily pressed into service as toughs for a pair of feuding gangsters while trying desperately to evade the ship's crew. After arriving stateside one of the gangsters kidnaps the other's daughter, leaving it up to the brothers to save the day.
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.
Typical for many Marx Brothers films, Monkey Business was banned in some countries outside of the U.S.A, because censors feared it would encourage anarchic tendencies. Not typical was the exclusion of Margaret Dumont, who had appeared in their two previous films, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers and would continue to be featured as the Brothers' usual victim/foil. Therefore, this was the first Marx Brothers film not to feature Dumont, since, when the Brothers moved from New York to California for production on Monkey Business, Dumont was unable to accompany them. The role eventually went to comedienne Thelma Todd, who would go on to star in the Marx Brothers' next film, Horse Feathers. Shortly after the release of Horse Feathers, however, Todd would die of unexplained circumstances, making her death one of Hollywood's greatest unsolved mysteries.
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. If so, it would be the only time Harpo talked on-screen, as opposed to other vocalizations such as whistling or sneezing.
Also of interest to Marx Brothers devotees is that, 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 songs, "Pizzicata Polka" by Leo 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 piano 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 the nightingales 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.
According to TCM
's Robert Osborne
, a sequel
was planned for this film that would continue the mafia
theme; but during the planning stage, famous aviator Charles Lindbergh
's son was kidnapped and killed by gang members. The writers quickly shifted gears and instead began basing the Brothers' next film slightly on the Marx Brothers' earlier stage show Fun in Hi Skule
, which would eventually evolve into their classic film Horse Feathers
Reception and impact
was a phenomenal success, and is, to this day, considered one of the Marx Brothers' greatest works (along with Horse Feathers
, Duck Soup
, A Night at the Opera
, and A Day at the Races
). The film was evidently based around two early 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
. 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
. This skit was also done by the Marxes in the Paramount promotional film The House That Shadows Built
The concept of the Marx Brothers being stowaways on a ship would be recycled in their later MGM film A Night at the Opera. 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. Also, the uproarious medical examination that Harpo and Chico give Madame Swempski (Cecil Cunningham) would later be repeated in A Day at the Races.