Monkey Business (1952): Howard Hawks Directs Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe

In intent, Howard Hawks’ 1952 movie, Monkey Business, aims to recreate the charm and eccentricities of 1930s screwball comdeies, including his own 1938 film Bringing Up Baby.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Monkey Business
Monkey businessposter.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Cary Grant stars as Prof. Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded professor, who’s all immersed in a research project.  A chemist, he is seeking the “fountain of youth,” a formula that would revitalize middle-agers, both mentally and physically.

Grant’s own laboratory experiments yield little fruit, but a lab monkey, let loose from its cage, mixes a few random chemicals and comes up with just the formula that Grant is looking for.

When this mixture is inadvertently dumped in the lab’s water supply, things get out of control. The staid and uptight Grant drinks some of the “bitter” water, which makes him behave like a teenager.

A harmless afternoon on the town with his luscious secretary, Lois Laurel, played by sexy Marilyn Monroe (all curves and pointed beasts), including a fast ride that almost ends in accident, rouses the ire of Grant’s wife Edwina, played by Ginger Rogers.

However, Edwina’s behavior turns even more infantile when she herself falls under the spell of the youth formula.

As more and more scientists (and Mr Oxly) are drinking the water, they revert to  second childhood. When the water is poured away, and the formula is gone, Barnaby crawls into the lab through the window and lies down to sleep next to the baby. Edwina later discovers him and realizes her mistake with the baby.

As Barnaby and Edwina are planning to go out, with their spirits and marriage renewed, Barnaby notes, “you’re old only when you forget you’re young.”

Many spectators remember the best line in the movie when foxy-grandpa research supervisor Oliver Oxly (Charles Coburn) hands Monroe a letter and says “Get someone to type this.” After Monroe leaves the room, Oxly turns to Barnaby and murmurs “Anyone can type.”

Also amusing is Monkey Business‘s pre-credits gag, wherein Grant opens a door and is about to step forward, when director Hawks, off-camera, admonishes him, “Not yet, Cary.”

The loose, carefree script was penned by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I.A.L. Diamond, based on original story by Harry Segall, better known for writing the movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Both Grant and Rogers may be a tad too old to play their parts. Monroe would have been more convincing if she played the leading role in lieu of Rogers.

Hawks himself did not think that the film’s premise was believable, and as a result, the film was not as funny as it could have been.

The film’s depictions of Native Americans in a scene of Grant playing cowboys and Indians, by smearing war paint on his face and adopting the name of Red Eagle, was not criticized at the time, but it would have if the movie was released a decade later.

Nor was the scene in which Grant coaches the children in a war song: ‘We wantum wampum, we wantum wampum/Ugha ugha goo goo,’ thus equating Indianness with childishness. 

Cary Grant as Dr. Barnaby Fulton
Ginger Rogers as Edwina Fulton
Marilyn Monroe as Lois Laurel
Charles Coburn as Oliver Oxley
Hugh Marlowe as Hank Entwhistle
Henri Letondal as Dr. Jerome Kitzel
Robert Cornthwaite as Dr. Zoldeck
Larry Keating as G.J. Culverly
Douglas Spencer as Dr. Brunner
Esther Dale as Mrs. Rhinelander
George Winslow as Little Indian



Directed by Howard Hawks

Written By: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, I. A. L. Diamond, Harry Segall

Released: September 5, 1952

Twentieth Century Fox

Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Edited by William B. Murphy

Running time: 97 minutes