Monkey Business marks one of the surprisingly few occasions on which the Marx Brothers were assigned a specialist comedy director..
Norman Z. McLeod (who would also helm Horse Feathers) does not enjoy much of a reputation per se. He reminds me of that line in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, where the great detective tells Watson: “Some people, without possessing genius, have a remarkable power of stimulating.”
For a comedian’s director like McLeod, praise rarely comes any higher. After all, there’s something innately ludicrous about the notion of anybody actually directing the Marx Brothers or W C Fields.
But both acts could make bad films, and certainly did when not properly handled. Meanwhile, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and It’s a Gift (1933) have no business outside of anybody’s list of the twenty greatest comedies ever made, and all three have Norman McLeod's name on the dotted line.
What did he have that many of their other directors lacked? He didn’t try to impose his personality to the detriment of theirs and – a rarer gift than you might think – he obviously got all the jokes.
Norman Z. McLeod displaying his famed ability to draw a cartoon horse while wearing a bow-tie and fluffy angora jumper
Soft-spoken (once describing himself as "quiet as a mouse pissing on a blotter"), he began as an animator, the best training for thirties comedy, and also worked as a Sennett gag man.
In addition to the three classics above, he went on to direct Burns and Allen, Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland, Leon Errol, Danny Kaye (in Kid From Brooklyn  and Secret Life of Walter Mitty ) and Bob Hope five times (including Road to Rio  and The Paleface ).
Though his best work was at Paramount in the early thirties, his move to Hal Roach towards the end of the decade also brought him a number of successes crowned by the charming supernatural comedy Topper (1937) with the great Roland Young.
His films tapped perfectly into the commercial mood of their times, which is why they were usually popular then, are often forgotten today, and frequently have incredibly evocative titles like Redheads on Parade (1935), Swing Shift Maisie (1943) and Never Wave at a WAC (1952).