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The Marx Brothers In Monkey Business

Updated on October 14, 2015
Groucho Marx distributing bread.
Groucho Marx distributing bread. | Source

Monkey Business - Starring The Marx Brothers

Genre: Comedy.

No MPAA Rating. Contains some violence, sexual content, and a bit of alcohol and tobacco use.

The Marx Brothers are as funny in the 21st century as they were at the beginning of the 20th century.

There were five brothers all told and they began their act in Vaudeville (singing, then comedy), progressing to black and white "pictures", color films, and finally TV. In the 21st century, they can also be found on DVD and the pod casts of cult fan based pages.

The theater production of Minnie's Boys shows how their mother Minnie encouraged them into show business and how they found their trademark characters in old trunks of old clothing from the old country.

Groucho, Gummo, Minnie, Zeppo, Sam (Frenchie), Chico, and Harpo Marx in 1915.
Groucho, Gummo, Minnie, Zeppo, Sam (Frenchie), Chico, and Harpo Marx in 1915. | Source

Unique Characters

It is these unique characters that followed the four brothers into the movies. Their uncle, Minnie's brother, was in the comedy team of Vaudeville's and films' Gallagher and Shean.

The Marxes' brother was Shean, and a more striking resemblance of Groucho, I've never seen.

The Marx Brothers made several black and white feature films, and their third, in 1931, is about business - MONKEY BUSINESS.


From MInnie's Boys to Marx Brothers

Minnie's Boys
Minnie's Boys
How the Marx Brothers developed their characters out of materials in the family attic. CD of original Broadway cast and show, staring Shelley Winters as Minnie, the brothers' mom.

Monkey Business Trailer: Chico, Groucho and Harpo Audition

Courtesy, Library of Congress.Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo.
Courtesy, Library of Congress.Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo.

Hit Men With a Sense of Humor

In Monkey Business, we have as stars Groucho, Zeppo, Chico, and Harpp (Gummo was their agent or manager). The movies scenes are comedic sketches connected up on film. In this film, they are a barbershop quartet of sorts.

The boys stow away on a ship bound for American, hiding in barrels and signing. The ship's crew hear them signing in the barrels. The foursome escape the barrels and go off among the passengers, thinking they can fade into the scenery, or at least the entertainment. .

The brothers take on the personas of a puppeteer, a barber, and a group of musicians and attract too much attention to themselves.

When they quietly break into a stateroom, Groucho and Zeppo run up on a gangster, Alky Briggs (actor Harry Woods). The crook forces the brothers to work for him as hit men, of all things. This is illegal business with plenty of monkey buinsess attached. Groucho and Zeppo are to hit Alky's major opposition, Joe Helton (actor Rockliffe Fellows).

Groucho, Zeppo, and Alky, brothers Chico and Harpo have run into a Hilton Hotel. Nabbing them, Alky makes them bodyguards, another odd assignment bound to go wrong.

Groucho, always flirting with any woman, flirts with Alky's wife (Thelma Todd), and Zeppo discovers the pretty young woman (Ruth Hall) he has been pursuing is the opposition's, Helton's, daughter. A fine kettle of fish. Pandemonium ensues, but the Marx Brothers escape with their lives, while no one is snuffed in this film.

Afraid, me? A man who's licked his weight in wild caterpillars? Afraid? You bet I'm afraid.

— Groucho Marx
Monkey Business [DVD]
Monkey Business [DVD]
Stowaways, the Marx Brothers take on the personas of a puppeteer, a barber, and a group of musicians and attract too much attention to themselves.

Many Types of Laughs

Groucho smokes a lot of cigars in this film, or holds them as if he has been smoking them and he lets loose with a lot of lot of elementary sexual innuendo, but even children will likely see this all as foolish and laughable.

The story features plenty of gangsters, guns, and kidnapping; but, no one really gets hurt. It is all a bumbling brew of chaos int he tradition of vaudeville and the Keystone Cops.

Harpo plays the harp and Chico plays piano, so there is some music and culture added to the monkey business. Zeppo wins over Joe's daughter and Groucho confuses everyone. It is entirely a funny film, sometimes slapstick, sometimes witty, sometimes goofy. It is all fun.

For example, the foursome cannot get ashore in America, so they steal the passport of Maurice Chevalier, and try to impersonate him - a famous French singer and actor. This is some of the funniest work in the movie.

The film was directed by Norman Z. McLeod and written by Arthur Sheekman, William B. Johnstone, S. J. Perelman.

Quote from Groucho in the film:

Afraid, me? A man who's licked his weight in wild caterpillars? Afraid? You bet I'm afraid.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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