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Marilyn Monroe Films You May Have Overlooked
Many have seen or know of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the film that cemented Marilyn Monroe as the blonde bombshell. The Seven Year Itch will ring a bell for those familiar with the infamous photo of Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate playfully attempting to hold down her flowy white dress. But what about the films Don't Bother to Knock or There's No Business Like Show Business? Here I will review three Marilyn Monroe films (in order of their release dates) that, although not completely unknown, are not acknowledged as much as some of her other works.
Don't Bother To Knock (1952)
This film comes as a bit of a surprise to many who know Marilyn Monroe for her comedic acting and bubbly on-screen characters. Don't Bother To Knock was a venture in the opposite direction and was released when the starlet was emerging into the spotlight. It is based on the novel Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong and is a dark drama with Marilyn in the lead role playing the psychologically disturbed Nell Forbes. Her film roles prior were minor so this film gave her the opportunity to show her acting range.
After being released from a mental institution, Nell is sent to New York to live with her uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) on doctor's orders that different surroundings would do her good. Her uncle works in an upscale hotel as an elevator operator and arranges for her to babysit Bunny (Donna Corcoran), the young daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jones (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) who are guests at the hotel.
Although she starts off determined to do well and please her uncle, Nell becomes distracted by Mrs. Jones' beautiful possessions and the handsome stranger Jed (Richard Widmark) staying in the room across the way. Feeling that she can have some fun now that Bunny is tucked into bed, she dons Mrs. Jones' negligee, dabs on some perfume and invites Jed over to "her" room. Jed, who has his own demons and is desperate to forget a recently ruined relationship, accepts Nell's offer.
What is supposed to be a flirtatious rendezvous quickly turns morbid as Nell begins to confuse her guest with a lost love. Her descent into madness only deepens, leading to a dramatic conclusion.
Interestingly, Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley Temple were considered for the role of Nell, but after viewing Monroe's performance it is difficult to imagine another actress playing the part. Marilyn's experience growing up with a mentally disturbed mother is said by some biographers to be one reason she was able to tap into the character.
There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)
A lively musical, this film showcases Marilyn's singing and dancing skills. Before she joined the project the cast had already been set, but although they were well-known in the musical world, they were less familiar in Hollywood. One of the big Broadway stars attached to the production was Ethel Merman, notorious for her work on the stage. Marilyn's character Vicky wasn't originally in the script and was penciled in after Fox announced her inclusion in the project.
Marilyn is absolutely charming as a musical performer. Oddly enough, this was a concern for her when she signed on to the film. She was intimidated by the extensive performing experience of her co-stars and it has been said the star later confessed that she was not happy with her work in the production. Despite this, her acts in this picture are dazzling. It's hard to believe that Monroe would have been plagued with doubt during filming.
In the number "After You Get What You Want," she wears a seductive, high-slit gown covered with white and silver sequins, which made the censorship at the time a bit nervous. "Heat Wave" is another delightful number. The tropical setting, colorful costume, and Monroe's gyrating dance moves converge to create a mesmerizing piece of work.
Let's Make Love (1960)
The picture is set in New York, and Jean-Marc Clement (Yves Montand), billionaire playboy, is informed that a theater group in Greenwich Village is going to put on a show satirizing popular public figures, him being one. Clement and his right hand man decide to discreetly check out the rehearsals. No one recognizes the big time billionaire as he sits in. It is during this scene that Marilyn Monroe makes her first appearance in the film as character Amanda Dell, performing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." The number features her in a modest sweater, twirling on poles, suddenly throwing off the outer garb to reveal a black one-piece leotard. Jean-Marc is absolutely smitten and pretends to be an aspiring actor to get close to her. The road to discovery of his true identity is hilarious and what results is a fun, comedic love story.
The character Amanda is a classic Marilyn Monroe role - an innocent, soft-spoken, beautiful blonde with an adorable sense of humor. The comedy, though, was not without its drama off-set and it brought about a brief, but heated, love affair between Marilyn and her co-star Montand. Her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller was on the rocks and he left Marilyn alone for much of the filming of Let's Make Love to complete the script for The Misfits, another film that placed Marilyn in the lead, and would have her and Miller paired together for the last time.
Let's Make Love would be one of the final movies Marilyn would make during the 1960s. It would also be her last comedic film, as Something's Got to Give was never completed due to her untimely death. Although at the time of its release the film wasn't the commercial success Fox studios was hoping for, it has proved to be a fan favorite.
Marilyn Monroe left behind a legacy of films and these are three that should not be forgotten when looking back at her inimitable talent.