Marilyn’s Struggle in ‘Bus Stop’

Marilyn filming Bus Stop in Sun Valley, Idaho (Photo by Al Brack)

Bus Stop is one of my favourite Monroe films: an evocative character piece with an outstanding performance from Marilyn. However, many now find its gender politics – and Bo’s manhandling of Cherie – outdated and sexist. On the Culled Culture blog today, Genna Rivieccio considers why Bus Stop ‘didn’t do justice to how Marilyn Monroe fought to break free of the studio’s stereotype of her.’ (In her recent book, Some Kind of Mirror, Amanda Konkle takes a more positive view, noting that Cherie resists Bo’s advances until he learns to satisfy her desires.)

“Marilyn Monroe had spent months waiting out her unprecedented studio battle with 20th Century Fox. After fleeing to New York from Los Angeles like some sort of blonde haloed fugitive, Marilyn refused to ever turn back. To ever succumb to any of the dumb sexpot roles Darryl Zanuck wanted her to make in perpetuity. Yet the choice of ‘Chérie’–ultimately pronounced Cherry by the one who ‘wrangles’ her–in William Inge’s play, Bus Stop, didn’t seem to do much to distance herself from the image she so strongly claimed to detest. But maybe a part of her was terrified to shed it completely. For the thought of losing her adoring fans–the only source of true love in her life–was likely just as scary as forever being typecast. So it is that she went with the “just daring enough” role of Chérie … there is a meta tongue-in-cheek moment in which Chérie talks about her big plan to make it to Hollywood where ‘you get treated with a little respect.’ It’s an overt dig at Zanuck and 20th Century Fox (which Marilyn famously called 19th Century Fox for its backward treatment of female stars) …

Yet like Chérie, she can’t help but look to men for salvation. The two prototypes that would be her most tumultuous romances (and marriages), Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, are both apparent in Beau. Outwardly, his rough-hewn tactlessness makes him a closer match to DiMaggio … Upon learning of her ‘sordid’ past (a.k.a. that she’s been with a few men to further accent the fact that Beau hasn’t–Miller, too, was rather virginal, having only ever been with his first wife before Marilyn), Beau finds the key to unlocking her heart by telling her, ‘Well, I’ve been thinkin’ about them other fellas, Cherry, and, well, what I mean is, I like you the way you are, so what do I care how you got that way?’ Miller told her pretty much the same thing, never chastising her the way DiMaggio did for parading her sexy persona, which is a primary reason why she fell in love with him …

Once again in this film (as in life), Monroe is a little girl lost, who is put back on the right path by a male savior. This was not a departure by any means from what she had done in the past with the studio, and made one wonder how the accolades came in so readily for a movie such as this, when past roles in Clash By Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara provided her far more opportunity for dramatic range.

Bus Stop is still billed as somewhere in between a comedy and drama, though it very much falls into an almost screwball comedy genre (for that’s kind of how one has to look at a movie so overtly dripping with misogyny and the suppression of the female will). Marilyn would only make four more movies after this, among them being one of the most praised of her career, Some Like It Hot (with another two, The Prince and the Showgirl and Let’s Make Love, being largely panned), a film in which, you guessed it, Marilyn relies on the comedic sex symbol shtick that launched her into the spotlight in the first place.”

Cléo, Meet Marilyn (From 5 to 7)

In a tribute to filmmaker Agnès Varda, who died last week aged 90, Genna Rivieccio notes on her Culled Culture blog the parallels between Marilyn’s life and the tragic young heroine faced with a cancer diagnosis played by Corinne Marchand in Cléo From 5 to 7, the movie released just a few months before  Marilyn’s death, and which helped to launch the French New Wave.

“Although Cléo is beautiful and has a relatively successful singing career, the dark shadow potentially case by the reaper above her won’t go away, nor is it remedied by seeing a fortune teller at the outset of the movie, one who confirms all her worst fears about waiting for some potentially fatal test results from her doctor.

Distraught at first over the reading, Cléo insists to herself that ‘as long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive,’ because ‘ugliness is a kind of death’ so how can she be suffering from it if she’s not aesthetically hideous? Even so, she is aware that if she is dying, it’s only the inside that will matter now–not from a personality or ‘good person’ standpoint, but in terms of it affecting whether or not her demise is imminent. To that former notion, however, Cléo suddenly becomes hyperconscious of the vacuity of her life. Buying hats, lounging around, cursing men. What does it all mean? And what can she do to go on preserving that vacuous little life? Thus, she tells her maid, Angèle (Dominique Davray) that she’ll kill herself if it turns out to be cancer. Angèle does little to comfort her, noting that ‘men hate illness’ and that Cléo ought not to wear a new hat on Tuesday as it’s bad luck.

So, too, did Cléo, a singer who bemoans wanting to project more poignant lyrics but then grows filled with melancholy as she sings a new composition filled with too much death imagery to bear. She wants to remain as she always has been in order to survive, to feel somewhat happy: at the surface of things. Unfortunately, like Marilyn Monroe before her, the woman endlessly preoccupied with her image and looks ends up driving any potential for real and meaningful love away. And as we all know, especially Narcissus, a reflection can’t reciprocate anything, nor love or hate you as much as you do it. Cléo’s childlike [im]maturity, is, in fact, directly related to her self-obsession. In being faced with the reality that her death is imminent, however, she is forced to come to grips with certain truths both about herself and existence that she never would have otherwise.”

PS: And if you should doubt Marilyn’s influence on the nouvelle vague, this photo taken by George Barris just weeks before her death is glimpsed briefly  in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a 1964 musical directed by Varda’s husband, Jacques Demy, and starring lifelong MM fan Catherine Deneuve. (According to IMDB, the film is set in 1957 which makes it a goof.) And in Demy’s 1963 film Bay of Angels, Jeanne Moreau donned a Monroesque blonde wig to play an unhappy divorcee (not unlike Roslyn in The Misfits) who becomes addicted to gambling.

Marilyn Shakes a Leg in ‘Monkey Business’

Over at the Culled Culture blog,  Genna Rivieccio takes another look at Monkey Business.

“The 1952 vehicle that helped further establish Marilyn Monroe as a comically innocent sex symbol, Monkey Business, is an exploration of this very notion–that were the ‘old’ and ‘aged’ to lose some of their inhibitions as they were able to at the peak of their hormonal teen years, then they might just get a chance to finally do things right with their lives–at least sexually … The staidness of the adult mind, so bristled by sex more than excited by it as it was in adolescence, is manifested most clearly when Lois shows off her ‘stockings’ (filled by the signature Monroe leg) to Barnaby, who invented the no-snag fabric for them. He stares at it with not a lustful thought in his mind, examining it as a work of art for its practical, not biological purposes.”