Men, Movies and Marilyn

Ahead of TCM’s Marilyn movie marathon on August 4th, Rafer Guzman studies her impact for Newsday – arguing that, even in her most farcical roles, she was never just a dumb blonde.

“If people remember Monroe as a distressed damsel, that’s because of her personal life — failed marriages, failed pregnancies, a sorrowful death by drug overdose at the age of 36 — and not because of her movies. Monroe rarely played sad or tragic roles; her final film, 1961’s The Misfits, written by her soon-to-be ex Arthur Miller, is an exception. Rather, Monroe specialized in versions of herself: a regular girl from Little Rock or Colorado (though she was born in L.A.) who has grown up to be an actress, model or showgirl, all bubbles and energy and good cheer.

People also remember Monroe as a dumb blond — but again, she rarely if ever played dumb. Frequently in her movies, some poor chauvinist suddenly realizes there’s an intellect inside that hourglass figure. ‘That’s a very interesting line of reasoning,’ Ewell admits in The Seven-Year Itch after Monroe explains why she prefers married men. ‘Say, they told me you were stupid!’ says a spluttering businessman after hearing Monroe’s Shakespearean soliloquy on love and wealth in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In All About Eve (1950), a snobby theater critic corrects her manners, only to find himself corrected. ‘You have a point,’ he says. ‘An idiotic one, but a point.’

Despite the frequently condescending attitudes, there’s something wonderful about the way men interact with Monroe on screen. They tend to be Average American Males, a now-extinct species recognizable by their fedoras and enormous confidence. These fellas knew how to approach a girl, as long as she knew how to be approached; there were rules about these things. There’s a line that Richard Widmark uses on Monroe in Don’t Bother to Knock that men today can only dream of using: ‘Are you doing anything you couldn’t be doing better with somebody else?’ It worked, too!”

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