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MONROE, MARILYN: THE DIAMOND COLLECTION

NORMA JEAN MORTENSON, ACTRESS
A dozen Marilyn Monroe films make up the spectacular Diamond Collection, out this month on video - and more importantly, on DVD for the first time. The greatest, loveliest and saddest sex goddess that ever graced a screen, Marilyn (born Norma Jean Mortenson) has become an eternal symbol of what Hollywood stardom means, at its best and at its worst. Andrew L. Urban, who was exactly one year and one month old when she signed her contract with Twentieth Century Fox, looks at Marilyn the actress. (You can look up the date yourself!)


Her stature and mystique grow as time passes. Her uniqueness seems more special now than it did in the immediate aftermath of her death, when it was ‘the star’ who died. Now, ‘Marylin’ is alive.

She was a youthful 36 when she died but she’s been more or less the same age all my life. She always will be. I haven’t seen her grow into mature roles as a ditzy mother, or an elderly aunt, or a graceful grannie. Marilyn has always been the girl next door – but not to me. Or to you, for that matter. 

So many have said so much about Marilyn Monroe that it’s impossible to untangle the myth from the Marilyn. I’m not about to try, nor is this the place for yet another eulogy. But what is timely, with the release of this collection on DVD, is a glance at her work as an actress. But I suppose if you’re reading this you’re either already a fan of her (her mystique or her acting or both) or a newbie about to discover what the fuss is all about.

The hardest thing for newbies is to put Marilyn in context. How do we approach her work now, totally out of context in terms of time and culture? My own view is that we approach it exactly like any other actress. Does she engage us with her characterisations? Does she communicate emotion and intent? Does she really work?

"a vibrant screen presence"

Perhaps one way is to start with How to Marry a Millionaire, where she co-stars with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable as a near-sighted gal trying to snare a rich husband. Or maybe the dramatic Don’t Bother to Knock, in which she plays a suicidal, mentally unstable young woman who takes a baby sitting job. Actually, maybe start with Some Like It Hot, the timeless comedy with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, in which she plays the unforgettable Sugar Kane. No wait; The Misfits is the best place to start, her last with Clark Gable, in which she plays a high-minded ex-stripper. It was written by one her hubbies, Arthur Miller, and directed by John Huston . . . but then, Seven Year Itch….hell, start where you like, it doesn’t matter. You’ll see the quality that made her so popular – and not just with men.

My own conclusion is that she was a better actress in some cases than others, but that she was always a vibrant screen presence. Her scenes with Lauren Bacall, for example, show her vivacity, strength, vulnerability and humour very well; Bacall never steals a scene from her. Her films – some of which are better than others as films, but all of which are fascinating in the context of cinema overall – represent a variety of styles and there are a few extra features scattered through the collection that help capture the mood of the times – and help put Marilyn herself in perspective. 

On the disc with The Seven Year Itch is a 20 minute Back Story doco which puts the film, its making and the censorship issues it confronted (this was the mid 50s, remember), as well as Marilyn’s relationship with her then husband, Joe DiMaggio, in context. It’s a dramatic reminder as to just how much has changed in Western society in the past 50 years.

THE FILMS:
Seven Year Itch
Like thousands of other Manhattanites, Tom Ewell annually packs his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and children off to summer vacation, staying behind to work at the office. This particular summer, the lonely Ewell begins fantasizing about the many women he'd foresworn upon getting married (in one of the fantasies, Ewell and Marguerite Chapman parody the beach rendezvous in From Here to Eternity). He is jolted back to reality when he meets his new neighbour—luscious model Marilyn Monroe. Inviting Monroe to dinner, Ewell intends to sweep her off her feet and into the boudoir. Things don't quite work out that way, thanks to Ewell's clumsiness (and essential decency) and Monroe's naivete. Still, Ewell becomes convinced that his impure thoughts will somehow be transmitted to his vacationing wife and to the rest of the world, leaving him wide open for scandal and ruination. 

How to Marry a Millionaire
Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe play three models of modest means who rent an expensive Manhattan penthouse apartment and pose as women of wealth. It's all part of a scheme hatched by Bacall to snare rich husbands for herself and her roommates. The near-sighted Monroe is wooed by an international playboy, but ends up settling for the tax-dodging fugitive (David Wayne) who owns the girls' apartment. 

