Marilyn 3/3

Marilyn Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh, the last of three parts.

Finishing up with the rest of the almost-good and the almost-bad, also known as the “Meh.”

Start at part 1

Go back to part 2

How to Marry a Millionaire

Popular Consensus: Marilyn shows off her comedic chops in this madcap comedy about three women trying to get their hooks into various rich guys.

How I see it: Whatever. And when I say “whatever” to a film co-starring Lauren Bacall, you know something’s wrong. This movie almost fell under “bad” but I’m in a good mood today. Maybe it was edgy at one time, but it’s eye-rolling today. How to you make a knockout blonde like Marilyn look “nerdy” and intelligent? Put a pair of large goofy glasses on her face, of course. Ho. Ho. Ho. Look at the image to the left. Is that hysterical to you? Right. That’s my point. Add to that, some near-sighted jokes that make Mr.MaGoo look sophisticated, and it all adds up to a movie you can take or leave, and you’re probably better off leaving.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: None that I’m aware of.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Jane Russell and Marilyn as two odd couple show girl best friends who keep getting into silly trouble.

Popular Consensus: A sex-comedy musical with Marilyn at her best.

How I see it: Okay, this one *almost* ended up in the good column. To be fair, there’s much to like here. The comedy is snappy, Jane Russell is also quite easy on the eyes, and there are at least two landmark musical numbers. The great moments are draped around a plot that barely exists, making the movie as a whole pretty generic, and as a result, one that doesn’t get a lot of replay in my collection. But that’s just me, you may feel otherwise. Even as I get ready to post this, I wonder if I’m judging too harshly. You decide and send me a nasty-gram. I may even admit I deserve it.

“Known For” Marilyn Moments: The hot-pink dress dance number to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” Madonna paid homage to in “Material Girl”. (Also note the human chandelier in the number that would make Lady Gaga jealous).


Popular Consensus: Marilyn delivers a riveting performance as a femme fatale.

How I see it: Here’s another one that almost ended up in the “good” category. This film doesn’t work for me, and I think it’s because the plot is a 1940s film noir. You have Joseph Cotton (!) as the troubled husband, Marilyn as the no-good wife plotting to do him wrong, the Naïve Young Couple as innocent as driven snow, the “other man” waiting in the wings to do in the husband. There are no characters here, only archetypes. Once you know the types, the movie proceeds exactly as you expect, including the “plot twist” you see coming a mile away.

Add to that, film noir should be that–dark. Black and white, lots of shadows. We need Humphrey Bogart in here somewhere. Instead, this plays in lavish Technicolor. It’s a disconnect.

But that’s just me. Again, there’s a lot to like here, just not enough for me to recommend it.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: Posing under the covers with the shadow of vertical blinds across her face. She gives great strut in one party scene–seriously, the movie is “known” for these things.

The River of No Return

Cowboy and son and Marilyn on a raft escaping Indians.

Popular Consensus: A troubled production and missed opportunities resulted in an overall disappointment, then and now.

How I see it: I concur. The movie wants to be liked, and lays on the sweetness a bit thick. Rancher Robert Mitchum and his son end up taking Marilyn, playing yet-another showgirl, across the river to escape rampaging Indians after Marilyn’s no-good boyfriend causes trouble for everyone. Suffers from too many western clichés. One particular eye-roller is when Marilyn breaks out into song in the middle of the woods with a hidden band accompanying her. The blue screen rafting scenes that make up the last 20 minutes of the film do not hold up. It all plays out predictably and overall underwhelmingly.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: None that I am aware of.

Don’t Bother to Knock

Marilyn turns psycho-babysitter in a low budget black and white thriller. Seriously.

Popular Consensus: For the most part, overlooked.

How I see it: A black and white thriller early in Marilyn’s career in which she plays a babysitter hired to watch a young girl in a swank hotel room while the parents attend a party downstairs. It’s clear early on that Marilyn’s character has mental problems and suffers from some post traumatic stress, and that the night may lead to some Very Bad Things. Though the credits say otherwise, this movie plays very “B picture”, and that’s not a bad thing, given the mood.

It’s a surprising film, and another movie I almost moved to the “good” category. I give Marilyn credit for tackling this role, and even more surprising since she landed it fairly early in her career. She has some chilling moments, but putting my fanboy perspective aside, the role gets away from her. She just doesn’t have the acting chops to hold this one together, though as a curiosity piece, I find myself watching it fairly often.

Worth noting:

Marilyn has tiny parts in the film classics All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle. Both are great films for reasons that have almost nothing to do with Marilyn.

On the other hand, she also has a tiny part in Clash by Night, a fairly wretched film noir wanna-be with some of the most painful dialog ever delivered by any actress (in this case, Barbara Stanwyck). (And directed by Metropolis fame Fritz Lang! WTH?) The best that can be said here is it’s not Marilyn’s fault.

