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.”
One of Marilyn Monroe’s strongest early film roles was as Peggy, the feisty cannery worker in Clash by Night(1952), based on a play by Clifford Odets.
Marilyn knew Odets quite well and later played Lorna Moon in a scene from his most famous play, Golden Boy, at the Actor’s Studio during the late 1950s. She later considered starring in Odets’ screenplay, The Story on Page One(1959), but that role went to Rita Hayworth, and was directed by Odets himself.
Always competitive with Miller, Odets took a rather dim view of The Misfits (1960), Monroe’s last completed film, which Miller wrote and John Huston directed.
Odets was the leading New York playwright of the 1930s and 40s, and his plays focussed on social injustice and the plight of the ‘little man’. He was also involved in the formation of the Group Theatre alongside Lee Strasberg.
Unlike Arthur Miller, the playwright who ultimately eclipsed him, Odets chose to ‘name names’ in the House Un-American Activities Committee trials of the early 1950s, a decision he would bitterly regret. He died in 1963.
In his essay on Monroe in the book, Who the Hell’s in It, director Peter Bogdanovich recalled, ‘Clifford told me that Marilyn Monroe used to come over to his house and talk, but that the only times she seemed to him really comfortable were when she was with his two young children and their large poodle. She relaxed with them, felt no threat. With everyone else, Odets said, she seemed nervous, intimidated, frightened. When I repeated to Miller this remark about her with children and animals, he said, “Well, they didn’t sneer at her.'”
Soon after Monroe’s death, Odets wrote, ‘One night some short weeks ago, for the first time in her not always happy life, Marilyn Monroe’s soul sat down alone to a quiet supper from which it did not rise. If they tell you that she died of sleeping pills you must know that she died of a wasting grief, of a slow bleeding at the soul.’
One of Odets’ later plays, The Country Girl(filmed in 1954 with Grace Kelly) is currently being revived in London. Walt Odets has spoken to the Jewish Chronicle about his famous father and his memories, and mentioned, rather unfavourably, the marriage of Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe:
“The Strasberg version of the marriage was that Arthur treated Marilyn badly. So I grew up with bad feelings about Miller. I met Arthur a few times and he was a very hard, cold man. He was the kind of guy who doesn’t like children or dogs. And for a child that is immediately perceptible.”