One of my favourite Monroe movies, Don’t Bother to Knock will be released on Blu-Ray by Twilight Time Video on March 20. It’s a limited release with a high-def transfer, and it’s Region 0 so should be compatible with most Blu-Ray players. Special features include the excellent documentary, Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess.
“Made early in her blazing movie career before the full range of her comedic and dramatic gifts were fully explored, it’s intriguing to note that many later reappraisals of the Marilyn Monroe thriller Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) cite the storyline of a mentally fragile woman whose personal insecurities and sad delusions trigger dangerous behavior seem to prefigure her later-in-life struggles. It does endure as a neatly executed noir exercise with a richer than usual bench of character portrayals from Monroe’s colleagues Richard Widmark, young Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus and Verna Felton, and in that company, Monroe impressively delivers the goods … Monroe reportedly struggled with the role and caused some consternation with her director and castmates, but 66 years later, that very process of struggle seems to vindicate the promise of her undeniable talent on screen, while subsequent assessments of Don’t Bother to Knock, which got no critical love in its time but now seems all the more “on the cusp” of greater things henceforth, not only for Monroe (who would show further evidence of her dramatic chops as a scheming wife contemplating spousal murder in the following year’s Niagara), but for Baker and Bancroft too.”
Marilyn is listed among ‘6 Extreme Students of Method Acting’ by Blake Hayek in an article for Crixeo, citing her clash with Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl (though Bus Stop and The Misfits are arguably her most Method-y performances.)
“Many have rightly observed that method acting can tend to become a bit of a boys’ club and a self-validating reaction to the perceived trappings of being a ‘sissy in tights’ thespian. However, one performer certainly resets the balance somewhat. Marilyn Monroe famously played opposite theater heavyweight Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl, and the two sparred on set over their respective — and diametrically opposed — acting techniques. A student of Lee Strasberg, Monroe no doubt would have seemed uncouth to the classically trained, old-school Olivier. Later Olivier famously quipped to Dustin Hoffman, who was exhausted after staying up three days to prepare for his role in Marathon Man(1976): ‘Try acting, dear boy. It’s much easier.'”
The role of free-spirited Holly Golightly in the 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was first offered to Marilyn before it became an unlikely star vehicle for Audrey Hepburn. But as Emily Temple writes in ‘20 Literary Adaptations Disavowed By Their Original Authors,’ an article for Literary Hub, novelist Truman Capote was unhappy with the casting.
Although Marilyn’s rejection of the part is usually attributed to (or blamed upon) Paula Strasberg, others also advised her against it – but on artistic grounds, and not, as reported, because Holly was a call girl (a detail sidelined in the movie.)
‘I can see Marilyn playing a part like Holly and even giving this present one all the elan it badly needs,’ Edward Parone wrote in a 1959 report, ‘but I don’t feel she should play it: it lacks insight and warmth and reality and importance.’ Parone was then working for Marilyn’s production company, and would be a script advisor on The Misfits – and despite Audrey’s success, it was a view with which many critics, including Capote himself, would have agreed.
“Famously, Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part of Holly Golightly in the film adaptation of his now-classic novella. As Capote explained: ‘I had seen her in a film and thought she would be perfect for the part. Holly had to have something touching about her . . . unfinished. Marilyn had that.’ But although in a lot of ways she was perfect for the role, and though Capote claimed ‘she wanted it so badly that she worked up two whole scenes all by herself to play for me,’ she was discouraged from accepting the part by her dramatic advisor and acting coach Paula Strasberg, who said ‘that she would not have her play a lady of the evening.’ The role ended up going to Audrey Hepburn. ‘Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey,’ Capote said. But it wasn’t just the casting that bothered him. ‘The book was really rather bitter,’ he told Playboyin 1968, ‘and Holly Golightly was real—a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.'”
Anticipating this year’s Oscar ceremony, the current issue of Entertainment Weekly (dated February 23-March 2) features extensive coverage of the Academy Awards’ 90-year history. Of course, Marilyn never won an Oscar, nor was she even nominated. But her role in Some Like It Hot, which won her a Golden Globe, is mentioned in a list of legendary ‘Oscar disses.’
Although Some Like It Hot is her best-known film, Marilyn’s screen time was less than her co-stars. Were it not for her top billing, her performance would arguably be more suited to the Best Supporting Actress category. Marilyn’s bombshell image and flair for comedy both worked against her being taken seriously by the Hollywood establishment. But perhaps the most decisive factor was her rebellion against Twentieth Century Fox.
After winning her contractual battle with the studio, her acclaimed comeback in Bus Stop (1956) was overlooked by the Academy – a snub she never forgot. Her next performance, in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), won awards in Europe, while her last completed film, The Misfits (1961), was also her most mature dramatic role. But at the time, neither were particularly well-received in the US.
In 1964, columnist Sheilah Graham petitioned unsuccessfully for Marilyn to be given a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award. However, this is not standard practice within the Academy and thus is highly unlikely to happen now. Nonetheless, Marilyn’s films remain hugely popular and for many, she is the most enduring symbol of movies and glamour – proof, if proof were needed, that you don’t need an Oscar to be a legend.
