Which movies have today’s filmmakers been watching in quarantine? Michael Mann, director of Heat (1995) and Public Enemies (2009), chose a classic crime drama which also gave Marilyn her first big break. “When was the last time you saw Asphalt Jungle?” Michael asked readers of Vulture.com. “I have seen it about three times. It’s fantastic. It doesn’t [get the respect today that it should].”
From Some Came Running to Irma La Douce, Shirley MacLaine played several roles previously considered for Marilyn.What a Way to Go! was first offered to Marilyn by Twentieth Century Fox and would reportedly have been her next film after the ill-fated Something’s Got to Give.
In the week before she died, Marilyn was said to have attended screenings of films by J. Lee Thompson, who was set to direct. But the main attraction of this vehicle – then titled I Love Louisa – was undoubtedly that it would have rounded off her old studio contract.
Released on this day in 1964, What a Way to Go! featured several of Marilyn’s friends and associates, including former co-stars Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly and Dean Martin, plus Gentlemen Prefer Blondes songwriter Jule Styne (who spoke with Marilyn in her final days), cameraman Leon Shamroy. The film also marked the producing debut of Arthur P. Jacobs, who headed up Marilyn’s team of publicists.
This musical extravagaza, with costumes by Edith Head, seems today like the last hurrah of a beleaguered studio system, but at the time it garnered a very favourable review from the Hollywood Reporter.
“What a Way to Go! is hard to define but easy to recommend; the 20th-Fox presentation is a funny musical comedy, or comedy with music, with all the glamour that Hollywood can throw into one film, and a high-powered cast to light the marquee. The J. Lee Thompson production, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, is a dazzler. It should be one of the year’s most popular attractions. Thompson directed the pleasantly nutty shenanigans.
Shirley MacLaine is the central figure in the Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay, a charmer whose attractions include the Midas touch and the kiss of death. Every man who takes up with her is rewarded by fabulous success. Unfortunately, he doesn’t live long to enjoy it or her. Hence the title. In the midst of wealth and endearing charms, he departs this life. Each time, Miss MacLaine is a rich widow, and each time, increasingly rich.
The story is told in the form of a flashback, with Miss MacLaine trying to give away some $200,000,000. She feels guilt. Rich, but guilty. Since the government won’t take her money, she goes to a psychiatrist … At the end she is reunited with the one man she said she’d never marry, Dean Martin. Bob Cummings plays the psychiatrist who listens to this gaily macabre tale.
The Comden-Green script, inspired by a story by Gwen Davis, is only the thread on which are hung a succession of funny scenes and musical numbers. The production is mounted richly. Sets are big and splendid. Costuming for Miss MacLaine by Edith Head is a major item … In this and other areas, this is the kind of movie Hollywood once made its worldwide reputation on, scorned by the aesthetes, adored by the multitudes.
Miss MacLaine is at her best as the girl who succeeds in getting her husbands’ businesses started without trying at all. She has the figure for the clothes and the sense of fun for the lines. She dances, she sings (on one occasion with another voice, dubbed for humor) and she generally cements the episodic frame … Mitchum is offhand and amusing as the super-rich tycoon. Dean Martin is not as interesting as usual — perhaps the role doesn’t give him a chance to get off the ground. Gene Kelly (who also did the bright choreography) clowns amusingly as a small-time operator who blossoms into the big-time.”
Seventy years ago, in May 1950, Marilyn began filming her scenes as aspiring actress Claudia Caswell in the classic backstage drama, All About Eve – and while Miss Caswell may have failed her audition, for Marilyn the role was a major breakthrough on the road to stardom. This anniversary has prompted a pictorial issue from e-zine Crazy For You (the back cover image is new to me.)
After a decade in development, the Netflix adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel, Blonde – now in post-production – has hit another roadblock following the coronavirus crisis, The Playlist reports.
“Another film that was expected to be released this year is Andrew Dominik’s Netflix film Blonde. Dominik gave us one of the best films of the 2000s with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but then followed that up with the disappointing Killing Them Softly, so a lot was riding on Blonde which follows a fictionalized version of the inner life of Marilyn Monroe (played by Ana de Armas.) The film also stars Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale as Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, respectively. According to IndieWire, Blonde is now intended for 2021, though it is unclear whether they’d still try to have the film play in festivals before a theatrical release.”
As Jake Dee reports for Screen Rant, the top-ranking Marilyn movie on user-led review site Rotten Tomatoes is not one of the more famous comedies, but her early dramatic role in Don’t Bother to Knock, reviewed here by film blogger Wess Haubrich.
“One huge reason Marilyn rocked my world as a lover of film, is that I myself have struggled with depression … I identify with her struggle with mental illness (read a heart-breaking letter she wrote about her time in a psychiatric ward here) — the seed of which was likely planted long before her stardom: her mother was not in her life as she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and spent much time in and out of hospitals, and virtually none with her daughter — because I too have been there, in that deep, dark, blacker-than-the-deepest-black hole.
1952’s Don’t Bother to Knock (based upon the 1951 novel Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong) hits on those fronts and is also, in my view, Marilyn at her most visibly delicate, at least early on in the film. The film is 66 years old this August.
We see Marilyn Monroe in the role of the fragile Nell Forbes, new to Manhattan and recruited by her uncle Eddie, who is an elevator operator in a ritzy hotel in the city, to babysit for an affluent couple … [the] tension in Nell Forbes’ unfolding psychosis is made all the more palpable because Marilyn Monroe’s performance feels like it reaches into the pit of her soul and her struggle with mental illness.