So there you have it., Feel free to comment and tell me if my ratings were good, bad, or meh.

Marilyn Films 2/3

The Good, the Bad, and the “Meh”
(because Marilyn can never be ugly)

Click here to read part 1

Finishing “The Good.”

The Prince and the Showgirl

Laurence Olivier as the titular prince and Marilyn as the titular showgirl. (I love using “titlular” in a sentence.) On paper, it seems a terrible mismatch of talent, and it is, just not the way you’d expect.

How I see it: Olivier may be the “greatest actor of his generation,” but he can’t seem to grasp the comedy based on the stage play he starred in for years. Marilyn, on the other hand, turns in an inspired, charming performance, and easily grabs the lion’s share of the laughs. Essentially this is a fluffy comedy about a traveling prince with a night off who secures a showgirl for a late night dinner party–or so she thinks. To no one’s surprise but hers, it’s a party for two, and she spends the weekend spurning his awkward passes, though she never quite makes it out the door for several days. Lots of laughs, a good time.

Accolades and popular consensus: Only a mild hit at the time, this is a movie that has grown in popularity, though I suspect most viewers would put this in the “Meh” category, neither good nor bad.

The film suffers from a segment midway through in which the prince drags the showgirl off to a cathedral where we’re “treated” to the “majesty” of the ceremony, which kills the momentum of the film midway through, and has to build up again. Still, it’s a personal favorite. Side note: the print of the film looks terrible; it’s long overdue for a proper restoration.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: Olivier and Marilyn were constantly in the gossip columns during the making of the film. Olivier had little patience for Marilyn’s tardiness and lack of focus. Last year’s Academy-nominated bio-pic My Week with Marilyn is set during the making of this film, a powerful no-brainer for a double feature night.


Bus Stop

Okay, stop the bus. Let’s start with

Accolades and Consensus: Bus Stop is considered by film buffs a wonderful triumph for Marilyn, was a huge success at the time and is still much beloved to this day. Just look at how TCM gushes praise for it here.

How I see it: Understand up front I’m going against popular opinion here, but Bus Stop? “Train Wreck” is more like it. And I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. As a huge fan, I give it a spin every few years (and will again on Saturday), just to see if something clicks. Fortunately, it’s as forgettable as it is bad. The story is bad–I think. Something about a bus stop and a diner next door and a showgirl and a cowboy harassing her? I don’t care. The acting is bad. The songs are…you get the idea. Marilyn sings badly…on purpose…for comedy, so the raving comments say. Don’t listen. This is a terrible movie.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: Her rather terrible rendition of That Old Black Magic, I guess. (Which, oddly enough, I can’t seem to find on YouTube.)

Update 2015–I’ve watched the film a couple more times and my view has softened toward it just a bit, but it’s still pretty terrible. I can enjoy and appreciate Marilyn’s brave performance, but the heart of the problem lies in the misogyny inherent in the premise. Let me be clear about the plot–this is about a brute ignorant cowboy who decides after looking at Marilyn one time that he has to marry her, and will not take no for an answer. He chases her, harasses her, and literally puts her over his shoulder more than once, and the turnaround at the end comes out of nowhere. Yes, she pities him, but I simply can’t believe she falls in love with him as the movie tries to sell us. I can’t imagine how modern audiences see this film. Bottom line, for me, it completely fails as a story, even if I can appreciate Marilyn in it.

Let’s Make Love

Co-stars Yves Montand as a pompous ass trying to win Marilyn’s affections while Tony Randall and Wilfred Hyde White wander around the movie with confused looks.

Accolades and Consensus and How I See It: Starts out promising with a sizzling musical number and then evaporates into a truly terrible 90 minutes.  It was a flop when it came out because it was terrible, and nothing has changed.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: The opening number “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” is HOT. Here’s a link so you won’t have to bother with the rest of the movie.

(Because Marilyn can never be ugly)

Films that are neither good nor bad, merely films that fail to make much of an impression one way or the other.

There’s No Business like Show Business

Co-starring Ethel Merman, which tells you everything you need to know about whether this movie is for you.

Accolades and Consensus: This is ranked as one of her worst films. Many harsh things have been written about Marilyn’s “embarrassing” “Heat Wave” number, about which I disagree.

How I see it: Seriously, film people, y’all love Bus Stop but trash this? The problem with TNBLSB isn’t that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s not particularly good. Essentially a tribute to Irvin Berlin wrapped around the tiniest excuse of a plot, the trials of a touring family and music act in the early 20th century. Who cares? It’s a two hour first class send up to a bunch of Broadway tunes. Period. It plays old school, it is old school, I have a good time with it. Not for everyone, but not painful.

