Monday, April 15, 2024

Dean Jones, Walt Disney, and a Quartet of Monkeys (or rather, Chimps)

Yvette Mimieux with one of the chimps.
We've been on a Disney movie run at the Cafe, revisiting some of the studio’s lesser-known live action films. There have been some pleasant surprises (Emil and the Detectives) and a few major disappointments (Dick Van Dyke wasted in Never a Dull Moment). The incorrectly-titled Monkeys, Go Home! falls somewhere in the middle.

The title tune, a breezy piece featuring lush strings, sounds more like a romantic comedy than a family film. And despite the presence of some playful chimpanzees, that's just what Monkeys, Go Home is.

Dean Jones stars as Hank Dussard, an American who has inherited an olive farm in a small French provincial town. He actually knows very little about harvesting olives, so he's surprised when the local priest informs him that the olives fall from the trees and have to be picked up from the ground by children or women because of their light touch (I'm still researching whether this is true).

Maurice Chevalier in his final role.
Father Sylvain (Maurice Chevalier) recommends that Hank get married and have lots of children. Of course, that strategy doesn't account for the fact that the children won't be old enough to pick olives for several years! It also makes Hank, who is already leery about marriage, initially distant when a pretty local woman (Yvette Mimieux) takes an interest in him.

Instead, Hank hatches on to an unconventional plan. He buys four female chimpanzees that he trained for NASA space missions. He figures if they can learn to become astronauts, they can learn how to pick olives.

I saw Monkeys, Go Home! at the theater when I was probably 10 years old. It'd be intriguing to go back in time and ask my younger self what I thought of it. Except for a handful of scenes with the cavorting chimps, I can't imagine any kid being entertained for long.

Dean Jones as Hank.
As a 1960s romantic comedy, Monkeys might have worked better with a different star. I like Dean Jones, but he comes across as a little cold and pragmatic as Hank. A lead with more inner warmth might have worked better, say, James Garner.

Yvette Mimeux isn't required to do much, but look adorable (which she does) and act sweet (ditto!). If you want to see a good example of her acting chops, you'll have to track down the very un-Disney Jackson County Jail (which garnered recognition, too, for her young co-star Tommy Lee Jones).

As you may have noticed, the title of the film is quite misleading. Chimpanzees are not monkeys; they are great apes and related to gorillas and orangutans. Apparently, the Disney executives just didn't understand the difference. Their earlier comedy, The Monkey's Uncle, also featured a chimp. Hey, no one would call Lancelot Link a monkey!

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