Deanne Stillman, author of Mustang, Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree, and an expert on the American West, attended a 50th anniversary screening of The Misfits at the University of Nevada last week, as part of their ‘Honoring the Horse’ exhibition.
She has written an essay on this ‘iconic and underrated’ film, considering what The Misfits can tell us about the West today and why it has often been described as a ‘doomed’ project.
“As I see it, what doomed the cast was the story—the act of re-creating it, living with it and inside it, bedding down at night with the dark heart of the country, having coffee with it in the morning, and, in the end, not telling the truth. For as mighty as it was, The Misfits was essentially another Hollywood lie … In the weeks after The Misfits wrapped, Marilyn would sit for hours in a disguise and watch the horse carousel at the Santa Monica pier. We do not know what was on her mind and in her heart as the gaily painted animals turned forever. A fragile soul on and off the screen, she may have given great thought to what was really going on in Nevada, and to the fact that her lover, Arthur Miller, had torqued the truth to resurrect her career and, because she was in love with him, she had played alone. ‘I don’t know where I belong,’ she tells Perce in the movie—and perhaps she found a moment at the carousel.”
Don’t Bother to Knock screens twice at the Seattle International Film Festival Cinema today, at 4pm and 9.30 pm, in a double bill with the 1947 thriller, They Won’t Believe Me. Part of the ‘Noir City’ festival, and linked to a recurring noir theme, ‘Who’s Crazy Now?’
Meredith L. Grau writes about how ‘Youtube killed the movie star’ today at L.A. LaLa Land.
“Marilyn Monroe is the last great movie star. The biggest movie star. She represents both the heights of studio produced star power and the transition to the actor star. She stands too as the greatest sacrifice of such an alteration, falling into the strange and indescribable black abyss between the ‘movie personality’ and the ‘true artist.’ Though there were large names and memorable faces to follow hers, Marilyn alone stands as our great Christ symbol: she paid the price of stardom and sacrificed herself for our love and respect. What we responded to in Marilyn was not just her beauty but her genuineness. When people describe her as being likable for her vulnerability or her innocence, what they are truly referring to is her humanity. We loved her because she was larger than life and real– a goddess you could reach out and touch. Marilyn’s sadness was somehow always palpable, always present (as seen right). Whereas I am always in awe of the way Rita Hayworth could draw the shade and hide her inner sorrow from her screen performances, Marilyn could not do the same. Initially, she made a concerted effort to mask her complex nature behind her star-making doe-eyed stares, the sensuous movements of her mouth, or her infamous walk, but despite this, little Norma Jean was always there. Later, she used her personal torments and fears, the things that she had originally fought to disguise, to deepen her acting and her performances. She became the star who could act, and our love of her only increased when the little girl she had kept masked behind her caricatured performances was let loose into more complicated and interesting roles. The full-fledged, unadulterated, massively contrived, and absolutely magnificent movie star, thus, died when she did.”
Thanks to Angel aka ‘timetravelangel’ at Everlasting Star for her review of the Bus Stop revival at Newcastle-Under-Lyme’s New Vic Theatre.
“I have seen some truly wonderful theatre at the New Vic over the years and so I was thrilled when I found out my local professional theatre was doing Bus Stop by William Inge. Though I love all Marilyn Monroe movies, I must confess that certain scenes in the movie Bus Stop grate on my nerves – mostly Bo Decker’s persistent whooping and some of his more moronic moments.
However, a Marilyn movie is a Marilyn movie and I was very excited about the opportunity to see the original theatrical version. Would it be better? Would it be different?
Comparisons between play and movie … In the play, there are eight characters. As in the movie we have Bo Decker and his friend, the guitar-strumming Virgil Blessing, Chérie (just “Chérie” – one name is all a chanteuse needs!), Elma Duckworth – the scholarly young waitress, Grace the owner of the diner and the bus-driver Carl. Two characters who do not appear in the movie are the sheriff and the professor (more on them later).
In the movie, I don’t think anyone could disagree that Chérie and Bo are at the heart of the story. Bo’s journey into maturity and Chérie’s journey to learning what love really is are the meatiest character developments.
But in the play Elma features a lot more. In fact, it appeared that Elma was the central figure. Her naivety is like the prism through which we see the other characters. She mediates between the other characters on several occasions, and it is she who persuades Chérie to get on a table and sing ‘That Old Black Magic.’
