Saturday, April 22, 2017

Monkey Business (1952)

Monkey Business: the rejuvenated Dr. Fulton (Cary Grant) takes Lois Laurel (Marilyn Monroe) to a ride.

Rakas, minä nuorrun / Åh, en sån fräckis / Föryngringsprofessorn / Chérie, je me sens rajeunir / Liebling, ich werde jünger. US © 1952 Twentieth Century Fox Corp. P: Sol C. Siegel. D: Howard Hawks. SC: Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, I. A. L. Diamond – based on a story by Harry Segall. CIN: Milton R. Krasner – b&w – 1,33:1. AD: George Patrick, Lyle R. Wheeler. Set dec: Thomas Little, Walter M. Scott. Cost: Travilla. Makeup: Ben Nye. Makeup for Marilyn Monroe: Allan Snyder. Hair: Esperanza Corona, Louise Miehle, Helen Turpin. SVX: Ray Kellogg. M: Leigh Harline. M dir: Lionel Newman. Theme song: "The Whiffenpoof Song" ("We are poor little lambs / Who have lost our way") (The Whiffenpoofs group at Yale University, published in 1909, derived from "Gentlemen-Rankers" by Rudyard Kipling, comp. Guy H. Scull, ad. Meade Minnigerode). S: W. D. Flick, Roger Heman, Sr. ED: William B. Murphy.
    C: Cary Grant (Dr. Barnaby Fulton), Ginger Rogers (Edwina Fulton), Charles Coburn (Oliver Oxly), Marilyn Monroe (Lois Laurel), Hugh Marlowe (Hank Entwhistle), Henri Letondal (Dr. Siegfried Kitzel / Jerome Kitzel), Robert Corthwaite (Dr. Zoldeck), Larry Keating (G. J. Culverly), Douglas Spencer (Dr. Brunner), Esther Dale (Mrs. Rhinelander), George Winslow (little Indian). –  Uncredited: Emmett Lynn (Gus), Heinie Conklin (house painter), Gil Stratton, Jr. (the Yale man), Harry Carey, Jr. (reporter), Olive Carey (Johnny's mother), Kathleen Freeman (Mrs. Brannigan, neighbour), Roger Moore (bit part).
    US premieres: 29 Aug 1952 (Atlantic City), 5 Sep 1952 (New York City). Helsinki premiere: 30.1.1953 Rea, distributed by Oy Fox Films A.B. – telecast: TV1: 13.8.1967 and 16.9.1988, MTV1: 9.2.1980, MTV3: 18.2.1995 and 2.2.2002, Nelonen: 11.9.1999; Yle Teema 2.9.2012 and 3.11.2013 – VET 37176 – S – 2740 m / 97 min
    A print with Swedish subtitles (svensk redigering Elna Gardart) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Howard Hawks), 22 April 2017

Revisited Monkey Business, one of those Howard Hawks comedies which turn out to be the more strange, curious and unclassifiable the more often one sees them.

A special quality of Monkey Business is a play with tempi which can be compared with Dave Brubeck's album Time Out in which each track ("Blue Rondo à la Turk", "Take Five") is composed to a different time signature. In the 1930s, particularly in His Girl Friday, Hawks tried to break speed records in his dialogue. Monkey Business starts at a daringly slow tempo, and there are passages later that border on somnambulism. But the tempi keep changing, and the amazingly downbeat opening provides a striking contrast to later fast slapstick passages.

The comedy concept of monkey tests to produce a youth or virility elixir is traditional. Last year in Pordenone in Steve Massa's Al Christie retrospective we saw Monkey Shines (1920) with a similar basic idea. It would be interesting to learn about the origins of this concept. In Hawks's film there is a sense of gravity in the theme of growing old and losing one's youthful zest of life. At the same time Monkey Business is a merciless satire on the youth cult and commercial attempts to provide elixirs to turn back time. "You are old when you forget you are young" is the final word of wisdom on the youth business adventure.

I Was a Male War Bride, Hawks's previous comedy, was an explicit tribute to the golden age of American screen comedy, most prominently to Chaplin and Keaton. The same goes for Monkey Business where the marvellous car racing sequence of Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe has touches that resemble Keaton such as speeding through a straddle carrier. The roller-skating sequence with the acrobatic Grant brings to mind Chaplin's The Rink. Monkey Business has also affinities with the films of Laurel and Hardy such as the scene where Ginger Rogers drops a live goldfish into the pants of the big boss, Oliver Oxly (Charles Coburn), bringing to mind Liberty. There is also a classic "tit for tat" sequence between Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers where they splash each other with paint with an abandon worthy of The Second Hundred Years. Let's note the name Oliver, and also the name of his secretary: Marilyn Monroe as Lois Laurel plays the Stan Laurel character here (and, probably not coincidentally, Lois was the name of Stan's daughter). As in I Was a Male War Bride Hawks and Grant seem to relish classical physical slapstick.

There is an even more profound level of affinity with Laurel & Hardy. The essence of Laurel and Hardy is that they behave like children in grown-ups' clothes, exactly what happens to the scientists in Monkey Business after they have drunk the B-4 elixir. Which also reminds of Sergei Eisenstein's essay Charlie the Kid: to Eisenstein, Chaplin's secret is his double vision of everything with eyes of both a grown-up and a child.

Ginger Rogers gets to do her thing in the ballroom sequence at Pickwick Arms, the honeymoon hotel. She performs a stunning dance number, but Cary Grant falls asleep during a slow waltz. Let's face it: their chemistry is not convincing except as an account of growing estrangement in marriage. This is the only Hawks movie where the main couple is already married in the beginning. We are persuaded by the screenplay and the dialogue to believe that the thrill is alive in the marriage of Barnaby and Edwina Fulton. but it does not feel that way. Barnaby is introduced as a professor who is absent-minded in the extreme. There are even touches of dementia and Alzheimer's in the performance, and Edwina compares her husband to a zombie – a living dead.