The Misfits
The final film of stars Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe is an elegy for the death of the Old West from writer Arthur Miller and director John Huston. Gable stars as Gay Langland, an aging hand travelling the byways and working at rodeos with his two comrades, Guido (Eli Wallach) and young Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift). The three men come up with a plan to corral some misfit mustangs and sell them for dog food, but Gay's new girlfriend Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe), a high-minded ex-stripper who has just divorced her husband Ray (Kevin McCarthy) in Reno, is appalled by the plan. Although both Guido and Perce are also in love with Roslyn, she stands by Gay, sure that in the end he will do the right thing, even as he and his pals begin their planned roundup. 

Don’t Bother to Knock
Sex symbol Marilyn Monroe went dramatic in 1952's Don't Bother to Knock, and the results were far better than many critics were willing to admit. Monroe plays a beautiful but suicidal young woman, recently released from a mental institution. She doesn't mention this on her resume when she takes a baby-sitting job in a posh hotel. Richard Widmark, a hotel guest, tries to make time with Monroe after his own girl friend Anne Bancroft has told him to take a hike. As Monroe and Widmark neck on the couch, the little girl (Donna Corcoran) whom Marilyn is tending surprises the spooning couple. This drives the psychotic Marilyn over the edge, forcing Widmark to try to keep the baby-sitter from killing both herself and the child. Audience attention was so riveted on Marilyn's histrionics that few noticed supporting actress Anne Bancroft in her film debut. 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
This second film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes owes more to the 1949 Broadway musical adaptation than to the original Anita Loos novel. Second-billed Marilyn Monroe is the blonde in question: Miss Lorelei Lee, whose philosophy is "diamonds are a girl's best friend." Together with her best friend Dorothy (top-billed Jane Russell), showgirl Lorelei embarks upon a boat trip to Paris, where she intends to marry millionaire Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan). En route, the girls are bedeviled by private detective Malone (Elliot Reid), hired by Esmond's father (Taylor Holmes) to make certain that Lorelei isn't just another gold-digger. When Dorothy falls in love with the poverty-stricken Malone, Lorelei decides to find her pal a wealthier potential husband, and that's how she gets mixed up with flirtatious diamond merchant Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn) and precocious youngster Henry Spofford III (George "Foghorn" Winslow). Most of the Leo Robin-Jule Styne songs from the Broadway show remain intact, including Marilyn Monroe's immortal rendition of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend.”

There’s No Business Like Show Business
The story chronicles some twenty years in the lives of a showbiz family, headed by Dan Dailey and Ethel Merman. Two of the couple's three grown children — Donald O'Connor and Mitzi Gaynor — carry on the family tradition, while the third, Johnny Ray, decides to become a priest. There are a few tense moments when O'Connor falls in love with ambitious chorine Marilyn Monroe and loses all sense of perspective, but the family reunites during a splashy production-number finale.

Niagara
Belated honeymooners Polly (Jean Peters) and Ray Cutler (Casey Adams) arrive at their Niagara Falls cottage only to find that Rose (Marilyn Monroe) and George Loomis (Joseph Cotton) have not yet checked out. Though the Cutlers temporarily take another cabin, the lives of the two couples are bound together for the next two days. Polly discovers that Rose is having an affair and that George, though emotionally unstable, has good reason for his jealous rage. George accurately suspects that Rose openly flaunts her sexuality to make him act crazy in front of witnesses. This is part of Rose's plan: her lover Patrick (Richard Allan) will kill George and make it look like suicide or a disappearance. Instead, George kills Patrick, and he returns to kill Rose, but finds Polly instead. What follows is escalating terror! 

Monkey Business
The 1952 comedy Monkey Business, stars Cary Grant as an absent-minded professor involved in a research project. This time he's a chemist seeking a "fountain of youth" formula that will revitalize middle-agers both mentally and physically. Though Grant's own laboratory experiments yield little fruit, a lab monkey, let loose from its cage, mixes a few random chemicals and comes up with just the formula Grant is looking for. This mixture is inadvertently dumped in the lab's water supply; the fun begins when staid, uptight Grant drinks some of the "bitter" water, then begins cutting up like a teenager. A harmless afternoon on the town with luscious secretary Marilyn Monroe rouses the ire of Grant's wife Ginger Rogers, but her behavior is even more infantile when she falls under the spell of the youth formula. 