The play focuses on the theme of one persons need for another: even an individualist rancher, an itinerant night-club singer, a long-distance driver,or a lonely diner-owner. Virgil’s loneliness is particularly poignant especially at the end of act two when the diner has closed, the bus has left and he is left alone in the snow. Though he is alone, Virgil had mentioned that it has been his own choice to remain so.
This character has more depth in the play and I felt that this was the character with whom the playwright most identified; the outsider, the traveller, the wandering minstrel. In this production the final image was Virgil, alone on the stage with his guitar and a stream of snowflakes falling onto his widebrimmed cowboy hat. It was very effective. Perhaps the movie missed a trick in leaving out this angle?
On reflection, this theme of the need for another’s company being central to the human condition has been better dealt with by other American writers, for example, in ‘Of Mice And Men’ by Steinbeck. In fact, I kept thinking that the play had a second-hand feel to it and that it was a minor work.
There is something about the freshness of Marilyn Monroe’s performance that makes the work seem more original than it is – and I don’t think I’m saying that only because I am a devoted fan. She brings an emotional truth and a depth to the piece that I had appreciated before, but never so much as I do now.
It is a one-set play, the one set being Grace’s Diner. The snow storm forces these eight people to spend the night at the diner, even the telephone lines are down so the only interaction is between these eight people holed up at this bus stop.
The scenes which we see in the movie showing other locations, such as Bo’s ranch, the ‘Blue Dragon’ night spot, the parade and rodeo etc., are only experienced through reported speech. So, as you can imagine, act one is heavy on the exposition and it takes quite a bit of time to really get going.
Naturally, due to the constraint of one set, it lacks the spectacle of the film and I really began to appreciate what a fine job the screenwriter (George Axelrod) did in ‘opening out’ the play into the many locations we see in the movie.
Grace, the worldly owner of the diner is pretty much the same as in the movie and Grace’s lover, Carl the bus driver is present too. As I mentioned, two characters not seen in the movie are Sheriff Will Masters, the face of law and order and the professor, Dr. Gerald Lyman.
From what I could tell, in the movie version the sheriff’s role was merged with the role of Carl the bus driver. In the play it is the sheriff who stands up to Bo, beats him in a fight and insists he make his apology to Chérie.
Dr. Lyman’s loneliness has caused him to become a drunkard and a serial seducer of young girls. During the night at the bus stop, he faces up to his past misdeeds and as proof he has turned over a new leaf he even releases Elma from the date he had made with her.
The role of Dr. Gerald Lyman is completely absent from the film, but I don’t think the film is any the worse for it. I kept thinking of Blanche DuBois from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, another character that looks for love in all the wrong places, and I kept thinking how much better Tennessee Williams’ treatment of that theme is.
I think the movie was right to concentrate on Bo and Chérie and their development. (To be fair though, there is a moment in act two when Lyman and Elma re-enact the balcony scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and Lyman is reciting Romeo’s pledge that if Juliet will swear love for him he will henceforth be Romeo no more. At this moment, Lyman is struck by the realisation that love might transform him into a better man and that he might leave behind his shame. This moment serves as testament to the transforming power of theatre/ performance too. It was skilfully acted and one of the most affecting moments in the play.)
In the screenplay, a major improvement is made to character of Chérie. It is her dream of getting to Hollywood (‘Hollywood and Vine!’) which is so exuberantly expressed by Marilyn Monroe that helps flesh out Chérie – gives her aims in life, hopes and dreams, albeit impossible dreams. This extra dimension is absent in the play.
Also, the movie Chérie is less shallow than her theatrical counterpart. In the play it is Elma who tells her that her name means ‘dear one’, Chérie responding that she picked the name because she just thought it sounded pretty.
The scenes in the ‘Blue Dragon’ definitely add to the character. It is so much better to actually see Chérie sing there, to get a sense of how far she is from achieving her dream, and to see Bo adoring her. Learning of it through reported speech just isn’t the same.
In the play, it is also reported that Bo and Chérie have “had relations” (as he puts it) before he abducts her. I’m guessing this was axed from the movie because of the Hays Code censorship. However, I don’t think the movie suffers because of that.
