Making the Grades
The comedic sensation that was The Marx Brothers, began with Vaudeville acts and moved to the silver screen. Their movies are more like a string of silly humorous sketches than a story, but this is of no consequence to anyone who calls themselves a fan of their work.
So for what it is worth, here is a synopsis of Monkey Business, the third film to feature the four Marx Brothers.
Stowing away aboard an American bound ocean liner, the siblings hide in barrels until their barbershop singing alerts the crew of their presence. To escape the captain's justice for their crime, the scallywags scatter in an attempt to disappear amongst the other passengers. Posing as a puppeteer, a barber and a band of musicians, the bumbling boys fail to escape notice for very long.
When they sneak into one of the staterooms, Groucho and Zippo meet a gangster named Alke Briggs (Harry Woods). Taking advantage of their situation, the mobster pressures the reluctant gadabouts into working for him as hit men, with the assignment to take out his competition, Joe Helton (Rockliffe Fellows).
Unbeknownst to Groucho, Zippo, or Briggs, the other two brothers Chico and Harpo have run into Hilton. Seeing the other two brothers as a lucky break, the millionaire racketeer employs them as his bodyguards.
That alone would be trouble enough, yet things get more complicated. Groucho flirts with Briggs' unhappy wife (Thelma Todd), and Zippo discovers the pretty young woman (Ruth Hall) he has been trying to pick up is Helton's daughter.
For parents, the biggest concern with the bushy-browed main character will be his frequent cigar smoking and mild sexual innuendos, such as the time he is accused of being the stowaway who reportedly goes around with a black moustache. Groucho quips, "I'd rather go around with a blonde."
Thanks to the inclusion of the gangsters, a few guns and a kidnapping plot have been added to the usual arsenal of slapstick antics. At no time however, is the audience left with the impression that anyone is in any real danger.
Along the way, Harpo shows off his harp playing talents, Chico proves he can play the piano, Zippo gets the girl, and Groucho befuddles every one with his witty one-liners and ridiculous soliloquies.
Creating their own brand of humor, these New York natives from a show biz family successfully turned Monkey Business into a moneymaking business. While their trademark yuk-yuks may be too bananas for some, there is no question the Marx Brothers influenced the evolution of comedy as we know it today.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Marx Brothers: Monkey Business.
What TV show or movies have you seen that mimic the antics of the Marx Brothers?
When the brothers are unable to go ashore in America, they steal the passport of Maurice Chevalier, and try to impersonate the famous singer and performer. For more information about this real life star, check out this site: http://www.hollywoodlegends.com/maurice-chevalier.html.