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.”
American Icon: Where Healing Meets Life, a five-part ‘vodcast’ (video podcast) hosted by Monroe biographer and counsellor Gary Vitacco Robles and Nina Boski (who also presented the Goodnight Marilyn online radio show) will start this Wednesday, May 1st, at midday PST (or 8pm BST.) As part of Mental Health Awareness month, Nina and Gary will discuss how mental illness and addiction shaped Marilyn’s all-too-brief life. To watch this series, follow the American Icon Facebook page here.
In a recent post for Marilyn Remembered, Gary shared his own perspective on the difficulties she faced:
“Marilyn Monroe was likely challenged with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), episodes of Major Depression and mixed episodes of depression and mania, placing her on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum. She was also a survivor of childhood trauma & adverse childhood experiences who struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. During Marilyn’s era of limited treatment options, she was prescribed dangerous, addictive medications which led to misuse of prescribed drugs. These mental health disorders are now better understood and treatable with effective & safe interventions and mood stabilizing medications.
Marilyn’s mother, Gladys, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and spent most of her life institutionalized. Marilyn’s maternal grandmother, Della, was diagnosed on the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum (then called Manic Depression Psychosis]. Marilyn’s maternal great-grandfather, Tilford, took like own life by hanging; suicide is usually the manifestation of a severe psychiatric illness. Her maternal uncle, Marion, took off one day and never returned to his family, possibly a manifestation of an undiagnosed genetically linked mental illness. Marilyn’s early childhood of complex trauma combined with an intergenerational genetic background of mental illness, increased her risk for mental illness & suicide. Many people who admire Marilyn relate to her history of childhood abuse & depression.
[Marilyn’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, confirmed her Bipolar Disorder diagnosis & her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, wrote at length about her symptoms of BPD which remain in his archive]”
In an intriguing article for the feminist magazine, Bust, author Dana Burnell suggests that Marilyn’s reputation for ‘difficult’ behaviour was a manifestation of her suppressed anger at the Hollywood system’s exploitation and disregard of her talent.
“The sense of watching a trapped butterfly permeates her best performances; it’s the quality that the starlets set up to compete against her were missing. They might have had more professionalism, but they lacked Monroe’s self-lacerating perception. That Monroe was angry, there can be no doubt. All of her actions speak to it: The lateness, the passivity, the pills and the booze, the relationships. The paralyzing depressions that are the rage of those who feel they are not allowed rage. The pills just damped down the anger and became the only thing that killed it — and her. For only half a moment did fame do what she thought it would, and make her happy.”
This article, first published in Timeon February 17, 1961, takes a compassionate look at Marilyn’s decision to enter a hospital, following her divorce from Arthur Miller and related emotional problems. It also suggests that in seeking help for her depression, Marilyn was setting a good example to others.
“In seeking help, she may have done more than the psychiatrists to win popular acceptance of a more modern view of mental illness and treatment for it.”