Archive for the ‘Marilyn Monroe: SCREEN GODDESS’ Category

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

28 Dec

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — Directed by Howard Hawks. Musical Two showgirl broads abroad find love and money and fine songs to sing about them. 91 minutes Color 1953.

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A perfume is suddenly in the room and one cannot think clearly of anything else. That perfume is Marilyn Monroe. Translated to cinematic terms this means you can’t take your eyes off her. Whenever she is on camera she draws focus. She is not trying to steal scenes. But there is a level of vulnerability available to her in the character she always played that is riveting. One goes goo-goo-eyed, just like the men in the movie do. The men are Charles Coburn who had acted with her before in Monkey Business, also directed by Hawks, and who is lovely here, and Tommy Noonan in a badly conceived role, playing an infantile millionaire poodling after her. Lorelei Lee certainly deserved a grown man as her vis a vis. But Hawks was not interested in Monroe’s sexuality. He liked scaloppini dames like Lauren Bacall and Ella Raines, women who were forward, the seducers not the seduced, that is he liked women who chased men, not women whom men chased, like MM. Hawks directed this movie in his usual plain camera style, but he directed none of the musical numbers except for Bye Bye Baby. He also had a terrible time with Monroe, as did everyone else, and he had no idea how to talk to her while they were making it. He could not understand how this little chippie bit player from Monkey Business could have become this big star. But Hawks had directed Jane Russell in The Outlaw, liked her, and knew her to be a woman of common sense. And Jane Russell had made herself a pal to Monroe; they both were childless; they both had famous athlete husbands; they both were disrespected sex bombs; they both sang real well. So Hawks talked to Jane when he wanted to convey something to Marilyn and Jane talked to Marilyn, and thus the movie got made. The songs are wonderful. The costumes are wonderful. Sydney Guilaroff did Marilyn’s hair in a loose pageboy for the Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend number, which really pays off. Howard Hughes had Jane Russell under contract, but released her on the understanding that she would be given plenty to do, and she does it superbly and partners Monroe well. Russell had a remittance agreement with Hughes that if she stayed under contract to him, he would support her for the rest of her life, and he did. However, he was stingy in renting her out, so she made few movies, and she thus never thoroughly developed her craft. Monroe on the other hand is in full swing here, in her first huge role. She brings to the part exactly what Carol Channing brought to it, when I saw her do it at the Ziegfeld on Broadway, which is the intelligence of a young woman who is so ignorant she knows everything. Monroe glows with this ignorance. She even knows so little she even thinks she has to make her diction extravagant to cloak it: “Thanks ever so.”  And like Channing she brings to Lorelie Lee a vocal style that is legato, which is to say, slow of speech, as opposed to the gum snapping fast come-back type blonde, and is also unearthly. In Channing the voice is freakish. In Monroe it is a heavenly candy store. Monroe, like Garbo, made up her character in the shower. Out on the street, talking to her, she did not wear the sexual garment which she never doffs here. But the fact was that she had made it up, she had made it up not out of whole cloth but out of something real in her, something extremely painful and no older than twelve. It became her destiny. The utilitarian vulnerability combined with her dishy looks, figure, and voice released in her the instinct to know how to play a woman who didn’t know anything. But it also gave her the invitation to be taken advantage of. And to use every means at her disposal to counter the dismembering fear that gave her.



Clash By Night

21 Oct

Clash By Night — Directed by Fritz Lang. Kitchen Sink Drama. A woman who has married a decent dullard falls for a hunk of trouble. 105 minutes Black and White 1952.

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It is not film noir; it is kitchen sink drama of the kind that Chayefsky was writing and that was all over live TV at the time. It’s by Odets, and later even the great Rita Hayworth appeared in one of these KSDs, Story On Page One, also by Odets. This version is excellent and Bogdanovich and Lang himself do the Extra Features voice over, which is an education and a treat. We have here a strong story, well acted by Robert Ryan as the cad and Barbara Stanwyck, although not by Paul Douglas who plays it for pity – never a good idea. Marilyn Monroe as a small town girl is wonderful in all her scenes and different from the lollypop she often was shown as later; here she’s a fish-scaler in a Monterey cannery; she’s wonderful in a scene where her boyfriend tells her off. Kim Stanley, Lloyd Bridges, and E.G. Marshall made a TV version of this a little later, and it’s interesting to compare the scripts and performances. For one thing, Kim Stanley is better at playing a mother than Stanwyck because she was closer to childbearing age. But here Stanwyck is wonderful as the beaten-down, been-away-for-years failure. And why is that? Because Stanwyck is the least beaten-down person on the planet. In both versions the false naiveté of the husband stretches our gag reflex. But the piece has its power. In the case of Kim Stanley it is the power of a woman whose sexual capacity is stifled by her circumstances and has no way out but toward the arms of a rotter. In the case of Stanwyck, it is her natural power that is stifled with the same tragic result. Odets was a master at dramas of humans with no natural outlet. The ignorant armies are inside us. We are in the land of lower-class melodrama here, and in this case, I can think of far worse places to be. Fritz Lang’s work is always worth seeing.






