You've got the hang of this by now, so I'll just get on with it.
0:00 - Opening Credits
In what could well be the archetypal Marx Brothers credits sequence we hear a lovely tinkly medley of tunes, beginning with Chico's theme song I'm Daffy Over You, as a series of barrels roll out at the camera at high speed before abruptly stopping and revealing the information on their sides.
I especially like the fact that this is not superimposition: the words and the pictures are plainly stuck on the sides of the barrels. The effect is absolutely adorable..
1:45 - Sweet Adeline
In this wonderful, fondly-remembered scene, all four Brothers pop out of barrels at once after a rendition of the above-mentioned song. It is a quartet - that's how the shipboard staff know there are four stowaways. Of course, with Harpo being mute the joke does not quite work.
Or does it? Is Harpo singing? Many writers have suggested so, since, they explain, there are clearly four voices, and the one that holds the longest note at the end is not a voice we have heard before...
Sadly, this is pure wishful thinking. I've listened to this over and over again and I can hear precisely three voices: Chico (the one that starts the song), Groucho (the one that is clearly Groucho), and the other one. This latter is somebody doing a funny voice rather than singing naturally, but who is nonetheless a capable singer. Perhaps we should amend that 'voice we have not heard before' to 'voice we have not heard often'.
Seems to me it's Zeppo.
6:58 - "You can't do it with irons, it's a mashie shot."
A type of golf-club, 'mashie', according to Wikipedia, derives its name from the "old golf-club naming convention according to which the short-irons or 'approach clubs' were known as 'Mashies' and the very well lofted club was called the 'Niblick'." The 'inbetween club', known with logic if nothing else as the Mashie-Niblick, was used from 1903 until about the 1940s, whereupon it was rendered obsolete by the introduction of the standardized numbered iron set produced by... the Spaulding Sporting Goods Company.
8:03 - "I didn't eat yesterday, I didn't eat today, and I'm not gonna eat tomorrow: that makes-a three days."
A typically logic-mangling Chico joke which interestingly also turns up, delivered by Stan Laurel, in Laurel & Hardy's One Good Turn released the same year. The Marx film was released in September of '31, Laurel's at the end of October. As the Laurel & Hardy shorts were made very quickly, this could well be a straightforward and blatant steal. Or it is just as likely that the joke is a classic howler long predating both and their proximity here merely a coincidence.
8:41 - "That's Columbus Circle."
Chico is here referring to the famous Manhattan landmark, a traffic circle dominated by a statue of Columbus, completed in 1905 and located at the intersection of Broadway, Central Park West, Central Park South and Eighth Avenue.
9:14 - "Sure I can vessel!"
No I'm not going to bother to explain that this is a pun on whistle, but I will point out that what Chico chooses to whistle is, again, I'm Daffy Over You. He hums it a third time later on, and Harpo plays it on the harp. It shows up again in Horse Feathers.
9:30 - "Mutinys, Wednesdays and Saturdays."
Matinees, of course.
9:33 - "There's my argument: restrict immigration!"
A very funny Groucho line which a) gives the 'Is Chico Italian?' theorists plenty to lose sleep over, and b) also turns up in the very funny theatrical agent sketch that the Brothers shot around the same time as Monkey Business for a Paramount promotional short. Though in essence a sketch from I'll Say She Is it was updated to include the Chevalier impersonations from the present film and, perhaps, this line. Or is this a line from I'll Say She Is that found its way into Monkey Business because it was fresh in Groucho's mind after filming the sketch? Either way, it's one or other of the two, and my money's on both, though I'm not saying which.
12:58 - The enchanted Punch & Judy show
Another of the film's most famous scenes, and certainly among the most celebrated Harpo sequences in the canon, this scene plays rather eerily when you realise that there is no puppeteer in the booth.
Some of the puppetry is being done by Harpo, some is not - and Punch's voice, heard from first to last, can only be coming from Punch himself...
16:20 - "You got 'it'. And you can keep it."
Chico's take on one of the greatest pop-cultural obsessions of the times: what is 'it' and who has 'it', 'it', of course, being that extra undefinable something some of us have and some of us don't, that is almost but not quite a synonym for sex appeal. Elinor Glyn conceived of 'it', Clara had 'it', and so did Gary Cooper, provided you were a woman or something.
The number of times it was used as a chat-up line around that time must be unimaginably vast, but only Chico has mastered the art of using it as compliment and insult simultaneously.
18:45 - Enter Thelma Todd
The vivacious comedienne and stalwart support of many of the greatest comics of the thirties here makes the first of two splendid appearances with the Marx Brothers. She was intended as something of a replacement for Dumont, who appears neither here nor in the other Todd film Horse Feathers.
The element of genuine, rather than mocking or mercenary, sexual attraction informing Groucho's pursuit of Todd gives their encounters an entirely different dynamic to the Groucho-Dumont dialogues.
This is intensified in the next film, when Chico and Harpo additionally join in the pursuit, frequently grabbing her and jumping on top of her, climaxing in the notorious final scene, when the entire team marry her at the same time and leap on her during the ceremony.