Australian actress Margot Robbie, currently starring in the Oscar-nominated I, Tonya, has revealed her thoughts on Marilyn and her era, The List reports. “I love old films,” Margot says, “but my heart breaks when I watch Marilyn Monroe’s, because the characters she plays are so misogynistic and degrading that it’s mind-boggling that that was the norm. The same with Bonnie and Clyde; parts of it make my blood boil.” (I mostly agree with this, although I would add that it’s a testament to Marilyn’s talent that she was able to rise above or at least subvert her ‘dumb blonde’ typecasting. And sadly, sexism in movies is far from being a thing of the past.)
Should Marilyn have won an Oscar for Some Like It Hot? For sheer comic pizzazz, she should have been a shoo-in,’ Ryan Gilbey writes in The Guardian, ‘although she wasn’t nominated – for that or anything else.’ (She did win a Golden Globe for her role, however.)
Following a recent screening of The Misfits for students at Stanford University, Carlos Valladares has reviewed Marilyn’s swansong for Stanford Daily.
“The Misfits comes out at the tail-end of the classic Hollywood era (1961), and it shows. The photographers who drifted on and off the set (Eve Arnold, Bruce Davidson, Henri Cartier-Bresson) showed off Monroe, Clift, Gable in all their un-Glamour, in a starkly honest look that would have been unthinkable in the studios’ heyday … The editing is odd and erratic, but these glitches actually contribute to its depth. At one point, Monroe’s lips go out of sync with her voice. At another, Monroe’s close-up is interrupted by a blurry soft focus. She has none of the leering, near-pornographic dazzle of her 1950s promotional photos. Here, the camera looks as if it were just crying, doing a terrible job at wiping away its tears, overwhelmed by the state of Marilyn.
The Marilyn performance is so brave precisely because, despite the odds, she survives … It is when the men, after all their hard work and physical exertion, decide to shoot the wild horses they just captured, selling their meat for a few lousy hundred bucks. Suddenly, Monroe darts off into the distance and screams … the exact catharsis needed to make us care again about the sanctity of human beings. The camera hangs far back in an extreme long shot, making me feel Rosalyn’s insignificance, and, contrariwise, Monroe’s strength. It’s a rare instance where Rosalyn/Monroe has privacy to herself. Huston wisely does not go in for a typically Hollywood close-up that would show her breakdown and emotional turmoil with dramatic, lurid tastelessness. The camera cannot go in for a close-up. To do so would completely negate the scene’s point: the breaking out of a woman from her banality. She screams: ‘ENOUGH.’
The dialogue in this remarkable scene (perhaps the climax of Monroe’s acting career) also predicts Monroe’s eventual suspected fate … She could just as well be talking back to Arthur Miller (and the viewing public — us) as she is to Gable, Wallach and Clift. It’s an amazing example of an actor taking back her agency in a narrative that, at first glance, seems to float above the actors.”
Jonas Mekas is a pioneering indie filmmaker and critic, who first championed Marilyn in a 1961 review of The Misfits for the Village Voice. He also wrote an impassioned tribute after her death in 1962, which is reprinted in his book, Movie Journal: The Rise of New American Cinema, 1959-1971.
“Saturday night I sat in the lobby of the New Yorker Theater, while Marilyn was dying. I was defending her for the last time. Because what people do when they watch The Misfits is listen to those big lines and not see the beauty of MM herself. How can they do that, I thought, listen to those lines and not see the beauty of MM herself, the little bits of screen reality she creates — fragile, yes, but true and beautiful, more beautiful than any other reality around them? Even when she is pronouncing her lines, I watch her and I see on her face something else, not what the lines say, something of much more importance than the lines. The lines are empty, big, ugly; much of the movie itself is ugly. But the reality created by MM is beautiful, with a touch of sadness. She never learned enough actor’s ‘craft’ to cover her true feelings, true embarrassments, true beautiful self; she kept her ‘amateurishness’.”
Now Mekas has published another book, a ‘part diary, part scrapbook’, as CNN reports. It’s unclear if Marilyn is featured in A Dance With Fred Astaire, but an extract published on the Lithub website includes a 1954 interview with Miller.
David Alan Williams is the author of a series of self-published books profiling the various actors who worked with classic Hollywood stars. His latest volume, Marilyn Monroe’s Film Co-Stars From A to Z, runs to 600 pages (which may explain the hefty price tag.) Although probably not for the casual fan, this may be of interest to diehards as a reference tool.
“No film or television program would be complete without co-stars and supporting players. This book pays homage to those over 650 individuals who acted with Marilyn Monroe in her thirty films from 1947 through 1961. I hope you enjoy learning more about those hard working men, women, and children who were honored to work with this beautiful lady on the big screen.”
Gwendoline Christie, the English actress who plays Brienne of Tarth in TV’s Game of Thrones, has revealed that Marilyn was a formative influence on her chosen career. “I remember seeing Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop on television and thinking, what she was doing was so incredibly extraordinary,” Christie told People magazine. “I didn’t come from an acting background, but I just knew —that’s what I want to to do.”