Forever Marilyn releases today, collecting seven of her best films and performances on Blu-ray, five of which are appearing in the format for the first time. These classic films have never looked or sounded better, and this collection is a great opportunity to revisit some acclaimed films and lesser-known gems from legendary directors, as well as experience the cinematic accomplishments of Monroe at her best. The films here include Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Seven-Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, and The Misfits. Sadly, five of the discs include special features, the totality of which is a theatrical trailer and/or a brief newsreel chronicling the original release. In contrast, the discs featuring The Seven-Year Itch and Some Like It Hot include enough commentaries, documentaries, and other special features to satisfy both the casual and the most die-hard fans. Though Monroe never achieved the acclaim she deserved for her accomplishments as an actress during her lifetime, this collection charts her evolution from an accomplished comedic actress typecast as a ditzy blonde, through her fully-realized dramatic work that hinted at what might have been if her life had not been so tragically cut short.
The first film here is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes from the legendary, Oscar-nominated director Howard Hawks, the man behind such remarkable and diverse classics as His Girl Friday, Only Angels Have Wings, Red River, Scarface, and Sergeant York. Monroe co-stars here with Jane Russell, who passed away last year at the age of eighty-nine. Although Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is considered Russell’s finest work as an actress, The Aviator cemented her bittersweet place in history as being best known as the woman with the large “mammary glands” that made Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw a multi-year nightmare for the censorship board. Monroe and Russell play two nightclub performers with differing opinions on how heavily a man’s net worth should affect his value as a potential marriage prospect. Though there are some weighty sexual and cultural ideas at play, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at its best plays like a romantic comedy of manners. The film is most iconic for Monroe’s rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Although the movie’s attitude toward love, women, and marriage feels outdated, Monroe reportedly suggested the line, “I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.” That line comes toward the end of the film, and makes one want to immediately play it again, to try and figure out if the blonde ditz was a step ahead of everyone else the entire time.
The second film is the intelligent and farcical How to Marry a Millionaire from Oscar-nominated director Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda, Daddy Long Legs). The film follows three women played by Monroe, Betty Grable (The Dolly Sisters), and the Oscar-nominated Lauren Bacall (The Mirror Has Two Faces) as they set out to marry millionaires but find true love in the process. Also of note, is a standout performance from the three-time Oscar-nominee William Powell (My Man Godfrey) as a charming widower who helps Bacall’s gold-digger realize what’s truly important. How to Marry a Millionaire was the first movie to be filmed in the CinemaScope format and the film as a whole, in particular the opening scene featuring an Overture performed by a live orchestra, provides some of the best examples of how incredible classic films can look and sound in the Blu-ray format. How to Marry a Millionaire earned a Writers Guild nomination for screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, and the Costume Design team of Charles Le Maire and Travilla earned an Oscar nomination for their work.
The next film, River of No Return, while an interesting exercise in style, is the closest thing this set offers to a cinematic misfire. River of No Return is a western starring Monroe and the Oscar-nominated Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter, The Story of G.I. Joe, Thunder Road) by three-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder, Laura). Preminger is best-known for his acclaimed work in the film noir genre, and while he tries to imbue his first and only western with a neo-noir sensibility, the audience can feel how ill-at-ease the filmmaker is with the material. Although Mitchum had a prolific career in numerous aspects of seemingly countless films, he did much of his best work playing anti-heroes, also often in the film noir genre. He feels tragically miscast as a leading man in a western, though he and Monroe do share some good on-screen chemistry. The production was reportedly forced upon Preminger, Mitchum, and Monroe by Fox as a contractual obligation, and a shared lack of connection to the material, as well as a complete lack of desire to be making the film, can be felt throughout. The genre-bending film is still worth a watch, mainly for the stunning landscapes captured in CinemaScope and some fun musical numbers from the ever-stunning Monroe.
In contrast, There’s No Business Like Show Business from Oscar-nominated director Walter Lang (The King and I) is a superb entry into the musical genre, and a highlight of the films gathered here. Though Monroe does excellent work, and one of the film’s best remembered moments is her show-stopping rendition of “Heatwave,” the film feels mildly out of place, as Monroe’s role is a supporting one at best, and her limited screen time pales in comparison with the principal cast. The film follows the musical family the Donahues and their decades as a family act, and what happens when son Tim (Donald O’Connor) meets hat-check girl and aspiring entertainer Vicky, played by Monroe. The movie is unapologetic in its desire to be little more than an excuse to put a collection of production numbers by Irving Berlin on the big screen, but the story and performances do enough to engage and entertain. There’s No Business Like Show Business ended up receiving three Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design – Color, Best Music – Scoring of a Motion Picture, and Best Writing – Motion Picture Story.
The next two films, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot were the two that Monroe made with six-time Oscar-winner Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment), often considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. The Seven Year Itch explores what happens between an everyman (Tom Ewell, who originated the role on Broadway) and his upstairs neighbor (Monroe) when his family leaves town for the summer. In addition to being an impressive piece of work from Monroe as an evolving actress, the film also played host to the iconic image of Monroe’s skirt being blown while on the streets of New York. The innumerable special features on this disc include a feature-length commentary by Kevin Lally, author of “Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder,” a twenty-five minute “Hollywood Backstory” featurette on the making of the film, a twenty-five minute featurette on “Monroe and Wilder: An Intersection of Genius,” a seventeen-minute “Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman” featurette, several deleted scenes, an interactive timeline covering Monroe’s entire career, with information about every film she made and their significance in her career, and a picture-in-picture look at how the final version of the film was impacted by the conservative Hays code. Ewell won a Golden Globe for his work in the film.
Some Like It Hot was recently named the funniest American movie of all time by the American Film Institute, and the presentation here more than does the beloved film justice. Special features include a twenty-five minute featurette on the “The Making of Some Like It Hot,” a twenty-minute look at “The Legacy of Some Like It Hot,” an intimate and revealing thirty-one minute interview with star Tony Curtis looking back at the making of the film, a twelve-minute “Memories from the Sweet Sues” featurette in which actresses who played members of the all-female band recall their experiences on set, and a feature-length commentary which includes an interview with Curtis, and archived interview with star Jack Lemmon, commentary by Paul Diamond (son of screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond) and screenwriting team Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Splash).
The film was nominated for six Oscars, but lost five as Ben-Hur swept the Oscars that year. Orry-Kelly won the Oscar for the film’s Costume Design, and the film swept the Golden Globes Musical/Comedy categories, including wins for Picture, Best Actor for Lemmon and Best Actress for Monroe.
The final film, The Misfits was underappreciated upon its release in 1961, but has since risen in stature and deserves to be considered among the best westerns ever made. The film was directed by two-time Oscar winner John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) from a screenplay was written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Arthur Miller, based on his short story “I Don’t Need You Anymore.” The film starred Oscar-winner Clark Gable (It Happened One Night) as an aging cowboy trying to live in a west that no longer exists. His gang of misfits includes a drifter rodeo rider played by four-time Oscar-nominee Montgomery Clift (From Here to Eternity), a widowed pilot played by Eli Wallach (who recently won an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement) and a recent divorcee played by Monroe. The Misfits was the last film in which either Gable or Monroe appeared, and Gable considered it his best work. It’s clearly the standout work in Monroe’s filmography, a dramatic virtuoso performance that hints at a later career that could have been, and as it stands serves as a worthy conclusion to the career of Hollywood’s greatest screen legend.
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