The only moments when Barnaby comes fully alive are in the elixir sequences, and Cary Grant is in full form in them.

For Marilynologists Monkey Business is interesting for several reasons. It was Marilyn Monroe's last role before superstardom in Niagara. It was the last of her underwritten, demeaning, stereotyped supporting sex kitten roles. Neither Hawks nor Grant understood Monroe's comic talent. Nevertheless the Grant & Monroe "elixir ride" sequence is the highlight, the anthology piece of the film. The comic timing is brilliant between the two (– "Is your motor running?" – "Is yours?" – "Takes a while to warm up". – "Does, me, too".) With Monroe, it took Hawks a while to warm up, but he would soon direct Monroe's best film, the brilliant Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In the Fulton marriage the question of childlessness, a probable source of its apathy, remains unaddressed. Children are missing, and the regression of grown-ups themselves to childhood and even infancy can be seen as a curse of childlessness. Children are usually not important in Hawks's films, but in this period he introduced children in several comedies, always as savagely satirical mirror images of grown-ups. Towards the finale children are playing Indians in a nearby wood, and Cary Grant is again at his best when he joins their war dance in order to scalp Hank Entwhistle, played by Hugh Marlowe, the Ralph Bellamy character of this film, and indeed he succeeds in turning the respectable lawyer's haircut into a Mohawk (Mohican / Iroquois). George Winslow, soon memorable as Henry Spofford III in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, here plays the Indian chief.

The dreadful signature song of the Fulton couple, "The Whiffenpoof Song" ("We are poor little lambs / Who have lost our way"), is instinctively abhorred by Lois Laurel when it is heard on the car radio, but its lyrics about having "lost our way" do seem relevant to the story.

Monkey Business is a weird comedy, and its themes, the dream of eternal youth and turning back time, remain topical.

A print with a very good visual quality.


Niin kuin Bringing Up Baby (1938) myös Monkey Business esittelee aluksi Cary Grantin hajamielisen professorin osassa. Hajamielisyyden taustalla ei tällä kertaa ole dinosauruksen luuranko ja kuivakiskoinen morsian, vaan ilmeisen onnistunut ja vakaa avioliitto. Kuitenkin katsoja jo alkujakson jälkeen aavistaa, että onnellisen julkisivun takana on paljon tukahdutettuja asioita, joista ei koskaan puhuta eikä juuri edes ajatella. Elokuvan suuntaa on tämän perusteella vaikea arvata, mutta kehittelyn siemenet on kylvetty jo tässä alkujaksossa.

Barnaby Fulton on kemiallisen tehtaan tutkija, joka työskentelee nuorentavan aineen keksimiseksi. Koe-eläimenä käytetty simpanssi onnistuu vahingossa keksimään oikean seoksen ja sotkemaan sen juomaveteen. Elokuvan ensimmäisellä puoliskolla Barnaby ja Edwina juovat vettä vuorotellen ja muuttuvat teini-ikäisiksi; toisella puoliskolla he juovat yliannoksen samanaikaisesti ja muuttuvat lapsiksi (ilman muuta fyysistä muutosta kuin parantunut näkökyky ja parantuneet selkävaivat).

Ensimmäisen puoliskon komedia on niin nopeaa ja hauskaa, että katsojalla tuskin on aikaa tajuta mitä tapahtuu. Jatkossa hitaat ja nopeat kohtaukset vuorottelevat tehokkaasti, mustan komedian ja absurdin farssin vaihtelu on taidokasta. Satiirin kohteena on nuoruuden pakkomielle: nuoruuden lähteestä maistaneet vajoavat niin alas, että aivoton sihteeri, pikkupoika ja jopa simpanssi näyttävät olevan heidän yläpuolellaan. Barnabyn ja Edwinan suhde läpikäy ”alitajuisen vastenmielisyyden”, ”haudatun kaunan” ja lapsellisen mustasukkaisuuden vaiheet. He joutuvat myöntämään epäilynsä avioliitostaan. Itse asiassa vaakalaudalla on enemmän kuin heidän avioliittonsa: siinä on koko heidän elämänsä perusta. Nuorennuslääke on vapauttanut menneisyyden kaikki tukahdutetut impulssit, jotka heidän entinen, nykyinen ja tuleva elämänsä on kieltänyt; heidän elämänsä on perustunut juuri tälle tukahduttamiselle. Monkey Business on Hawksin yhtenäisimmin hauska elokuva ja samalla se on elokuva, jossa hän tulee lähimmäksi tragediaa.

Arpinaaman gangsterien antisosiaalisen käytöksen lailla Monkey Businessin ihmisten persoonallisuusmuutokset vetoavat katsojan myötätuntoon. Tällainen tunteiden häiritsevä ambivalenssi – samanaikainen viehtymys rationaaliseen ja vaistonvaraiseen, sivistyneeseen ja primitiiviseen – on keskeistä suurelle osalle Hawksin tuotantoa. Monkey Business välittää tunteen vaarallisesta kontrolloimattomuudesta samalla kun se säteilee tarttuvaa hilpeyttä. Primitiiviset minämme tuntevat vastakaikua, sivistyneet minämme käskevät häpeämään tätä vastakaikua: tämä jännite kulkee läpi Monkey Businessin, ja Hawks onnistuu pitämään ristiriitaiset yllykkeet täysin tasapainossa, uhraamatta vitaalisuutta.

– Robin Woodin (Howard Hawks, 1968 &1981) ja muiden lähteiden mukaan

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