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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"The dream of youth. We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines. But what are the facts? Maladjustment and idiocy and scenes of low-comedy disasters, that's what youth is. I don't see how anybody survives it."
DVD ReviewYou've got to love Hollywood shorthand. Put dashing leading man Cary Grant in a pair of thick black glasses and—voilà!—he's your stereotypically absent-minded professor. Here, as Barnaby Fulton, he's on a quest for a youth formula—the prospect that has tantalized men of a certain age, from Ponce de Leon to Dorian Gray to Bob Dole shilling for Viagra—and he's got a laboratory full of scientists and monkeys to help the cause. Barnaby doesn't need to swallow his virility out of a Petri dish; just ask the missus, Edwina, played by Ginger Rogers. Their marriage is warm and funny and frankly sexual—they happily stay home from a dinner party for a little one-on-one time—and it's probably the best thing in this movie.
The story, however, interferes. Grant cannot crack the code for this new wonder drug, but his boss, Oxly, is already preparing the ad campaign for it:"B-4: The Revival Vitamin." B-4. Before. Get it? (Oxly is played by Charles Coburn, who is terrific in movies like The Lady Eve, but doesn't get much more to do here than pant after Marilyn Monroe.) One of Grant's monkeys gets out of the cage, and instead of running for daylight, she sits down at the lab and mixes up the magic formula herself. It inadvertently ends up in the lab water cooler, though, so it's not Barnaby's potion that performs the alchemy, but the restoration of youth comes accidentally to whomever takes a drink at the cooler.
Despite the strictures of the scientific method, Barnaby pulls a Dr. Jekyll and takes the potion himself; it of course doesn't work, but the water chaser he takes to wash it down does. As the first unintentional guinea pig, Barnaby's plunge back into youth manifests itself by his buying a brash sportscoat and a stylish, fast convertible, in which he drives Monroe around town at breakneck speed. The other characters remark that the potion has turned him back into a 20-year-old, but really, he's more juvenile than that, and becomes sort of a goofy idiot, enchanting Marilyn with pull-my-finger fart jokes and taking her roller skating.
Grant comes back to his senses, but his wife is the next to drink the wrong drink; after she does, she puts a goldfish down the boss's pants. When she comes down off of it, too, she makes a pot of coffee with the wrong water, and now both husband and wife turn into ten-year-olds—Barnaby even teams up with the neighborhood kids for a game of Cowboys and Indians (Barnaby insists that he be called Red Eagle), featuring some politically incorrect chanting that wouldn't fly today ("Me wantum wampum, ugh ugh ugh") and the scalping of a lawyer. (They give him a mohawk, anyway.)
Does all this sound just hilarious? It doesn't to me, either. Given the level of talent on hand, in execution the final product here is a little dispiriting. The director (Howard Hawks) and leading man had teamed up previously for two of the all-time great screen comedies, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, so it's more than mildly disappointing to see that about the best that they can come up with here is monkeys swinging from light fixtures. (In this respect, it's one in a long line of primate comedies, including Bedtime for Bonzo, Every Which Way But Loose, and of course that Matt LeBlanc tour de force, Ed.) The screenwriting credits also tantalize with the hope of some bright comedy: the contributors to the script include I.A.L. Diamond, who went on to collaborate with Billy Wilder on such great screenplays as Some Like It Hot and The Apartment; and Ben Hecht, co-author of The Front Page, and the writer on Notorious. I don't know if it was a case of too many cooks, or catching good people off their game, but the work here isn't exactly first tier.
The performers are surely talented, but the material lets them down; it's the measure of the charm of a movie like Big that the problems of children are treated with some seriousness, and that Tom Hanks as a little boy in the body of a man is a genuine dilemma, not just an opportunity to splatter somebody else with paint. Rogers is especially game, and in many respects her performance here resembles her work in The Major and the Minor (an early Wilder film worth seeking out; she costars with Ray Milland), in which she has to pass herself off as a little girl; but you get the sense that she and the rest of the cast know on some level that the material is subpar, and even she and Grant can't turn lead into gold. Forget about his other comedies—it's hard to believe that Hawks, the director of such classic films as The Big Sleep and Red River, thought that this material was worthy, or that he couldn't bring more to it. (He would go on to have better success with Monroe the following year, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)
This movie comes to DVD as part of a Marilyn Monroe collection, but Monroe has fourth billing here (behind Grant, Rogers and Coburn) and even that's a little generous. She's not given more to do than stand around and look sexy (which, admittedly, she does very well), and is given the occasional malapropism. (When Grant inquires as to why she's at work so early one day, she replies about the boss, "Mr. Oxly has been complaining about my punctuation.") She's more of a story point than a character, and briefly the object of Grant's drug-induced lust and hence Rogers's jealous rage—Ginger rails at Marilyn, "You peroxide kissing bug!" It's also a little jarring to see Monroe with Grant, given that a few years after this movie, on screen she falls for Tony Curtis doing his best Cary Grant impersonation in Some Like It Hot. (Diamond Collection fetishists may also notice that the elevator bank in the lobby of the hotel that Grant and Rogers scurry away to in La Jolla looks suspiciously like the elevator bank in the Manhattan hotel in Don't Bother To Knock.)
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Some of the images are muddy, and the blacks can be indistinct. There are some strange lighting choices made, such as Ginger Rogers' imposing shadow over the stove as she fixes dinner; it's the kind of thing that you usually don't see in a comedy of the period. A few scratches and bits of debris interfere with the image periodically.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is adequate, with some crackling and other interference popping up on the soundtrack. Call me old-fashioned, but I almost prefer the mono mix on this one.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 0 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Let's Make Love, Don't Bother To Knock, Niagara, River Of No Return, Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsYou might get sucked in by the roster of talent listed on the DVD case, but while Monkey Business may not be a total misfire, it is not in fact more fun than a barrel of monkeys. It's good for a few gentle yucks, and if you just can't get enough animal movies, there are some decent bits of simian physical comedy. On its own merits, though, the movie could have used some more anarchy and fun.
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