Monkey Business

08 Mar

Monkey Business  — Directed by Howard Hawke — Low Comedy. A college chemistry professor invents the soda fountain of youth, and the wrong people start to drink it.  97 minutes Black and White 1952

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If I had to choose films to be stranded on a desert island with, I would say, Gimme pictures with Edward G. Robinson or Charles Coburn in them. Both men were stout, both were brilliant, and both smoked cigars at birth. Robinson played the heavier roles usually, Coburn the lighter. Hearken to Coburn’s delivery of the line regarding Marilyn Monroe’s secretarial skills: “Anyone can type.” He was to salivate over her again in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, also a Howard Hawks film. Hawks was not a fancy director, and he was best at male/female contention, as in I Was a Male War Bride, To Have and To Have Not, Bringing Up Baby. So here. The opening sequence is the best in the film, a gentle contention between the expert Ginger Rogers and the expert Cary Grant. The film would have been better had this level been sustained, but it falls into crude slapstick. I love crude slapstick, but it’s got to work better than here. Giving Cary Grant a gaudy sports coat and a crew cut is not funny in itself. He just looks terrific in them in a different way. Ginger Rogers as a three-year-old brat is quite cunning.Rogers was quite good at mad impersonations (and to see her in a brilliant performance of them in a brilliant film, see Roxy Hart). Monroe is good in all her scenes, but, although she is starred, her part is only as big as it could be. The monkey, though! Ah, the monkey is worth the price of admission. Never have I seen so clever and risible a monkey in my life!



We’re Not Married

26 Feb

We’re Not Married — Directed by Edmund Goulding — Low Comedy. Multiple miscarriages of marriage. 86 minutes Black and White 1952.

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Oh, dear, and what a good idea, too. A letter of the law has not been followed, and five couple find they are not wed after all. It’s essentially five playlets for two actors each. The problem lies in the writing and directing, for the exposition of each of them goes on far too long, and the resolutions of all but the ones with Louis Calhern and Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eddie Bracken’s with Mitzie Gaynor, are left unexplained. Why do Eve Arden and Paul Douglas remarry, when Douglas has torn up the marriage-canceling letter in the throes of a sexual fantasy about an orgy of future babes? The soda-fountain mentality of Hollywood in the 50s is perfectly arrayed here in the flatness and thinness of the set design, the banality of the world Hollywood wanted us to swallow, and which we didn’t swallow thanks to Marlon Brando. None of the actors are well served: the great Louis Calhern is filmed all wrong, Eddie Bracken is asked to perform bedroom farce on a back-lot small town street, opposite the vexing Mitzie Gaynor, who throve only in musicals, as far as I know. Ginger Rogers, as expert a natural comedienne of light bite as ever drew breath, has to play exposition scenes of interminable length with radio star Fred Allen. Marilyn Monroe is in fine figure and good fun as a beauty queen, and David Wayne does a good job as her house-husband. It’s an ice-cream sundae with powdered milk ice-cream. But, to watch Ginger Rogers as an actress work the material with full natural ease and responsiveness is a treat. The adaptation was done by Dwight Taylor, the son of the great Laurette Taylor; he wrote some of the Rogers and Astaire musicals, and it would have been better had he written the script itself. Sorry to be sour here. I was open when it opened and slowly closed up as it went along.



O’Henry’s Full House

03 Feb

O’Henry’s Full House – directed by Henry Hathaway, Henry King, Henry Koster, Howark Hawkes, Jean Negulesco  — Comedy. Five of the master’s tales. 117 minutes, black and white 1952.

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Marilyn Monroe — there she for a full two minutes, yet for all time — with that figure and the air of a dream-mistress and the hurt of a molested 12 year old asking for more and asking for no more at the same time. She is child-like appealing in the moment when she says, “He called me a lady,” after she listens to Charles Laughton. He is tip top as the grandiose bum who seeks to spend the winter in a cosy jail rather than on a desolate park bench. David Wayne does a terrific crazy derelict with just the right hat. Richard Widmark  reprises his Johnny Udo from Kiss of Death, which is super to see again. He was never a subtle actor, so this is perfect for him, and I place you in his competent evil hands. I saw this picture when it came out, and was bored, but that was the era when Marlon Brando was emerging, so I found it old fashioned. But now I enjoy that it is old fashioned, for that was its intention, and I ask: would these costume stories work in modern dress? I think not. For their entertainment value is high, but their value is the entertainment of antiques. Put this in your Antiques Film Road Show and enjoy — O’Henry really knew how to tell a story: The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief, The Clarion Call, The Cop and the Anthem, The Last Leaf.



Making The Misfits

08 Nov

The Making The Misfits –– directed by Gail Levin –– documentary on the last film of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift  — 2001 black and white 2001

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We who were alive at the time, knew a lot about what was going because Marilyn Monroe was such a photographed figure. Her genius was, in fact, for the still picture not the motion picture –– and Eli Wallach says the same. Monroe, Gable, and Clift all died before the film was released. I remember talking to Celeste Holm about it the week it opened; she’d gone to the Roxy to see it, and she said, “You could shoot moose in there.” Because the movie was a coffin? The theatre was empty when I went too. Holm said that Monroe couldn’t act. That’s probably right. In a sense Monroe was prevented from it by the script which makes of her a marshmallow saint whom everyone loves –– which means there was no inherent character defect or inner conflict in the character, nothing for her to play against, no failing to let us in. The film was remarkably photographed and produced, and the producers and their survivors talk about it. What the actors, such as Kevin McCarthy and Eli Wallach, say about their work is fascinating. John Houston was a gallant director, energetic but also lazy. He loved filming horses. The Misfits has a grainy and horizontal quality to it, and is well worth seeing. Its failure lies with Arthur Miller who wrote it; its failure lies not in its characters or situation but in its story. It would have been far more interesting if Monroe’s capacity for atrocious behavior had been an element in that story. Then you might have had something. Too late now, though. This documentary made years later seizes the world of studio filmmaking at it its richest. Scenes of the crew lying around in the hideous heat of Arizona while the demoralizing Monroe was hours late are a testament to the fortitude of the craftsmen whose skills and devotion brought the good strong films of that era before us.


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