In a blog post for the 25 Years Later site, J.C. Hotchkiss looks back at Marilyn’s comedic roles in Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot.
“The ‘dumb blonde’ has more depth than you would first think. As someone who has played this ingénue of a character, the ‘ditzy’ blonde needs to know herself. She needs to know the jokes but is NOT the joke. She needs to command the scene, but not be so childlike that the audience stops rooting for her and gets annoyed with her immaturity. Marilyn navigated this fine line throughout her career …
Marilyn fought for a long time to be taken seriously in the acting arena in which she desperately wanted to excel and to be a true actress, not just a pretty face. I believe all these performance showcase that brilliance … To me, she was more than just a beauty. In fact, the internal struggles she was fighting throughout her life made these performances even that much more poignant …
Marilyn was a trendsetter without even trying to be. She just wanted to make people happy, sometimes at the detriment of her own well-being. At least we have her bright smile and contagious laughter on celluloid whenever we need to laugh and remember just how funny and beautiful she was; to remind us of who Marilyn Monroe was and the legacy she wanted us to remember. “
Marilyn’s hilarious performance as the wide-eyed trickster Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is lauded today in ‘100 More Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy’, a virtual timeline for the Vulture website.
“Dumb-blonde jokes can be traced back as far as the 18th century, but it was Marilyn Monroe’s portrayal of Lorelei Lee that cemented them in modern pop culture. During this big dance number, Monroe’s iconic look, bleached-blonde and adorned in a thick diamond choker with a tight bright-pink dress, creates the prototype for a dumb blonde. She needs to be flamboyantly feminine, and speak softly and vapidly. As she says in the movie, ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it.’ Monroe’s quick quips of feigned ignorance are supported by the groundedness of Dorothy Shaw, played by Jane Russell, in a rare-for-the-time female comedy duo. Helmed by Howard Hawks, a director famous for his ‘Hawksian’ tough-talking woman, the movie demonstrates comedy through the actress’s use of sexual agency. Monroe’s femininity is not an object but a tool to get what she wants — famously, diamonds. The sheer size of Monroe’s performance defined this fundamentally American archetype. Without her, there would be no Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Cher in Clueless, or Elle Woods of Legally Blonde.”
The New York Daily News has republished film critic Kate Cameron’s original rave review of Some Like it Hot from March 30, 1959 (click below to view at full size.) Hailing it as ‘one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years’, she commented that ‘Marilyn not only sings but has a great natural flair for comedy.’ (You can read more of Ms Cameron’s thoughts on Marilyn and her movies here.)
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar – who paid homage to Marilyn in his 2009 film, Broken Embraces– has praised her again in a recent interview for the Yorkshire Post, describing MM as one of the few method actors who could play comedy:
‘”To me, Saturday Night Live seems like cabaret, the cradle for decades of the best American comics. The Actor’s Studio, however, with all the respect and admiration it deserves, seems just the opposite to me,’ he explained. ‘Brando, a comedy actor? No. And he tried it. He even sang and danced in Guys and Dolls, stiff as a board, but Brando was too self-aware. I don’t know if Montgomery Clift ever actually tried it but I can’t imagine him. Or James Dean. Or Daniel Day-Lewis.”
‘I don’t debate his greatness but no matter how thin he is, Daniel Day-Lewis can’t manage to give the slightest sensation of lightness,’ Almodovar candidly stated. But surely, there must be someone who bucks the rule? Someone who managed to get the highest dramatic training, yet could still be effortlessly light and funny? Well, there is: ‘Marilyn Monroe is still the exception. Adopted by the Strasbergs, she managed to overcome the weight of the Method.'”
Let’s Make Love may not be one of Marilyn’s most widely popular movies, but it comes first on Mick LaSalle’s (chronological) list of the 100 Best Comedies Since 1960, and it was, after all, the last comedic film that she completed.
Over at Film School Rejects, Nathan Adams argues – perhaps bravely, some might say rashly – that Some Like it Hot is overrated. So what in the name of Sugar does Billy Wilder’s classic farce have in common with Ted Kotcheff’s Weekend at Bernie’s?
“If somebody were to come up with an exact definition for what a classic, screwball, comedy of errors is, both of these movies would probably meet the criteria exactly. I’m not the person to go around trying to define genres though, so let’s just line the plots up and compare a bit. In Some Like It Hot a couple of guys named Joe and Jerry end up having to pretend that they’re women in order to evade some crooks that are trying to murder them. In Weekend at Bernie’s a couple of guys named Larry and Richard have to drag around a dead guy and pretend that he’s still alive in order to evade some crooks that are trying to murder them. The humor in both films is broad and wacky, but there is also an element of danger to both films because people are really getting hurt and the stakes are as serious as life and death. Both movies also give us a glimpse into the lives of rich people when they’re on vacation. Rich people who get painted as debauched, thoughtless animals who aren’t concerned with anything but their next party, their next extravagant purchase, and their next lay. Even the old rich people. Yuck.”
Some Like it Hot comes third in The Guardian‘s Top 25 Comedies, beaten by (ahem) Borat, and Annie Hall.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, film critic Barry Paris, who co-authored Tony Curtis’s first autobiography, celebrates Marilyn’s sizzling screen career ahead of the Life as a Legend exhibit and movie season at the Andy Warhol Museum.
“It took a smart cookie to play the ultimate dumb blonde — and become the pop culture’s most fragile, enduring icon in the process. Marilyn Monroe’s spectacular beauty and sexuality stoked America’s collective imagination, captivating and defining her era.
Chief among the MM pix, of course, is Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic, pretty unanimously considered the all-time best movie comedy. Tony Curtis, in and out of drag, falls hopelessly in love with her, and so do we. In Sugar Kane (nee Sugar Kowalczyk), we get her euphoric screen presence at its best, secretly battling her offscreen demons at their worst.
Hollywood’s most alluring sex goddess was also its most dysfunctional actress. All the good, bad and ugly aspects of working with Marilyn — more precisely, of Marilyn working — would converge during the making of Some Like It Hot…
…On the other hand, Mr. Wilder shrugged, ‘My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual on the set, never hold up production, and know her lines forwards and backwards — but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?'”
“Austerlitz notes that his biographical chapters are intended to create a conversation among comedy’s most influential practitioners. Arranged in rough chronological order, the effect is cumulative. Mae West’s brazen sexuality primps the pillow for Marilyn Monroe’s bombshell self-awareness; unlikely bedfellows Jerry Lewis and Richard Pryor somehow manage to conceive Eddie Murphy.”