The Misfits ranks alongside The Godfather Part II and Top Gun in a list of 7 movies featuring the Desert State as a location, posted at Nevada SportsNet. In this photo by Inge Morath, we see Marilyn conferring with cinematographer Russell Metty, while shooting a scene in which her newly-divorced character leaves the Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, and following a local custom, throws her wedding ring into the Truckee River.
Although better-known for her high-glam comedies, Marilyn shone in dramatic roles when the opportunity arose. Over at NCN, The Misfits represents 1961 in an article listing the Best Western Films from the Year You Were Born, while at Classic Movie Hub, Gary Vitacco Robles continues his series on Marilyn’s movies with a look at Don’t Bother to Knock (you can read his take on Niagara here.)
“Four years before she set foot into the Actors Studio, Marilyn gives a Method Acting performance, beginning with her entrance. Nell enters the hotel’s revolving door in a simple cotton dress, low heels, a black sweater, and a beret. From behind, we see her outfit is wrinkled as if she had been sitting on the subway for a long time … Nell’s backstory is cloaked, and Monroe builds the character through use of her body in a manner studied with [Michael] Chekhov. She moves with hesitancy and scans her environment in a way that suggests she has not been in public for a long time.
According to [co-star] Anne Bancroft, Marilyn disagreed with both [director] Roy Ward Baker and acting coach Natasha Lytess on how to play the final climatic scene, ignoring their advice. ‘The talent inside that girl was unquestionable,’ Bancroft told John Gilmore. ‘She did it her way and this got right inside me, actually floored me emotionally.’
Nell Forbes is a fragmented personality with a blank expression. Sadness, fear, and rage register in Monroe’s face with credibility. She fluctuates from an introverted waif to someone who seems ruthless, even dangerous. Having worked with Chekhov, Monroe learned to delve deep into her own reservoir of painful memories and accessed her own natural talent for portraying vulnerability and madness. Employing Chekhov’s technique of physicality, she frequently held her waist as if the character were preventing herself from succumbing to madness. Perhaps Monroe’s mother, Gladys, served as inspiration. Gladys was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and institutionalized for long periods of time.
Monroe gives a stunning, riveting performance as a damaged woman, and suggests an alternative path her career might have taken if her physical beauty had not dictated the roles Fox gave her. Indeed, her comic performances were gems, which ultimately led to her legendary status, but what heights might she have achieved had she been allowed to experiment with more dramatic roles earlier in her career? Sadly, the film is rarely emphasized as a part of her body of work.
Arguably, Monroe effectively channeled her mentally ill mother and gives a believable performance as a vaguely written character in a script without any description of her personality. Monroe later told friend Hedda Rosten that Don’t Bother to Knock was one of her favorite films and considered Nell her strongest performance.”
Was Billy Wilder Marilyn’s best director? “It’s a marvel of characterization,” film studies professor Matthew Bernstein says of Some Like It Hot, as WABE reports. “Marilyn Monroe has never appeared to better advantage in any Hollywood film, because also because Wilder is an expert at using stars and their star images that are built up over time.” You can watch a zoom webinar about Some Like It Hot on June 19 at Atlanta’s The Temple, as part of a series, Up Close With Billy Wilder. (Other titles include Double Indemnity and The Apartment.)
In the first of a series for the Classic Movie Hub website, Gary Vittaco Robles looks at Marilyn’s star-making performance in Niagara. Gary is (of course) the author of the two-volume biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, upon which his new podcast, Marilyn: Behind the Icon, is also based.
“Niagara was Marilyn’s only opportunity to portray a villainous, narcissistic woman with virtually no redeeming qualities who conspires with her lover to murder her husband … Interestingly, studio memos suggest original casting consideration of Monroe in for the role of Polly, and Anne Baxter as Rose. However, studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck’s image of Monroe likely cemented her fate as—in the words of the film’s marketing—the ‘tantalizing temptress whose kisses fired men’s souls.’
[Director] Henry Hathaway’s reputation was that of a tyrant who belittled and cursed his actors. However, he took an immediate liking to Monroe, or perhaps she melted his icy exterior. Hathaway considered Monroe’s opinion when editing the daily rushes and allowed her input to the selection of takes chosen for the finished film.
For the first time, Monroe was hailed for precision in her acting in a leading role. ‘The dress is red; the actress has very nice knees,’ wrote Otis Guernsey of New York Herald Tribune, ‘and under Hathaway’s direction she gives the kind of serpentine performance that makes the audience hate her while admiring her, which is proper for the story.’ Time hailed its full-bodied assertion, ‘What lifts the film above the commonplace is its star, Marilyn Monroe.’
