There is an awful charm about this movie from 1948. I thought it couldn't get worse or cornier...and then it did.
The plot of Brass Monkey is a thin idea that's used to feature a popular British radio personality, Carroll Levis playing himself, and his program of talented discoveries. Long, long ago three monkeys were made of what was much later discovered to be brass. They disappeared ages in the past, but then were rediscovered, separated, lost again and now, individually, are worth a lot of money. Two have been "collected." Reuniting them with the third will bring out the worst in both comedy and murder. And all because, after hanky panky at British dockside customs, the third monkey is misplaced in Carroll Levis' office by his ditzy secretary.
Brass Monkey uses this plot to showcase the spirit and heart of show business, with crooks and killings thrown in for contrast. We see a lot of that spirit and heart, and odd talent, amongst those trying out for Levis' radio program. Levis' live broadcast of his show is where everything comes together. The murderer will be discovered, but only after we witness with open mouth two of the worst comedy songs I suspect Terry-Thomas ever performed, as well as that teenager, her accordion and her bumble bee, a geezer with his musical saw who is madly applauded when he tells us how many children and grandchildren he has, and a contortionist who aims her leotard-covered crotch directly at the camera while Terry-Thomas sings of his love of show business people.
There's Avril Anger who uses her own name to play the secretary. She was a talented and versatile performer, skilled at raucous songs. She does a fine job with one here. Anger was a well-known performer in Britain. She was one of the first female stand-up comedians, a comic actress who could sing, dance and handle serious roles. For someone who meets her for the first time in this movie, she's a bit like Gracie Allen in the ditzy department as the secretary and Betty Hutton knocking about when she sings. Terry-Thomas, who could be so good at times (just watch him in School for Scoundrels: "Oh, hard cheese, old chap!"), tries so hard playing Terry-Thomas that it's both painful and endearing. Herbert Lom gives us a sinister villain determined to find the missing monkey. Best of all is the emaciated Ernest Thesiger as an elderly and single-minded collector.
And then there's Carole Landis. Anyone could have played her part as Kay Sheldon, an American songstress Levis discovered five years earlier. Now Sheldon is a big-time singer, come back as the featured star on Levis' show. This was her last movie. She was a troubled woman who made bad choices in her men. Landis, in my opinion, was no great shakes as an actress, but she was blond and attractive. That's always enough for Hollywood until the bloom wears off. By the time she made this British movie she was on the skids. She soon committed suicide, some say because of an unhappy relationship with the married Rex Harrison. For most of the movie Landis is simply acting by the numbers. Her one attempt at deliberate overacting is embarrassing.
Don't misunderstand me. Brass Monkey is a comedy murder mystery that is harmless and good-natured. If you can find a copy, why not watch? It’s got to better than Superman XII: The Secret of Lois’ Lane.