Some Like It Hot
Musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) lose their jobs when a speakeasy owned by mob boss Spats Columbo (George Raft) is raided by prohibition agent Mulligan (Pat O'Brien). Several weeks later, on February 14th, Joe and Jerry get a job performing in Urbana and end up witnessing a gangland massacre in a parking garage. Fearing that they will be next on the mobsters' hit lists, Joe devises an ingenious plan for disguising their identities. Soon they are all dolled up and performing as Josephine and Daphne in Sweet Sue's all-girl orchestra. En route to Florida by train with Sweet Sue's band, the boys (girls?) make the acquaintance of Sue's lead singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe, in what may be her best performance). Joe and Jerry immediately fall in love, though of course their new feminine identities prevent them from acting on their desires. Still, they are determined to woo her, and they enact an elaborate series of gender-bending ruses complicated by the fact that flirtatious millionaire Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown) has fallen in love with "Daphne." The plot gets even thicker when Spats Columbo and his boys show up in Florida. 

River of No Return
Not a western as has often been claimed, River of No Return is a "northern", set in Canada during the 19th century Gold Rush. En route to his home, farmer Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum) is beaten and robbed of his horse by gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun). Two people witness this bushwacking: Matt's son Mark (Tommy Rettig) and Weston's wife Kay (Marilyn Monroe), a dance hall girl. Disgusted by Weston, who has deserted her, Kay elects to remain with Matt as the latter tries to stay alive without provisions in hostile Indian Territory. Seeking revenge, Matt builds a raft and braves the rapids, with Mark and Kay in tow, in search of the renegade Weston.

Let’s Make Love
Let's Make Love is a breezy comedy about an off Broadway musical production. Jean-Marc Clement (Yves Montand) is the richest man in the world and looking for someone who loves him instead of his money. He reads in Variety he is to be satirized in the new production and tries out for the part. The producers hire him, unaware of his real identity. He hires Bing Crosby, Milton Berle and Gene Kelly to coach him for the role. Amanda (Marilyn Monroe) is the poor aspiring actress who lands a part in the play. Her opening number is the classic My Heart Belongs To Daddy. Unaware of his fabulous wealth, she falls for the playboy billionaire during the rehearsals for the show.

Bus Stop
Marilyn Monroe delivers one of her-best ever performances in this cinema adaptation of William Inge's Broadway comedy Bus Stop. Monroe is cast as Cherie, a fifth-rate nightclub "chantoozie" who captures the heart of Montana rodeo champ Bo (Don Murray). He, in turn, kidnaps Cherie and bundles her off to the roadside bus stop of the title. Gradually, the headstrong Bo learns that you can't rope a gal the same way you lasso a steer, but before this happens his face is rearranged by gallant bus driver Carl (Robert Bray). By this time, however, Cherie has fallen in love with her impulsive but basically good-hearted abductor.

Published July 18, 2002

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Marilyn Monroe
June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962

THE COLLECTION:
BUY IT ONLINE

Extras:
Most discs only have trailer/s and restoration comparison. See Seven Year Itch disc for two deleted scenes and a 20 minute doco. 

NOTE: The acclaimed special feature, Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, is only available in Region 1, as a bonus disc in the set. Complain to Fox. Loudly and often. 

VOLUME 1

Seven Year Itch


How To Marry A Millionaire


The Misfits

Don’t Bother to Knock

VOLUME 2

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

There’s No Business Like Show Business

Niagara

Monkey Business

VOLUME 3

Some Like It Hot

River of No Return

Let’s Make Love


Bus Stop

ALSO AVAILABLE INDIVIDUALLY ON VIDEO ONLY:
Bus Stop
How To Marry A Millionaire
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Seven Year Itch
There’s No Business Like Show Business
Niagara
Monkey Business
Let’s Make Love







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