The 1952 screwball comedy, Monkey Business, will be screened at London’s BFI Southbank in September as part of a Cary Grant retrospective, and is also The Times’ classic film of the week, as reviewed by Larushka Ivan-Zadeh.
“Grant basically retreads the stiff academic he played in Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby as Dr Fulton, a nutty professor in bottle-end spectacles who is striving to create an elixir of eternal youth. Then one day, a lab chimpanzee breaks out of his cage and, unbeknown to Fulton, beats him to it. When the chimp’s formula ends up in the water supply, Fulton unwittingly drinks it and regresses to his teenage self: losing the specs and whisking his sexy young secretary (rising star Marilyn Monroe, then dubbed the ‘cheesecake queen’ of Hollywood by Hedda Hopper) off to a rollerskating rink.
The high-concept, chimp-led shenanigans are a tad contrived — though special mention to an excellent simian performance. But this joyful concoction of golden Hollywood greats still fizzes with sublime moments of comedy — not least the scenes between an adoring Monroe and the speccy Grant that were parodied seven years later, by Tony Curtis, in Some Like It Hot. “
Clash By Night will be screened at the BFI Southbank in London on February 23rd and 25th, as part of a retrospective for leading lady Barbara Stanwyck.
“In Lang’s imaginative adaptation of Clifford Odets’ play, Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) returns home to a small fishing town after an extended stay in New York. Defiant, cynical, disenchanted, she soon finds herself unexpectedly caught up in a tangle of relationships. Stanwyck’s mature, complex characterisation is one of several excellent performances, which include Monroe’s memorable portrayal of a trusting young woman.”
Perhaps more than any other of Marilyn’s major films, the critical reputation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its subversive gender politics has grown in recent years, making it both a perfect satire of fifties femininity, and a strikingly modern sex comedy. Back in 1953, it was a box office smash though deemed mere Hollywood fluff, as Christina Newland notes in ‘Male Critics, Female Friendships on Film,’ over at the BFI blog.
“Even when beloved male auteurs turned their attention to female friendship, their films were often not spared. When it comes to women, objectification is more common than nuance. In Howard Hawks’ classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the gold-digging comedy-musical sees its two showgirls turn men into ineffable fools. But a Time magazine reviewer misses the subtext in order to celebrate what he calls ‘the three-dimensional attractions of its two leading ladies’.”
Meanwhile, in the March issue of the BFI magazine, Sight & Sound (with Greta Gerwig on the cover), Hannah McGill’s article, ‘Sister Act’, takes another look at Blondes alongside other movies featured in next month’s ‘Girlfriends’ season at BFI Southbank (where it’s screening on March 1st, and 11th.)
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with its sugar daddies, its greedy women and its dressing-up games, positions its women as clever and dirty, not pure or mysterious; gives them strength specifically through the fact that they prioritise one another over sexual conquests; and plays on the idea that the absorption of stereotypes about women weakens men. The last thing the male characters expect is for Lorelei and Dorothy to team up and outsmart them, because women who look like them are expected to be both disloyal to each other, and unintelligent. ‘I can be smart when it’s important,’ Lorelei notes, ‘but men don’t like it.'”
Following the Marilyn retrospective at London’s BFI Southbank last year, two of her most acclaimed films will be screened in May: All About Eve on the 9th, 10th, 11th (with intro by BFI Cinemas head Helen de Witt) and 14th; and Some Like it Hot on the 19th, 22nd and 31st. Both are part of the BFI’s new, ongoing Big Screen Classics series, with a theme of ‘the magic of words’ and tickets priced at £8.
Producer, scriptwriter and Marilyn superfan Gabriella Apicella will host a free discussion of The Misfits for 15-25 year-olds after the 6pm screening at the BFI Southbank on Tuesday, June 16, as part of the Future Film Recommends strand.
The full programme for the BFI’s June season of MM films is now online, with tickets available now for members, or from May 12 for non-members. All of Marilyn’s films from 1952-62 are included (apart from O. Henry’s Full House), with multiple showings of The Misfits as part of its nationwide reissue, and a new print of Niagara. This retrospective includes two other events: ‘Who Do You Think You Are, Marilyn Monroe?‘ on June 3rd, featuring authors Jacqueline Rose and Bonnie Greer; and a Marilyn Monroe Study Day on June 27, with guests including Sarah Churchwell. You can view the digital guide for June here.
Film critic Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, thinks Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business (1952), featuring Marilyn as inept secretary Miss Laurel, is an ‘ace ape jape’:
“It is part romp, part druggie-surrealist masterpiece, and a complete joy. ‘Monkey Business’ is undervalued by some, on account of its alleged inferiority to the master’s 30s pictures, and the accident of sharing a title with a film by the Marx Brothers. I can only say that this film whizzes joyfully along with touches of pure genius: at once sublimely innocent and entirely worldly…Dr Fulton drinks [a youth drug]; his short sight is cured and he instantly gets a new youthful haircut, jacket, and snazzy roadster, in which he takes smitten secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe) for a day’s adventures. (The memory of Grant with his Coke-bottle glasses exchanging dialogue with the entranced Marilyn was revived eight years later by Tony Curtis in ‘Some Like It Hot.’)”