In the screen test for her role, Monroe stayed up for 48 hours straight training hard with her acting coach Natasha Lytess (much in the way of rumor circles the two women), even disobeying direct orders not to sneak Lytess on to the soundstage during her screen test, despite Monroe’s notoriously insecure nature at this point in her career. This gamble she took to get her first starring role in feature film paid off with a successful test, and Zanuck himself sent her a note of congratulations.
Don’t Bother to Knock was unjustly lampooned by the critics when it was released. Marilyn Monroe’s performance is truly something to behold, despite the low budget B-Picture trappings surrounding the film itself. It is a fine contribution to the canon of both film noir and B-Movie history.”Thanks to A Passion for Marilyn
Writing for Vogue, Radhika Seth names the 1953 ‘protofeminist buddy comedy’, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, among ’10 of the Most Stylish Musicals to Watch Now.’
“Though best remembered for Marilyn Monroe’s sultry rendition of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ Howard Hawks’ satirical romp has much more to offer. It follows two showgirls played by Monroe and Jane Russell who take a transatlantic cruise to France. While the latter is a hopeless romantic, the former is on the hunt for a wealthy husband. The dialogue is razor-sharp, the sets outlandish and the costumes — from glittering gowns to structured jumpsuits — impossibly stylish.”
Writing for The Independent, Geoffrey McNab explores why All About Eve, which turns seventy this year, is still relevant to audiences today. (You can read his recent piece about The Misfits here.) The photo shown above was taken during a screening in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, as part of the HBO Film Festival in 2012. “10,000 people showed up to see Marilyn, 50 years after her death,” blogger Hans Von Rittenberg wrote here. “Marilyn lives eternal.”
“What makes All About Eve so irresistible is the malevolent wit and relish with which Mankiewicz tells his Darwinian backstage tale … Based on the celebrity New York drama critic George Jean Nathan, [Addison] DeWitt is as sharp in his dress as in his phrase-making but shows no pity for anyone. He happily discards Margo, the star he once championed and sneers with condescension at the naivety of his young companion Miss Caswell (a doe-like Marilyn Monroe) who is as star-struck as Eve but lacks her steel. He describes Caswell as ‘a graduate of the Copacabana school of the dramatic arts’ … All About Eve may be about narcissistic theatre folk but almost everyone watching it, regardless of their line of business, will have encountered their own Eve Harringtons. In business, sport, politics, playgrounds, and in just about every other form of human endeavour, there always comes a moment when the pushy newcomer tries to dislodge the established figure, often using underhand methods to do so. That is one reason why the film is as topical now as it was 70 years ago.”
One reader left this response: “A throwaway line by DeWitt is brilliant – he describes how he had met Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe), they had met ‘In passing.’ One guesses that it was de Witt who did the passing and (Caswell) who had been stationary – on the sidewalk. Quite …”
Hollywood’s voiceover artists are featured in the May issue of Yours Retro, including Marni Nixon who helped Marilyn hit the high notes on ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,’ in the soprano introduction and again near the end. For the most part, though, the voice you’ll hear on that classic track from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is Marilyn’s.
Thanks to Fraser Penney
In their new book, Cinema ’62, Stephen Farber and Michael McClellan make the case for 1962 as an all-time great year in film – citing The Miracle Worker, To Kill a Mockingbird, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane among its finest releases. While Marilyn’s abandoned last movie wouldn’t make the grade, the authors have referenced another prestigious title from 1962 first offered to her. (In John Huston’s Freud, starring Montgomery Clift, her role was played by newcomer Suzannah York – more details here.)
“Marilyn Monroe, the greatest star of the 1950s and early 1960s, was known not only for her sensual image and temperamental behaviour on the set. She was also, like many actors of the era, a passionate devotee of psychoanalysis who spent years sampling the wares of a series of fashionable doctors. In 1960 John Huston, who had directed her in one of her best early films, The Asphalt Jungle, and in her latest picture (which would turn out to be her last), The Misfits, offered her a key role in his ambitious tribute to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Marilyn was intrigued by the opportunity to tackle such a demanding dramatic role, but she ultimately turned it down, partly at the urging of her current analyst, Ralph Greenson, a close friend of Anna Freud, who was vehemently opposed to the idea of a Hollywoood picture about her sainted father’s life. In a letter to Huston dated November 5, 1960, just after The Misfits finished shooting, Marilyn declined the role. ‘I have it on good authority that the Freud family does not approve of anyone making a picture on the life of Freud,’ she wrote, then added that she could not be involved in the project, in part because of ‘my personal regard for his work.'”
Elsewhere in Cinema ’62, the authors discuss Marilyn’s demise and the loss felt within the movie industry and beyond.
“Tragically, Hollywood found its most luminous star permanently dimmed in August 1962 when Marilyn Monroe’s sudden death at the age of thirty-six rocked the movie industry and saddened fans worldwide. Monroe had been fired in June from George Cukor’s presciently titled and unfinished Something’s Got to Give after delaying production with her erratic behaviour. The emerging New Hollywood could no longer indulge its eccentric stars, not even the last great creation of the old studio and star system. Monroe had been the highest-ranked female box office draw three times in the mid-1950s but yielded that spot to Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day by the start of the 1960s, when she dropped out of the poll. However, Monroe would soon be immortalised as a cultural and screen icon, while her passing symbolised both the decline of female stars in the Hollywood firmament and the demise of the classical studio era. Fortunately, thanks to the creative vision of some veteran filmmakers as well as some brand-new voices, the cinema of 1962 remained as vital as ever.”
Film critic Angelica Jade Bastien, a long-time champion of Marilyn (see here) live-tweeted a screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on TCM last night. “What really makes this film for me is the friendship between Dorothy and Lorelei,” she says. “They’re both true broads but very different women – one bawdy and rough hewn on the outside, the other may seem like a dumb blonde but she’s shrewd in her own way.” Read more of Angelica’s tweets here.