In the final analysis, Monroe served Fox well. Niagara cost $1,250,000 and returned $6,000,000 in its first release. She had achieved global stardom. Nearly seventy years after its release, Niagara retains its nail-biting suspense, showcases Monroe’s dramatic talents, and illustrates its leading lady’s transcending appeal and charisma. She had personified the culture’s standard for beauty and sensuality.”
Following last weekend’s viewing party, Tony and Manohla weigh up the feedback for Some Like It Hot in the New York Times. While the drag storyline is seen as ahead of its time, Marilyn’s ‘dumb blonde’ persona was also more complex than it may have appeared.
“It’s a complicated picture, bracingly ahead of its time in some ways, wincingly dated in others. Lemmon and Joe E. Brown (as the millionaire Osgood) seem to make a case for gay marriage more than half a century before the Obergefell decision. At the same time, one of the sources of the movie’s enduring appeal — Monroe’s performance as the lovelorn ukuleleist Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk — is also sometimes a source of discomfort. It can be hard to disentangle sex appeal from exploitation, or to avoid seeing the shadow of Monroe’s profound unhappiness in Sugar’s melancholy moments.
‘I think there have been more books on Marilyn Monroe than on World War II,’ Wilder once said, ‘and there’s a great similarity.’ Whatever he meant by that, it’s true that she has been posthumously transformed from sex object to object of interpretation. Some Like It Hot certainly uses her to generate erotic heat, in that almost invisible Orry-Kelly gown and in that steamy make-out scene with Curtis. But surely Sugar is more than eye candy. Lemmon and Curtis are justly celebrated for their winking, campy, affectionate sendups of femininity, but isn’t Monroe doing something equally sophisticated?
“Sugar’s masculine aggression as she seduces a sexually repressed Josephine/Cary Grant/Tony Curtis turns another male/female encounter completely inside out. The sex object playing the role of sex predator works to perfection thanks to Monroe’s performance. We realize again that what we see is seldom what we get. After all, as Sweet Sue tells us, ‘All my girls are virtuosos.’” Conrad Bailey, Prescott, AZ
What she’s doing is as knowing as the rest of the film is, which is why it remains such a fascinating object to revisit again and again. Wilder was a virtuoso and seems to have been a bastard or at least played one in life. Ed Sikov opens his biography of him with a quote in which Wilder says, ‘In real life, most women are stupid,’ adding that so are those who write celeb bios. Sikov isn’t alone in seeing, as he puts it, ‘a streak of misogyny’ in Wilder’s career, though I see him as an equal opportunity cynic, one who gave women fantastic roles.
And Sugar is a role and as much a caricature of femininity as Josephine and Daphne are. Monroe is often rightfully remembered as a victim, including of the movie industry, but it’s crucial to see that she helped create this iconic blond bombshell called Marilyn Monroe.”
The Misfits, which proved to be the last film completed by either Marilyn or Clark Gable, ranks 4th among his 10 highest-rated movies on IMDB, as Screen Rant reports. (Interestingly, Gone With the Wind – one of the most famous movies ever made – is tied with Gable’s 1934 comedy, It Happened One Night, for first place.)
If you needed an excuse to watch Some Like It Hot again, Tony and Manohla at the New York Times are hosting a virtual viewing party all weekend – leave your feedback here.
“Everyone could use a little candy right now, and we can’t think of a sweeter way to spend time than with Sugar and her pals Jo and Daphne watching Some Like It Hot.
Even if it’s your first encounter with this 1959 comedy — directed by Billy Wilder from a script that he wrote with I.A.L. Diamond — it spoils nothing to know that Jo and Daphne are really Joe and Jerry, and are played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Marilyn Monroe, at the height of her comedic powers, is Sugar, who sings ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ (and she is) and whose walk Jerry likens to ‘Jell-O on springs.’
Do movie lovers still like it hot — do you? In his review in The New York Times, A.H. Weiler warned that ‘a viewer might question the taste of a few of the lines, situations and the prolonged masquerade.’ That may still be true, though perhaps for different reasons than Weiler thought. Nobody’s perfect.
And here’s another taste from the Times’ 1959 review…
“As the hand’s somewhat simple singer-ukulele player, Miss Monroe, whose figure simply cannot be overlooked, contributes more assets than the obvious ones to this madcap romp. As a pushover for gin and the tonic effect of saxophone players, she sings a couple of whispery old numbers (‘Running Wild’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved by You’) and also proves to be the epitome of a dumb blonde and a talented comedienne.”
