The Asphalt Jungle: Marilyn’s Noir Classic

Film historian and ‘Noirchaeologist’ Eddie Muller has placed The Asphalt Jungle – John Huston’s 1950 heist movie, which gave Marilyn her first important role – fourth in his list of ’25 noir films that will stand the test of time’ (ahead of The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity), reports Open Culture.

“‘I wouldn’t cross the street to see garbage like that,’ said the head of the studio that made this [Louis B. Mayer at MGM], the granddaddy of all caper films. A pure ‘crime’ film, with every character indelible.”

Marilyn’s ‘Niagara’: A Fifties Film Noir

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The Red and the Black: American Film Noir in the 1950s by Robert Miklitsch has just been published by the University of Illinois Press. As the cover art shows, Niagara is one of the movies featured in the book.

“Critical wisdom has it that we said a long goodbye to film noir in the 1950s. Robert Miklitsch begs to differ. Pursuing leads down the back streets and alleyways of cultural history, The Red and the Black proposes that the received rise-and-fall narrative about the genre radically undervalues the formal and thematic complexity of ’50s noir and the dynamic segue it effected between the spectacular expressionism of ’40s noir and early, modernist neo-noir.

Mixing scholarship with a fan’s devotion to the crooked roads of critique, Miklitsch autopsies marquee films like D.O.A., Niagara, and Kiss Me Deadly plus a number of lesser-known classics. Throughout, he addresses the social and technological factors that dealt deuce after deuce to the genre–its celebrated style threatened by new media and technologies such as TV and 3-D, color and widescreen, its born losers replaced like zombies by All-American heroes, the nation rocked by the red menace and nightmares of nuclear annihilation. But against all odds, the author argues, inventive filmmakers continued to make formally daring and socially compelling pictures that remain surprisingly, startlingly alive. Cutting-edge and entertaining, The Red and the Black reconsiders a lost period in the history of American movies.”

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

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In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

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In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

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Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

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In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

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In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

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June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

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In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

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August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

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In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

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In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

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In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

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LIFE Goes ‘Noir’ With Marilyn

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A new Life magazine special, LIFE Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films, has just been released, and one of the movies showcased within its pages is Niagara. The text is provided by novelist J.I.Baker, author of The Empty Glass and a previous Life special, The Loves of Marilyn. While his writings on the personal lives of the stars tend to be speculative in the extreme, he’s on firmer ground with the movies they made.

In this short feature, he also quotes another novelist, Megan Abbott, who describes Niagara as “sleazy, gorgeous and mesmerising,” noting that Marilyn “takes full advantage of her character’s complications and desperation.”

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“Though sometimes overshadowed by her later turns in musicals, comedies and ‘serious’ dramas,” Baker observes, “MM made an early indelible mark in film noir,” citing her riveting performances in The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night and Don’t Bother to Knock. (Incidentally, The Asphalt Jungle is featured in another recent publication on film noir, Mark Vieira’s Into the Dark – although Marilyn is not mentioned specifically there.)

If you love old Hollywood and film noir, this magazine is a must-have. You can order it now from Amazon (UK price £9.99, or $13.99 in the US.)

Overlooked Noir: ‘Clash By Night’

Publicity shot for 'Clash by Night', with Keith Andes
Publicity shot for ‘Clash by Night’, with Keith Andes

One of my favourite early MM films, Clash By Night (1952), is included in a list of 30 Overlooked Noir Films That Are Worth Watching, compiled by Arnab Sen over at Taste of Cinema.

“Another case where the film is essentially two films linked with one another, Clash by Night tells the story of Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) who returns home after ten years to move back into her family’s home where her brother and his wife are living. Mae then starts dating the very likeable Jerry (Paul Douglas). But, Jerry’s friend Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan), a man who is equally unlikable, starts to take an interest in her.

Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman with a mysterious past who spent ten years ‘back East.’ Robert Ryan once again is typecast, this time not as a villain, but as an obsessive, violent and unsettled man who is fascinated by Mae. Paul Douglas plays Jerry, a happy go lucky sort of person who cannot handle confrontation. The film is also notable for starring Marilyn Monroe, who plays Mae’s sister-in-law in a supporting role.

In spite of the film having a typical noir plot, it’s a very uncharacteristic melodramatic film noir by Lang and probably the most uncharacteristic noir in the list. It is also not set in some big, dangerous American city but rather in the fishing village of Monterey, California. Directed by Fritz Lang after his underrated western Rancho Notorious, the film was based on the play Clash by Night by Clifford Odets.”