Monkey on My Back (film)

Monkey on My Back
Directed by Andre DeToth
Produced by Edward Small
Written by Paul Dudley
Anthony Veiller
Crane Wilbur
Based on book by Barney Ross
Starring Cameron Mitchell
Imperial Pictures
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
May 29, 1957
Running time
93-94 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Monkey on My Back is a 1957 biographical film directed by Andre DeToth, starring Cameron Mitchell as Barney Ross, a world champion boxer and World War II hero (based on a real-life titleholder). The movie is heavily fictionalized, but both the movie character and the biographical character become addicted to opiates due to war conditions. In the climax of the film, Ross faces a challenging battle to recover from his addiction.[1]


In the 1930s, boxer Barney Ross wins the welterweight championship, then meets chorus girl Cathy Holland as he celebrates. Sam Pian, his trainer, learns that Barney placed a $10,000 bet on himself to win the fight. Cathy, a single mom of a young girl, Noreen, gets to know Barney, but is unaware of his gambling habit. When he loses to Henry Armstrong, he owes thousands to a bookie named Big Ralph and is forced to work in Ralph's bar to pay off the debt.

Barney joins the Marines when war breaks out. He gets Cathy to marry him before leaving for the South Pacific, where, at 33, his heroism at Guadalcanal saves another soldier's life and earns Barney a medal, the Silver Star. But he also contracts malaria, for which a medic prescribes morphine. Back home in Chicago, he is given a job with a public-relations firm by the father of the man whose life he saved. Barney is now addicted to morphine, however, and incurs a huge debt to Rico, a drug pusher. Cathy catches her desperate husband breaking into Noreen's piggy bank, so she moves out.

Barney becomes suicidal. But when his wife returns to inform him that Rico has been arrested, he vows to beat his addiction. He checks into a hospital in Kentucky while the whole country becomes aware of his plight. Four months later, Barney is permitted to leave, rejoin his family and resume his life.



Film rights to Barney Ross' story were bought in July 1955 by Imperial Pictures, a company owned by Edward Small. It was then titled, God was in My Corner.[2]

The Motion Picture Association of America demanded the removal of a scene which showed how to take morphine on the grounds it breached the Production Code. The scene had Barney Ross insert a hypodermic needle into his arm and pressing down. Producer Edward Small appealed.[3][4]

Small decided to release the film without the Production Code seal of approval, claiming he had not heard back from his appeal for two weeks. This made Monkey on My Back the first movie to run into trouble with the Production Code since the code had been revised to allow treatment of illicit narcotics within limits.


Reviews were generally strong.[5]

See also


  1. Bosley Crowther review of Monkey on My Back, New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, NY], May 30, 1957, p. 33.
  2. Thomas M. Pryor. "Borgnine seeking profit statement: Actor, in Third Court Suit, Asks an Accounting From Producers of 'Marty' Kazan to Film Huie Story, Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, NY], December 4, 1956: 48.
  3. "Barney Ross film faces censorship: Narcotics Scene in 'Monkey on My Back' Banned by Production Code; Head Asks New Interpretation Of Local Origin." Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, NY], April 15, 1957, p. 23.
  4. THOMAS M. PRYOR. "HOLLYWOOD CANVAS: Code Faces Test in New Film on Drug Addict--Of 'Time Limit'--Addenda Authentic Drama Debate Trumbo's Revelations", New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, NY], April 21, 1957, p. 97.
  5. Richard L. Coe. "Unique, This 'Red Balloon'", The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959) [Washington, DC], May 31, 1957, p. B8.
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