In 1951, Alfred Hayes adapted Clifford Odets’ play Clash by Night for the big screen, giving Marilyn one of her first dramatic roles. Hayes was also an accomplished novelist who is finally getting his due, as Scott Bradfield reports for the Los Angeles Times. Although Bradfield understates his contribution, Hayes crucially expanded the subplot involving Joe Doyle (Keith Andes) and his feisty girlfriend Peggy, allowing Marilyn to give one of her strongest, most natural performances.
“After a brief early success in 1946 with his first novel, All Thy Conquests, based on his military experiences in Italy during World War II, Hayes wrote on some of the most successful Italian neorealist films of the postwar period, such as Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief (1948) and Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946), for which he received an Oscar nomination. His subsequent move from New York to California was both financially lucrative and artistically unrewarding. While he continued fitfully producing the occasional novel and collection of verse (his best known poem, ‘Joe Hill’, became a protest song for Pete Seeger and Joan Baez), his film work was either uncredited (Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men) or uninteresting (A Hatful of Rain, a Fred Zinnemann ‘message’ film about drug addiction). Even his biggest project, Fritz Lang’s moodily intense Clash by Night (which in 1952 featured Marilyn Monroe in one of her first major roles), was little more than a competent alteration to a Clifford Odets play.
Over the last 15 years, however, Hayes the novelist has been rescued from anonymity by the canny revivalists at New York Review Books. Over the last few years, they have reissued a loosely defined ‘trilogy’ of Hayes’ short, powerful, first-person novels about a young writer (like Hayes) who moves to Hollywood (like Hayes) and lives to tell about it (like Hayes).
Hayes has been unfairly forgotten for many reasons; the biggest one was probably that he wasn’t writing the types of books that were being praised in the postwar era — the ones written by the likes of Mailer, Barth, Bellow and Roth. Those writers aspired to produce big books with big themes, big books about a big country. But like John Fante, another Hollywood-based novelist who suffered a similar eclipse of reputation, Hayes didn’t write those kinds of books. Rather, his novels explored the ways in which small souls sought to cut their own safe path across the world’s unforgiving bigness.”
Marilyn tops French Vogue‘s list of Iconic White Dresses in Cinema (with Elizabeth Taylor’s lacy slip from Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Sharon Stone’s turtle-neck dress from Basic Instinct also making the grade.)
“Among the iconic dresses of the cinema, the white dress remains one of our favorites. When it is not the traditional and classic uniform of the bride, the white dress has a sexy look, immortalized on screen by some of the greatest actresses of all time … When we say ‘white dress at the movies’, we immediately think of the one worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, which is a myth in itself. All it took was one scene to shape the Marilyn legend. At the end of a film session, Richard Sherman and his beautiful neighbor stop above an air vent between Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in New York City when the hot air from the subway lifts the young woman’s dress. At the age of 29, Marilyn gained legend status with this pleated white cocktail dress designed by costume designer William Travilla, nicknamed the ‘subway dress.'”
Joan Bayley, shown here coaching Marilyn for There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), has just celebrated her 100th birthday, the Los Angeles Times reports. (Although uncredited on the film, Joan was probably assisting choreographer Jack Cole.)
“The two lines of cars — about 50 in all, decorated with posters, streamers and balloons — were parked in L.A.’s Mar Vista neighborhood as family and neighbors in masks congregated outdoors for a birthday celebration, the kind that’s come to be a national ritual during the coronavirus outbreak.
At 2 p.m. the parade began, with drivers honking and shouting birthday wishes to the woman of the hour: Joan Bayley, a former ballet instructor who worked in Hollywood musicals alongside Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Marilyn Monroe.
Born in Canada, Bayley moved to Los Angeles at age 6 and began dancing at a neighborhood school when she was 7 or 8.
Her first experience on stage was performing in a 1934 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. As a teenager, she trained and performed with noted choreographer Carmelita Maracci, who blended ballet with Spanish dance.
Bayley moved to New York to continue dancing with Maracci and later worked in nightclubs, performing flamenco solos for dinner guests. She returned to L.A. to pursue film work during World War II because ‘there was no touring, so companies disappeared.’
In her early years as a studio dancer, Bayley performed in ballet scenes and worked with modern choreographer Lester Horton on films including 1943’s Phantom of the Opera and 1945’s Salome, Where She Danced.
While working on the 1939 film adaptation of On Your Toes, choreographed by George Balanchine, Bayley met the man who would become her husband, Ray Weamer.
In the 1950s, Bayley began working with commercial choreographer Robert Alton — known for his discovery of Gene Kelly and his collaborations with Fred Astaire — and later became his assistant. She then worked as a choreographer herself, creating dances for television series.
She said she wanted her birthday festivities to raise awareness for the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica, where she taught for more than 30 years — until last year. The school is fighting for survival in the pandemic and has launched a community fundraiser to stay afloat. “