“Known for” Marilyn Moments: Marilyn’s eye-popping “Heat Wave” performance.

Click here for part 3: Finishing up the “Meh.”

Marilyn Films (1/3)

The Good, the Bad, and the Meh
(Because Marilyn can never be “Ugly”.)

Even a raving fan, if they’re honest, will tell you Marilyn Monroe cinema is like dancing across a landmine. Unlike other Hollywood icons, such as Alfred Hitchcock or Humphrey Bogart, it’s just not wise to go to the library and pick up a random title from her catalog. The quality is all over the place. Some films, frankly–and I say this as a fan–are so awful that they may put you off to ever trying another. You can’t even count on the film’s reputation! (more on that as we go)

And that would be a shame, because when Marilyn is good, she’s really good. Unfortunately, when she’s bad….it’s not always in the good way.

And so, with TCM preparing to air every major Marilyn film this Saturday, August 4, on the 50th anniversary of her death, [as written in 2012–alas, Marilyn is conspicuously missing from the TCM Schedule in 2015] I offer my expertise on where to begin, what to avoid, and what won’t scar you but won’t impress you, either. My opinion on some of these films differ from “popular consensus” and I’ll also tell you where that’s the case.


Some Like it Hot

Arguably the very best. Marilyn shines when she has strong support and you can’t get much stronger than a Billy Wilder-written and directed film co-starring Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis. Jack and Tony are two musicians on the run from mobsters when they get a chance to join a traveling band to Florida–an all-girl band! So they man-up and channel their inner drag queen to blend in as “Geraldine” and “Daphne”, and, as they are “executive transvestites” and still dig girls, they’re attracted to and rival for the band’s lead singer, Marilyn.

Accolades and popular consensus: A smash hit when it first came out, the film is recognized on two AFI’s top 100 lists, including the #1 spot on their Top Comedies list.

“Known For” Marilyn Moments: Showcasing “I Wanna Be Loved by You”.

The Seven Year Itch

It’s no accident that Marilyn’s best comedic moments occur in Billy Wilder-directed films. Seven made Marilyn a superstar, with a lot of help from Tom Ewell as a stressed out husband and Dad who remains in Manhattan to work while the family escapes the heat of the summer (before A/C was common). He’s determined to stay focused until he gets his first look at the blonde who just moved in to the apartment upstairs.

How I see it: It’s still hysterical, even if the “edgy controversy” of its subject matter–a family man contemplating infidelity! Played for laughs! Heavens!–plays quaint today. The first ten minutes of this one are fairly insufferable–the credit sequence is meant for a VistaVision big screen and is illegible on video. And the twinky music! It takes several minutes of before the movie finds its stride, but it’s worth it.

Accolades and popular consensus: Another hit out of the box, a triumph for director Billy Wilder in his long list of triumphs.

“Known For” Marilyn Moments: The famous blowing skirt scene comes from this film, though compared to the publicity photos, the filmed version is fairly subdued.

The Misfits

Starring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift, written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston.  (Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter kick ass in this, too). The Misfits is a drama scripted by famed playwright and then-husband, who wrote it for Marilyn to executive-produce. (No, Quantum Leap, she didn’t frickin’ audition for the frickin’ part, you frickin’ morons–ahem, sorry, derailed by a sidetrack). The script plays to her strengths. What I’m going to say next is strictly my opinion, but I’m sticking to it–by having the character tipsy or hung over most of the film, Miller turns Marilyn’s problematic condition onset into an advantage.  So give it up for the brilliant writer. (Yes, I went there).

Marilyn, a recent divorcee looking to escape from the city, hooks up with cowboy Clark Gable out in the country to learn all about the “the easy life.” Of course, she learns that getting away from it all is anything but. The more she tries to acclimate, the more she clashes with those around her.

The film builds to an extended sequence in which the cowboys take Marilyn on a Mustang wrangling trip–those sensitive to images of animal mistreatment be warned. As Marilyn runs around begging the cowboys to stop what they’re doing, the movie pulls no punches in showing a family of horses being taken down one at a time. [Spoiler–It all works out for the horses in the end]

Accolades and popular consensus: In spite of the mega-stardom behind and in front of the camera, the movie bombed on initial release. Gable had a massive heart attack shortly after the production wrapped, and The Misfits could not shake the stigma of being “the film that killed Rhett Butler.” In recent years, the film has been revisited and is receiving the proper credit it deserves.

“Known For” Marilyn Moments: Though she lived to see the film open, The Misfits proved to be Marilyn’s final film as well as Gable’s. She has several great moments in this film, my favorite being the screaming fit breakdown toward the end of the film.

Click here to continue to part 2.