Exactly fifty years ago, on the night of 4 August 1962, Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose of barbituates. The world’s greatest sex symbol, the most idolised actress of her age, was dead. Now 20th Century Fox has decided to commemorate this tragic event in the way they know best: by cashing in.
Marilyn may be fifty years dead but her movies keep finding new audiences. Fox’s new Forever Marilyn set brings together seven features: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), River of No Return (1954), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like It Hot (1956), and The Misfits (1961).
Fox had a tricky relationship with Monroe. She was their biggest box office drawcard in the mid-fifties but was paid a small salary because of a draconian contract she had signed in her early years. Jane Russell reputedly earned ten times as much for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At the time of her death Monroe had been sacked by Fox because of her bad behaviour on set. Only years later was it revealed she had been secretly been re-hired, which allowed conspiracy theorists to argue that suicide was improbable.
There are Marilyn collections that have another film or two, and those that sell more cheaply. There is a case for substituting Bus Stop (1956) for the vapid No Business Like Show Business; while Niagara (1953) is a superior film to River of No Return, but nothing else is crying out for inclusion.
This set comes with a ridiculous little “collectable” booklet of photos and quotes, and subtitles in a bewildering array of languages, but no extras of genuine interest.
The major selling point of Forever Marilyn is the chance to view the films in immaculate Blu-Ray transfers. As usual, this presumes buyers are such fetishists for image quality they will acquire a new copy of a film they already own. I don’t know if this is true, but Fox probably has market research that confirms we are all helpless consumers. It seems inconceivable that any decent film collection might not contain Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot or Howard Hawks’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Is there a more memorable moment in the cinema than Marilyn singing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend?
The odd-film-out is John Huston’s The Misfits, the very last feature for both Monroe and Clark Gable. Written by her former husband, Arthur Miller, it blurs the line between art and life in the roles played by Monroe and Montgomery Clift. A sad, bitter story, it shows a very different side to the dumb blonde act, where sex was both omnipresent and comical.
It is estimated there have been between 600-700 books published on Monroe, from dry academic studies to an overheated monstrosity by Norman Mailer. Then there are the film treatments. In the past year alone we’ve seen My Week with Marilyn and the French film, Nobody Else But You.
There is so much conflicting information that the actual person may be lost forever. Perhaps, as some commentators have argued, the great attraction of Monroe lay not in her curves but her contradictions.
Her on-screen persona was such an impossible blend of pouting sexuality and little-girl innocence, it has become an indelible trademark. Michelle Williams excelled in capturing Monroe’s famous blend of extreme insecurity and charm; the way she could be flirtatious and manipulative, or seemingly guileless. But take one look at the real Marilyn, and we see an image that defies reproduction. If Monroe were still alive, she would be 92 years old. It’s a dark irony that her death at the age of 36 has preserved her beauty and mystery for all time.
Forever Marilyn, 7 film Blu–Ray Collection, 20th Century Fox
Published by the Australian Financial Review, August 04, 2012