The play had the effect of making me love the movie more. When I think of all the stand-out moments: that first image of Marilyn sitting in the window; Marilyn purposely singing badly with such courage and conviction, warbling ‘That Old Black Magic’ in the mermaid costume and casting a wink at Bo; Marilyn telling Bo he is “real beau regard”; Marilyn’s monologue on the bus; Marilyn trying to reach out to Bo when he gets beat; Marilyn’s sensitivity when she attempts to lessen Bo’s heartache by telling him she has led a wicked life and perhaps he’s better off without her; Marilyn getting into Bo’s warm coat – a metaphor for the warmth and protection true love affords.
If you have seen the movie but not the play, I think you have seen the best of this work. If you have seen the play but not the movie, I’d say see the movie. And if you have seen both you come away thinking- that Marilyn Monroe- wow! She was gooood and extremely underrated. And she is very much missed.
This production … All of the actors were excellent and their Mid-West American accents were spot-on. Each character was defined and memorable. Throughout the play, most of the characters remained onstage meaning that they had to find some stage business to do. This was easy for the actress playing Elma – she could brush up, wipe down tables etc.
But the poor actress playing Chérie (Louise Dylan) was given nothing to do but get out her compact and reapply her make-up – which she did like, ten times. It made her character less sympathetic because she appeared vain and shallow. I think the director should have given her something else to do.
That said, they all stayed in character and gave very detailed performances. As I stated before, Virgil and Lyman both provided poignant moments. Elma was clear, youthful chirpy and Grace provided the biggest laugh by barging on to the stage to watch the brawl- but with serious bedhair, thus giving away what she and Carl had been up to upstairs.
Bo gave just the right amount of brash chauvinism, beautifully countered by insecurity and bewilderment. His entrance gave a much-needed boost of energy to act one.
The set design is always incredible at the New Vic and ‘Bus Stop’ is no exception. It was detailed and practical to the extent of cooking eggs on a griddle! The aroma filled the theatre making me wish I could put in an order myself.
A large, three-dimensional ‘Bus Stop’ sign in chrome and blue light hung over the centre of the stage and a period jukebox provided some background music and added to the atmosphere at key moments.
I don’t think it is the greatest play ever written and I came away wondering why they chose to do it at all. That said, the production was faultless and it was a good night out.”
Ladies of the Chorus, a little-known 1948 musical, gave Marilyn her first lead role. Shot over ten days on a tiny budget, it was released as a ‘B movie’ and went virtually unnoticed at the time. It is now available on DVD.
“If you have an appreciation for Marilyn Monroe or if you’re simply curious about how she started out, ‘Ladies of the Chorus’ is a must-see film. Often people mistakenly believe that Monroe didn’t star in a film until the 1950’s…In this movie she shines as a songbird and dancer. She comes off as fresh and sweet and full of that hope unique to first loves…This early film of hers certainly shows that she was extremely talented and fleshes out the many reasons that she will be remembered for generations to come.”
All About Eve, the 1950 classic featuring Marilyn in a small role, is now available on Blu-Ray.
“I should also make a note of Marilyn Monroe, who makes a delightful impression in one of her early roles. It’s a small part, but the actress has never been better; Monroe delivers every line with such giddy comic perfection (‘Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?’)”
Full details of the All About Eve package at DVD Verdict
Actor Dougray Scott (Ripley’s Game, Desperate Housewives) will play Arthur Miller in the forthcoming movie, My Week With Marilyn. It will be interesting to see how Miller is portrayed, as Colin Clark was not very sympathetic to him in his memoir, on which the film is based.
“Arthur Miller is also an iconic figure. You have to forget the expectations of other people. He was already established by the time he met Marilyn Monroe and was one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century. It was great to be able to play him as well. I knew I wanted to be an actor when I read his play, Death Of A Salesman, at school. My dad was a salesman and it gave me a way to get out of my skin.”
The Fireball, a Roller Derby movie from 1950, starring Mickey Rooney and Pat O’Brien, and featuring a young Marilyn in a small role, is now available to view via Warner Archive‘s on-demand service.
“I had plotted to watch every Marilyn Monroe film known to man. And I’ve seen a lot. The good, the bad and the downright ugly…Marilyn Monroe is a sophisticated party gal who is in with the ritzy crowd but is titillated by the danger and excitement that comes with watching Roller Derby (it’s like a fancy gal watching a boxing match in a pre-code!).”