Over at The Wrap, Rosemary Rossi picks ten movie clips showcasing Marilyn in her prime, with praise from leading critics.
“It has been observed that no matter how a scene was lighted, Monroe had the quality of drawing all the light to herself. In her brief scenes here, surrounded by actors much more experienced, she is all we can look at.” – Roger Ebert on ‘All About Eve’
“The reality was that she was a great, natural comedienne. She took superficial, cut-out roles and elevated them to whole new levels.” – Peter Bogdanovich on ‘Monkey Business’
“Monroe’s inflections and expressions have a deliciously clever and sharply experienced irony” – Richard Brody on ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’
“So arresting is Monroe’s presence that when she’s not on-screen, we wait impatiently, wondering, Where have you gone, Mrs. DiMaggio?” – Melissa Anderson on ‘The Seven Year Itch’
“Monroe steals it, as she walked away with every movie she was in. It is an act of the will to watch anyone else while she is on the screen.” – Roger Ebert on ‘Some Like It Hot’
Warner Archive have released one of Marilyn’s best early movies, Clash by Night (1952), as a made-to-order DVD for American audiences. If you’re outside the US, you can order it from Movies Unlimited.
Based on a play by Clifford Odets, and directed by the great Fritz Lang, Clash by Night is a melodrama with more than a hint of Film Noir. Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan and Paul Douglas give it their all, while Marilyn’s performance as cannery worker Peggy showed what a fine actress she could be when offered strong material. Bonus features include a commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich as well as an audio interview with Lang. Traditionally hard to find, the movie is a must for true fans.
Earlier releases can be purchased via Amazon (but be careful not to confuse it with the 1963 British movie of the same name.)
An interview with George Cukor – who directed Let’s Make Love and the unfinished Something’s Got to Give – is quoted in Peter Bogdanovich’s essay on Marilyn, published in his 2004 book, Who the Hell’s In It?
“Marilyn Monroe had no confidence in herself. She found it very difficult to concentrate, and she didn’t really think she was as good as she was. She’d worry about all kinds of things, and she would do the difficult things very well. Sometimes she was very distracted and couldn’t sustain it, and you had to do it in bits and pieces; sometimes she was in such a state of nerves that you’d have to shoot individual lines. But such was her magic that you’d put them all together and they seemed as if she spoke them all at one time. She was a real movie personality – a real movie queen. She had the way all these great picture personalities have…Quite different – and, I thought, much more subtle than it is now.”
Another extract from Peter Bogdanovich’s essay on Marilyn, published in Who the Hell’s In It? (2004)
“Monroe was frightened to come on the stage – she had such an inferiority complex – and I felt sorry for her. I’ve seen other people like that. I did the best I could and wasn’t bothered by it too much. In ‘Monkey Business’, she only had a small part – that didn’t frighten her so much – but when she got into a big part…For instance, when she started her singing (for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’), she tried to run out of the recording studio two or three times. We had to grab her and hold her to keep her there…I got a great deal of help from Jane Russell. Without her I couldn’t have made the picture. Jane gave Marilyn that ‘You can do it’ pep-talk to get her out there. She was just frightened, that’s all – frightened she couldn’t do it.”
Hawks thought Marilyn worked best in light comedy, and was sceptical of Method acting:
“Monroe was never any good playing the reality. She always played in a sort of fairy tale. And when she did that she was great…She was trying, for example, at the Actor’s Studio, to formularize her approach: She didn’t want to squander her energies. I’m not convinced it helped her at all. But that was her aim – to make it even more real.”
Peter Bogdanovich’s essay in Marilyn in his 2004 collection, Who the Hell’s in it?, features extracts from interviews with some of her directors, including Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks and George Cukor.
First up, Fritz Lang remembers the nude calendar story which broke during filming of Clash by Night:
“I didn’t mind – what a woman does with herself is nobody’s business – but the thing was, with her shyness, she was scared as hell to come to the studio – she was always late. I don’t know why she couldn’t remember her lines, but I can very well understand all the directors who worked with her getting angry, because she was certainly responsible for slowing down the work. But she was very responsive.”
However, Lang was irritated by the constant interference of Marilyn’s acting coach, Natasha Lytess:
“One very bad thing: she asked me if I would mind if her female coach was there during shooting in the studio. I said, ‘No, under one condition – that you don’t let her coach you.’ Because when an actress has learned her lines and thinks she has caught the feeling of the part, got under the skin of the character, it’s very hard to change it.”
In his 2004 collection of essays on movie actors, Who the Hell’s In It?, director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) recalled his sole encounter with Marilyn:
“Only one time was I in Marilyn Monroe’s presence, and she never would have known it. During the winter of 1955, I was sitting a row in front of her at a Manhattan acting class being conducted by Lee Strasberg. Marilyn was 29, at the peak of her success and fame – with seven years left to live – wearing a thick bulky-knit black woolen sweater, and no make-up on her pale lovely face. The two or three times I allowed myself to casually glance back at her, she was absolutely enthralled, mesmerised by Strasberg’s every word and breath. In his autobiography, Arthur Miller, who would marry her the following year, wrote that he felt Strasberg, though worshipped by Monroe, was a heavy contributor to his breakup with the actress, and that the acting guru’s domination was self-serving and exploitative of her. From the glimpses I had of Marilyn, Strasberg certainly had her complete attention and support, but in a strangely desperate way. She didn’t look contented or studious; she looked quite anxious and passionately devoted to Strasberg as somehow the answer to her troubles.”