20:25: "That's what they said to Thomas Edison, mighty inventor, Thomas Lindbergh, mighty flier, and Thomashefsky, mighty like a rose."
All in all, I found Monkey Business contained far fewer real head-scratchers than the previous two films. This one sentence, however, is a densely-packed pageant of obscurity that more than makes up for the relative lack elsewhere.
Where do I even start? I suppose with a nearly irrelevant anecdote from one of my favourite sources for such things: Corey Ford's lovely book of twenties reminscences The Time of Laughter:
An even more popular indoor sport in those days was charades, and we spent long hours acting out political slogans and book titles and well-known songs. The longest of the hours was spent by Heywood Broun, who described in his slow, deliberate drawl a very large yak in a zoo which, after several thousand words of description, got up to its feet. When nobody could guess what song title it was, Broun told us triumphantly, "Mighty yak arose."
Is that really how you play charades?
No matter, since the thing we learn from this story is that Mighty Like a Rose (or more accurately Mighty Lak' a Rose, since it is entirely written in now unfashionable negro dialect) is a popular song of the time.
So far, so straightforward. Now we run into difficulties over the three Thomases.
First, you don't need me to tell you that mighty flier Lindbergh, perhaps the most celebrated American of all around this time, was called not Thomas but Charles. I can find no reference anywhere to a flier called Thomas Lindbergh, or any other kind of Thomas Lindbergh.
The best I can come up with is a Lindbergh Bay, in St. Thomas, which is not a mighty flier but one of the Virgin Islands. It was originally Mosquito Bay, but was given an upgrade in nomenclature when Lindy landed in a nearby field on a 1928 flight from Paris to the United States, supplying the islanders with the excuse they had been dreaming of to give the place a more attractive name to tourists than Mosquito Bay. (According to the island's tourist board, the bay is "great for swimming and also a popular gathering place for locals who use the area for political rallies.")
The location is sometimes hyphenated to 'St Thomas-Lindbergh' but I think you'll agree with me that the odds of any of this having anything to do with Groucho's comment are still slim enough to call into serious question the wisdom of my bothering to mention it at all. I just wanted you to see how committed I am to this thing.
Of course it's possible that Lindbergh was so popular, that simply giving him the wrong name was itself a kind of joke back then. It may also be worth having a look at the original playscript, which may or may not be the source of the common seeming-misquote: "Thomas Jefferson, mighty President, Thomas Edison, mighty inventor, and Thomashefsky, mighty like a rose." This makes a whole bunch more sense - always a red rag to Groucho, who may have simply switched names for his own amusement, bored at having said the same line hundreds of times.
Now then, to Thomashefsy. Here again I am feigning a confidence that I do not really feel. The official script (prepared from the soundtrack in the absence of an original shooting script) has it as Thomas Shevsky. I boldly reject this. But who is Thomashefsky, or as other sources would have it, Thomashevsky?
Even this throws up problems. For there are almost as many Thomashevskys who are famous enough and contemporary with the remark as there are Hungerdungers. Oddly, there are three who are called not only Thomashevsky but Boris Thomashevsky. Two of them are Russian writers. The third is a former Ukranian who came to America and became a pioneer of Yiddish theatre, changing his name from Thomashevsky to Thomashefsky so it would sound more American.
This, I suspect, is the man we are looking for. Of course, it could just as easily be his performing wife Bessie Thomashefsky, also an actress and singer. (Here is a nicely exhaustive account of Thomashefsky's career, including one of his most famous jokes retold at great length in four very slightly different ways.)
Ah, but why partner his name with the song Mighty Lak' a Rose?
I thought you'd ask that. Perhaps he performed it sometimes? I don't know. To be honest with you, I'm past caring.
20:52 - "Your honour, I rest my case."
Old Hollywood trailers were very often compiled not from the master-negative but from out-takes. Often, therefore, if you know a film really well, you can detect subtle differences in intonation and delivery. With the Marx Brothers, this is especially apparent in the trailers for Animal Crackers and Monkey Business. This moment marks one of the more obvious differences between film and trailer: in the latter Groucho delivers the line quite differently and adds "right here!" after "I rest my case." (Most fascinating is the trailer for The Big Store, which features a Groucho line from the unicycling climax - "I used to do this in vaudeville!" - not used in the film at all.)
24:05 - "How many Frenchmen can't be wrong?"
What sounds like a typically absurd Groucho riddle is actually a reference to a popular phrase - "fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong!" It turns up all over, sometimes slightly rephrased: in advertising, in Mae West, in publicity for Chevalier, in the title of a smash hit Broadway revue by Cole Porter and starring Olsen and Johnson (filmed in 1931 with a script by Marx writer Al Boasberg). So far as I am aware it is as a song title, the song written in 1927 and directly inspiring the show, that it was first used, though perhaps the song title itself refers to an already extant phrase.
29:02 - Joe Helton reads the paper
On board ship, the reformed gangster Joe Helton reads about himself and his daughter in the 'late London edition' of the Daily Sketch, presumably suggesting that the voyage takes place between London and New York.
