The Monroe Films

Milton Greene Archive

I saw a few I wish I hadn't: The Seven-Year Itch, for example. Gloria Steinem reported Monroe's humiliation, that Billy Wilder set up the skirt-blowing scene and let everyone know except her. Every man on the set was kneeling for a better view. I'm not sure I believe it, myself, that she didn't know, but it is a humiliating film and a demeaning trick, whether she knew it at the time or not. Wilder exploited her dumb blonde persona better than anyone. Through a grand accident, Some Like It Hot transformed the persona into something timeless, human, and wonderful.

I went to the movies that came out when I was a testosterone-afflicted teen, and I enjoyed them the way children enjoy eating a box of candy, the whole box. I saw How to Marry a Millionaire and River of No Return only to see her. I may have seen Bus Stop. The Prince and the Showgirl? Yeah. Let's Make Love? Yeah, and the "Marilyn tribute," whatever it was called, that came out a year or so after she died and was mainly an excuse to get some money out of the nude swimming scene from her uncompleted last film. I saw bits of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes a few years ago in some "Best of Hollywood" anthology: movies that smell of locker rooms, of boys discovering their groins and fat boarish men with sagging crotches and wet lips. Nothing could get me back there, any more than I wax nostalgic for the comic books and "'teen writers" I read then.

I think her suicide, if that's what it was, was connected to being fired from Something's Got to Give. She was a middle-aged celebrity filled with self-doubt, vacant of self-esteem, recently fired from a film in which she had agreed reluctantly to do a nude scene. And they didn't want her. The ultimate rejection. She seemed to have a clear and simple understanding that movies were essentially different from photographs; she had no apparent reservations about nudity in stills. Being nude in film was, I think, too "personal." (If she really made the legendary blue movie, which I also doubt for the simple reason that if it existed our National Enquirer need to know would have turned it up by now, that still doesn't argue against her making this distinction.) But to keep this role, in a movie so trivial that she was replaced by Doris Day, she offered the one thing that had always been good collateral, her body. It didn't work. A year after winning a Golden Globe, rejection cancelled the glory; she crashed.

But she made two excellent films, both of them driven by her adopted persona. Some Like It Hot puts the dumb, pneumatic blonde at the center of a extraordinary comedy. Marilyn plays "herself" beautifully, giving us engaging silliness, wonderful poignance, and lush, eye-popping voluptuousness in their essence. That won her the Golden Globe. But The Misfits is her best film. I saw it again about five years ago, and I'll see it once more soon. John Huston was a pig of a human being (and no, talent is no excuse for piggery), but he was a great director. In The Misfits he took two excellent actors, Eli Wallach and Montgomery Clift, teamed them with two "talentless stars," Monroe and Gable, and from the synergy got four wonderful performances. The result is a literate, timeless western, driven by Arthur Miller's script, engaging because it plays so well on the difference between who we are and who we wish we were: the very personal demon that Marilyn Monroe died for.