Monkey Business – Howard Hawks
These first two episodes take place during one event-filled afternoon and the long and disturbing night which follows. The final and most elaborate episode occurs the, following day. Barnaby and Edwina have renounced the formula, but not knowing it is in the water cooler, they overdose on it in the belief that they are drinking coffee. They become crazed children with no thought for morality or propriety, and the result is a series of events which rival those. in Bringing Up Baby for sheer absurdity and abandon. Barnaby and Edwina turn Oxley’s offices into a playground and cover each other with white paint on the way home. In their backyard, a group of children, who seem to have emerged from nowhere; are playing cowboys and. Indians. When Edwina goes to sleep after calling Barnaby’s still-hopeful rival for her affections, Hank Entwhistle (Hugh Marlowe), Barnaby joins the children, who trick the hapless Entwhistle into being bound to a stake so that Barnaby can scalp him. Discovering a baby in bed with her, Edwina believes him to be Barnaby in a state of total regression. She takes him to the Oxley company, speaking hopeful words of love to him in the backseat of a taxi. Oxley and the scientists join Edwina in singing the couple’s favorite song to the baby before they themselves unwittingly drink the formula and discover the bliss of becoming uninhibited and foolish, while the savage Barnaby finally gets some restorative sleep.
Although the film is ambiguous regarding the formula’s redeeming value, its invention in the script has inspired Hawks and the three individually brilliant writers who collaborated with him. The cowboys and Indians sequence alone would be enough to justify admiration of this comedy since it features the solemn and inimitable George Winslow as one of the Indians, cagily tricking Entwhistle by asking the immortal questions, “What’s the matter, mister; don’t you like kids?” and “Why are you mean to ’em, then?” The sequence is further elevated by Hawks’s perversity in permitting Barnaby actually to scalp Entwhistle (though not fatally). The concurrent action in¬volving Edwina and the baby makes this section even more hilarious. The spectacle of Charles Coburn and a group of mature men softly singing “Bah, bah, bah” in a circle as they anxiously regard an infant and the idiotic smile of its “wife” is an endearingly nonsensical image.
Monkey Business should not be praised immoderately. Some of its humor is strained, especially in scenes which depend on Ginger Rogers’ imitation of an adolescent or child. Although she is amusing, she does not have the natural flair for these scenes that Cary Grant does. The film is most enjoyable when Grant is at the center of the comic frenzy. In all of the Hawks comedies in which he has starred, Grant manages to play the most ridiculous scenes with complete conviction and without a trace of self-consciousness.
Much of the charm of Monkey Business comes from Hawks’s skill at com-position. The shot in the lobby of the honeymoon hotel is a good example. Barnaby is in the left foreground registering with the desk clerk while Edwina, acting shy and dreamy-eyed, holds the center of the image, lingering far enough in the background to seem amusingly vulnerable. A second example is the relatively long take of Barnaby and Edwina drinking coffee in the lab. Again, Barnaby is in left foreground, staring straight ahead and not seeing that Edwina, who moves freely in the background space given to her, has already started to regress. At this point in the film, the anticipated regression might have been dull; but as a result of Hawks’s staging and framing, the absence of any reaction on the part of the unsmiling Barnaby as Edwina begins to cavort once more is engagingly humorous. These compositions, characteristic of Hawks’s formal assurance, demonstrate no apparent complexity or virtuosity, but prove again what a master director he is.
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