Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod / U.S., 1931):

Even before Harpo’s face emerges between Punch & Judy puppets, it’s clear that Bosch is the foundation for this ship of fools. Times are tough for luxury liners ("The stockholder of yesteryear is the stowaway of today"), the Marx Brothers cross the Atlantic hidden in barrels of kippered herring. On the run from the ship’s crew, Groucho pauses to complain to the captain: "Do you know who sneaked into my stateroom at three o’clock this morning?" "Who?" "Nobody, and that’s my complaint. I’m young, I want gaiety, laughter, ha-cha-cha!" The creakiness of Norman Z. McLeod’s direction is frequently evocative -- the brothers rush into the posh passengers lounge, pick up saxophones and provide a moment of dissonance, and then rush out, an unbroken, sustained long-shot. Gangsters abound, as befits the middle year of the Little Caesar-Public Enemy-Scarface troika; Harry Woods and Rockliffe Fellowes are the dueling racketeers, Groucho comes for the moll (Thelma Todd) and stays for the bodyguard duty ("Afraid, me? A man who’s licked his weight in caterpillars?") Elsewhere, Chico ponders his ancestry to Columbus, Harpo stashes a frog under his battered top hat, and Zeppo hits on token ingénue Ruth Hall. The iron bar camouflaged as a feather is a great gag, and an even greater embodiment of the Marxian aesthetic. All four try to use Maurice Chevalier’s filched passport and a snatch of song to get off at New York harbor, Harpo almost makes it until the Victrola under his coat expires. Once on land, the coruscating surrealism shifts to a ritzy society soiree, if only so that Groucho can imitate a cat in heat at the sight of slinky cutup Todd. The climax pits heroes against gangsters in a barn -- it’s no contest, the brothers are in their element. "Sir, you have the advantage of me." "Not yet, but wait until I get you outside." With Tom Kennedy, and Cecil Cunningham. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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