In an excellent article for Film International, Anthony Uzarowski explores how sexuality was depicted in 1950s cinema – with particular reference to Marilyn, of course!
“Monroe represented pure sexuality, and virtually all the films in which she had a starring role were promoted around her erotic image. Starting in 1953, when she appeared in Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe was regularly voted top female box office star by the American film distributors. Monroe’s image perfectly suited the notions surrounding sexuality in this period. In the majority of her early films she portrays a good-hearted gold-digger (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry Millionaire) whose ultimate goal is marriage, or a fantasy woman who, while highly sexual, is unthreatening to the moral structure of the nuclear family (The Seven Year Itch). Unlike in the case of the femme fatales of the 1940s, Monroe’s sexuality is not lethal or emasculating, but rather designed to flatter the male ego. Monroe’s 1954 film The Seven Year Itch is possibly the best example of how sexuality and star image were used to attract audiences in the 1950s, both in terms of the film’s narrative structure and the publicity campaign used to promote it.”