The article on Helton is headed MILLIONAIRE RACKETEER RETURNS TO AMERICA and tells us that his daughter is a "recent graduate of continental finishing school."
It's one of the more upbeat stories in this particular edition of the Sketch, much of the rest of which is given over to accounts of peculiar road accidents written as a string of odd, semi-incomprehensible headlines. On the left of the Helton story we find:
YOUNG GIRL TIED IN A WOOD
Her Story of Motor Ride After Road Smash
"HIT FROM BICYCLE"
Struggle to Loose Herself from Her Bonds
And on the right:
SAFELY SWINGS IN 700 FEET FALL
Amazing Escape When Car Hurtled Over Cliff
LANDED ON LEDGE
Somersault in Mid-Air Saves Motorist's Life
35:28 - "A man who has licked his weight in wild caterpillars"
A joke that is funny in itself, that is to say in the inadequacy of the boast, but rendered additionally amusing by the addition of the word 'wild', by the general grotesqueness of the image conjured, and of course by the evocation of Captain Spalding in Animal Crackers fainting at the sight of the caterpillar on his lapel.
36:09 - "Keep out of my business!"
An unusual, albeit subtle, example of a retained flub, where Groucho forgets that Briggs says "Keep out of my business!" twice, and comes in too early with his line "Your turn."
37:23 - "I've worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty."
A nice example of a favourite type of Groucho joke, where a portentous build-up collapses into bathos. Other fine examples include, from Cocoanuts: "My personal guarantee: if these lots haven't doubled in value in a year, I don't know what you're gonna do about it" and "Think of the opportunities here in Florida - three years ago I came to Florida without a nickel in my pocket, now I've got a nickel in my pocket," and this beauty from President Wagstaff's inaugural address in Horse Feathers:
As I look out over your eager faces, I can readily understand why this college is flat on its back. The last college I presided over, things were slightly different. I was flat on my back. Things kept going from bad to worse, but we all put our shoulders to the wheel, and it wasn't long before I was flat on my back again.
38:39 - "Have your landing cards and passports ready, please."
While this memorable line is being delivered, look at the man standing on the right in the white hat. He is the first of my three uncertain nominations for the role of 'extra played by Cyril Ring', the actor with a lead role in Cocoanuts whose almost instant descent thereafter into walk-on oblivion included this especially demeaning assignment (see here). I normally pride myself on being able to pick Cyril out of any crowd, but in this film he's more elusive. My other candidates are:
46:40 - The man saying "Is there a doctor on the boat?" (a long shot, this one), or
47:45 - One of the three men stood to the left of Frenchie.
I'll get Cyril expert Mary on to this (see here and here) and give her the casting vote.
42: 08 - "You know who's on this boat? Maurice Chevalier, the movie actor!"
I'm going out on a limb here - but could the Chevalier scene be the single funniest thing the Marx Brothers ever did? I mean, if you had two minutes to introduce the team to a complete newcomer, could you find a better extract than this?
It's perfect: Zeppo is charming and amusing and gets to sing a bit, Chico is funny ("Are you Maurice Chevalio? Well, there you are!"), Groucho is funny ("Look at that face!" "Well, look at that face!"), Harpo is hilarious and at his most anarchic and uncontained, and the cumulative comic effect of the song - being sung in different but equally ridiculous ways by men who could not look or sound less like Chevalier if they tried, yet somehow think complete confidence in themselves and a straw hat are all that's necessary - is as joyous as anything in comedy history.
It's also, of course, good extra publicity for a fellow Paramount contractee, not that he needed any. Other Paramounters mentioned in the film include Clara Bow (through the oblique reference to having 'it') and Gary Cooper. And look out for a variation on the Chevalier impressions in the updated I'll Say She Is sketch the Brothers filmed as promotion for this film. .
In this memorable sequence, the dapper, somewhat Roscoe W. Chandler-like gentleman we first see in long-shot waving his handkerchief at the approaching ship, and then in medium-shot, smiling broadly with his hand on some foxy dame's shoulder, is Sam Marx, aka Frenchie, the Brothers' father.
Reference book consensus insists that he is also to be glimpsed on board ship, though the evidence of the film itself would seem to contradict this. Nonetheless, this remains the only time that all twelve Marx Brothers appeared together in the same off-license.
55:29 - "Oh, Emily!"
A part that you can't help thinking was written for Margaret Dumont. The woman playing it even looks like her.
56:29 - "You must have been married in rompers. Mighty pretty country around there."
A line with a definite echo - perhaps intended, perhaps not, but definite all the same - of Ring Lardner's celebrated theatrical parody I Gaspiri - The Upholsterers:
First Stranger: Where was you born?
Second Stranger: Out of wedlock.
First stranger: That's a mighty pretty country around there.
(The curtain is lowered for seven days to denote the lapse of a week.)
57:18 - Harpo chases a blonde girl across the lawn on a bicycle with an enormous flower sticking out of the front of it
The particular distinction of this moment, one of the most strange and celebrated of the film but one which comes absolutely from nowhere, is that it represents the only location photography in the entire film, with the exception of stock-shots of the ship.