As part of an ongoing series for The Guardian, Wendy Ide names the 1950s as her favourite decade in film.
“Marilyn Monroe was the blond bombshell of choice – although for a while it looked as though Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday) might be a contender – and became a global icon. Hers was a career that played out almost entirely during the 50s. A supporting role in All About Eve led to a studio contract and a star-making double whammy of Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Highlights of her decade, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot, saw her teamed with director Billy Wilder …”
And over at Film School Rejects, Will DiGravio argues that the comedy classic, alongside other greats like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Hawks’ Rio Bravo, makes 1959 the best year in movies.
“Today, it seems as though many know Monroe only for her beauty, not as the greatest comedic actress of all time. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are hilarious in the film as two musicians pretending to be women in order to play with a female band in Florida and escape the Chicago mob after they witness a murder. Yet, their performances pale in comparison to Monroe’s, whose comedic timing and delivery is so effortless it is easy to under-appreciate her brilliance.”
Marilyn is the latest cover girl for Noir City, a digital quarterly published by the Film Noir Foundation. Inside, there’s an eight-page illustrated article, with Jake Hinkson analysing her diverse roles in The Asphalt Jungle, Clash by Night, Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara. Fellow bombshells Diana Dors and Gloria Grahame are also profiled in this issue. To subscribe to Noir City, join their mailing list and donate $20 or more to the foundation, who host regular screenings across the US and a yearly film festival, and also publish an annual print round-up of the best features.
Niagara will be screened Monday, April 2 at 7:30 pm in the Spaghetti Warehouse on North Clinton Street, Syracuse, as part of a 14-week spring season of classic movies hosted by the Syracuse Cinephile Society, now in its 51st year.
Niagara was released in the US sixty-five years ago this week, on January 21, 1953. This red jacket, designed by Dorothy Jeakins for the scene dubbed the ‘longest walk in history’ – in which Marilyn walked away from the camera, over 116 feet of film – is one of the prized pieces in the Star Collection of the Western Costume Company, North Hollywood.
Pencil skirts are back in style, according to The Guardian‘s Hannah Marriott (although I was unaware that they ever weren’t), proclaiming Marilyn – along with Marlene Dietrich, Meghan Markle and others – a ‘pencil skirt icon.’
“Marilyn Monroe’s walk down a steamy train platform in Some Like it Hot is the archetypal pencil skirt fashion reference, harking back to a time when form-fitting skirts were pretty shocking. (So tightly did they cling to curves that they are said to have inspired ‘the twist’, the only dance move women could do while wearing them.) The modern equivalent of the va-va-voom look is the stretchy pencil skirt favoured by Kim Kardashian and the Instagram set, usually paired with a crop top.”
If you’re a fan of cult TV series Twin Peaks, you’ll already know that director David Lynch and writer Mark Frost created it after shelving an earlier collaboration based on Anthony Summers’ Goddess.) There are striking parallels between the main female protagonist, Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee), and Marilyn, which go beyond their mysterious deaths.
In last year’s Twin Peaks revival, Marilyn’s Bus Stop co-star Don Murray played a key role. Actors Russ Tamblyn and Miguel Ferrer also had real-life links to Marilyn. I was also reminded of her sensual performance in Niagara during a scene where beautiful FBI agent Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) is filmed walking away from the camera, while ditzy casino hostess Candie (Amy Shiels) resembled Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, even wearing a pink tutu with matching gloves and diamonds, not unlike Marilyn’s costume in the ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number….
But maybe that’s all just wishful thinking on my part. Going back to the original series, Zach Gayne explores the similarities between Marilyn and Laura in ‘Twin Peaks and the Point of No Return‘, an essay for Screen Anarchy.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Marilyn Monroe and the abandoned project that first united David Lynch and Mark Frost – the two were apparently interested in co-adapting Anthony Summers’ expose, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. While this is absolute conjecture, I can’t help but wonder if the two minds, who’d bonded over their interest in detailing the story of a fallen goddess – adored by all, but understood by few, who’s shadow ultimately overcame her angel – felt that the exploring Monroe when she was still Norma Jeane wouldn’t be the more effective way to detail the all-too-common American tragedy of a bright young woman succumbing to purveyors of darkness.
Laura Palmer is nothing if not a high-school Marilyn Monroe – a magnetic soul who draws no shortage of desire from, not only the hottest boy in school, but many of the town’s adults, like the local psychedelic psychologist or the wealthy hotel tycoon. One might say she brought out the best or worst in people, depending on their innermost natures. Laura, a supreme beacon of light, in addition to attracting love of the purest kind also attracted fire, and for her sins of merely existing, from a young age she was met with dark temptations as old as the ghostwood forest, like so many generations of distressed damsels and lads before and after her.”
Marilyn’s steamy 1953 thriller, Niagara, will be screened on October 3 at the NAU College of Arts and Letters in Flagstaff, Northern Arizona, as part of a two-season retrospective, 20th Century Fox: The Stars. Prior to this, you can enjoy Marilyn’s supporting role in All About Eve on September 26. (Let’s hope Bus Stop gets an airing in the next season, as it was partly filmed in the state capital of Phoenix, Arizona.)
In an insightful piece for the Ipswich Star, arts editor Andrew Clarke suggests that the reason for Marilyn’s enduring fame is not merely because of her beauty and dying young, but also her talent and charisma, best seen in her movies.
“The reason that Marilyn continues to be an international star, long-after her death, is a combination of good looks, striking personality and a fine actress. Once she hit her stride she also made some brilliant films, films that have become classics and still entertain audiences 60 years after they were made.
Films like Some Like It Hot and Seven Year Itch remain as bright and effervescent as the day they were made. If you research some of Marilyn’s lesser known films like Niagara or How To Marry A Millionaire with Lauren Bacall then you will find the performance and the material equally good.
Examination of her dramatic films such Bus Stop and The Misfits reveals a talented, thoughtful actress who connects with the character and with her audience. In these films, more so than her comedies, she played a character probably more akin to the real Marilyn, a vulnerable, emotionally exposed individual trying to find her place in the world.”
Niagara, the technicolor film noir which gave Marilyn one of her best dramatic roles, gets a rare outdoor screening on July 14, as part of the Summer Sizzle Under the Stars program at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut (only 35 miles from Marilyn’s former home in Roxbury.) The movie complements a Pop Art exhibition at the museum, and there will be live music and dinner available – more info here.
In an article for Film School Rejects, Angela Morrison asks why Marilyn’s acting achievements are still so often overlooked, and examines how her career was impacted by typecasting.
“What frequently happens when actors play the same types of characters over and over again is that audiences assume that the actor is their character in real life … many people believe Marilyn Monroe was genuinely being herself onscreen. This is inaccurate and does not give her very much credit for the hard work that went into her performances.
She essentially played the same character in all of her comedies, but brought a unique spin to each story … Flashes of her dramatic talents are visible in some of her early roles, such as her emotionally damaged babysitter in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), and and her femme fatale in 1953’s Niagara (one of my personal favorites of her performances).
Her final performance as Roslyn in John Huston’s The Misfits (1961) is just as powerful as Bus Stop, although perhaps more depressing … she was no longer playing young and naive ‘starlets’, but was instead portraying complex women. It takes talent to play both comedy and drama; however, dramas such as The Misfits require a different kind of depth than comedies such as Some Like It Hot (1959).”