March 24th, 2014

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: MARILYN MONROE

Here’s one Legend of the Silver Screen that doesn’t need an introduction.

Our first Marilyn Monroe film is…

RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) ** ½

Robert Mitchum stars as a cowboy reconnecting with his young son during the Canadian gold rush. Marilyn Monroe is a sexy saloon singer who just married a card shark weasel played by Rory Calhoun. Soon after their meeting, Rory steals Bob’s gun and horse and takes off; leaving them a ramshackle old raft. Mitchum, Monroe, and the kid then hop aboard the raft and head downriver and try to track down Calhoun.

Directed by Otto (The Man with the Golden Arm) Preminger, River of No Return is a decent, but minor western. The scenes aboard the raft are easily the best in the movie, and the Indian attack sequence is fairly fun. Whenever the characters have their feet firmly planted on dry land, the flick is noticeably less involving.

Dressed up in an array of slinky outfits, Marilyn Monroe is quite sexy while singing her songs in the saloon. Once she dons a frumpy pioneer costume and starts playing her songs along the riverbank, it brings the movie to a halt. She doesn’t give a bad performance per se; but her character is a bit one-note.

Robert Mitchum is solid, especially in the scenes involving his kid. And while his scenes with Marilyn are OK, there aren’t any real sparks between them. The fun performance by Rory (Motel Hell) Calhoun as the villain and the great Cinemascope cinematography (not to mention Marilyn’s undeniable screen presence) help to elevate River of No Return from being just another run of the mill oater though.

Our next Marilyn movie is…

THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955) **

Tom Ewell stars as an uptight husband whose wife and kid go away for the summer. While frittering the day away in his apartment, he spies his hot new neighbor (Marilyn Monroe) and soon starts obsessing over her. He invites her to his apartment for some drinks and makes a pass at her. Naturally, his overactive imagination gets in the way of him ever getting past first base.

Much of The Seven Year Itch revolves around Ewell daydreaming and/or talking to himself (or to various imagined people). The problem is Ewell isn’t very funny or likeable. And since he’s thoroughly irritating, these stretches of the film are more or less insufferable.

At least Marilyn Monroe is able to show off her considerable comedic gifts here. She easily outshines Ewell and even gets a couple of laughs. (“When it’s hot like this, I keep my undies in the icebox!”) But since Ewell is such a nuisance, the flick is pretty much a one-woman show. And I guess for a lot of Marilyn fans that will be enough.

Director Billy Wilder definitely knows how to get the most of Marilyn. The scene in which she stands on top of the steam grate and her skirt blows upwards is justifiably famous. Too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t come close to matching that moment.

Wilder later directed Marilyn again in the classic Some Like It Hot.

And our final Marilyn flick is…

LET’S MAKE LOVE (1960) ** ½

Yves Montand stars as a French billionaire playboy. When he hears a new off Broadway show is making fun of him, he heads to the theater to check it out. He gets mistaken as one of the actors and is eventually cast in the show. Montand almost instantly falls in love with one of the actresses (Marilyn Monroe) and decides to stay in the show to win her over.

Directed by George Cukor, Let’s Make Love suffers from a rather laborious set-up. But once the unlikely premise finally gets rolling, it’s not bad. Some of the musical numbers are dull and the scenes of Montand gallivanting around aren’t very entertaining. When Marilyn is front and center, the film is fun in fits and starts. It’s just a shame that the flick goes on way too long (it’s nearly two hours long).

Montand doesn’t have much in the way of screen presence and makes for a stiff leading man. Luckily, Marilyn gives one of her best performances and is a delight as the bubbly ingénue. And Tony Randall is pretty good as Montand’s put upon assistant.

But the best part of the movie comes when Montand pays off a bunch of famous people to help him win over Marilyn. Yves hires Milton Berle to help him tell a joke, Bing Crosby to teach him to sing, and Gene Kelly gives him a dancing lesson. Their cameos are a lot of fun and keeps Let’s Make Love from being an otherwise ho-hum affair.

Next week’s Legend: Tommy Lee Jones!