MARILYN NEVER LOOKS anything less than marvelous, especially on these seven films marking their debut on the 50th anniversary of her death, Aug. 4, 1962. Five have been re-mastered for high-definition Blu-ray viewing, along with "Some Like It Hot" and "The Misfits" that were upgraded earlier.
A collection of comedies, a drama, a western and a musical have one dynamic influence ‒ Marilyn Monroe. She was never anything less than gorgeous whether in full make-up as in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and her showcase number "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" or in pioneer rags in "River of No Return." Still, intelligence and sadness lived just beneath her remarkable beauty. She was an iconic sex symbol, yet women liked her as well, drawn perhaps by her unspoken vulnerability and innocence. Everyone knows about her battle with severe depression and childhood sexual abuse. Today she would have been diagnosed with PTSD and there would have been medication and therapy to help her.
Extras in "The Seven Year Itch" reveal that her illness began to appear during filming when she started being late to the set and had trouble remembering her lines. Problems took hold after the famous subway grate sidewalk shoot. According to Monroe's assistant, the actress came to work the next day with bruises all over her arms, the results of a fight with then-husband Joe DiMaggio. There is some - surprising - speculation as to DiMaggio's anger over his wife's sexy posturing and jealously over how the crowds cheered for her. Regardless, they were divorced soon after.
Later, when asked why she wasn't replaced, co-writer/director Billy Wilder replied that he had an 80-year-old aunt who always showed up on time, but no one would pay to see her in a movie.
The picture in these re-mastered Blu-ray presentations range from good to excellent. Color is knock-out gorgeous; detail and delineation is bold and sharp, particularly in "Itch" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." (A friend told me he'd never seen Monroe's lips more perfect than in "Blondes.") Soundtracks have been upgraded to Master Audio 5.1; dialogue, music and effects come through clearly, but mostly through the front speaker. The black-and-white "Some Like It Hot" is outstanding. Directed by some of Hollywood's greats - Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger, John Huston, as well as Billy Wilder - these are films to be enjoyed again and again.
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953), directed by Howard Hawks, Blu-ray full-frame. I confess; this is one of my favorite movies of all time. Monroe teams with the spectacular Jane Russell, whose brunette beauty and talent holds her own in a musical about two showgirls on a cruise to France. Monroe's Lorelei Lee is engaged to a rich young man (Tommy Noonan), but his suspicious father has her trailed by an investigative reporter (Elliott Reid). Look for goofy humor, snappy lines, and outstanding musical numbers including "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Movietone news shows Monroe and Russell putting their handprints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
"How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), directed by Jean Negulesco of classics "Daddy Longlegs," "Johnny Belinda" and the 1953 Best Picture "Titanic" with Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck; also uncredited for Monroe's "River of No Return." Blu-ray widescreen. Secretaries played by Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall as secretaries are looking for rich husbands. It's not one of the best films but there are moments, as when Bacall refers to Humphrey Bogart as "that old guy in `The African Queen.'" Bacall gets most of the laughs as Monroe plays the near-sighted gal trying to hide her glasses. This was Fox's first production in CinemaScope and it looks like a first attempt with unstable color and definition; still, it's way better than the DVD. Trailers and a newsreel make up the extras.
"River of No Return" (1954), directed by Otto Preminger and an uncredited Jean Negulesco. Blu-ray widescreen. Two gentlemen hunks - Robert Mitchum and Rory Calhoun - co-star with Monroe in this CinemaScope Western filmed in Canada. Monroe plays a saloon girl trying for a better life; she follows her treacherous gambler husband (Calhoun), who's out to claim a gold mine he's won in a card game. When Mitchum appears, a widower with son played by "Lassie's" Tommy Rettig, we know Calhoun's time has come. There are terrific white water rapids scenes and beautiful scenery. Monroe sings the title ballad and saloon songs. Color and sound are consistently good. Trailers are the only extra.
"There's No Business Like Show Business" (1954), directed by Walter Lang of "The King and I" and "State Fair." Blu-ray widescreen. Monroe takes a backseat to Ethel Merman and Donald O'Connor in a showcase of music by Irving Berlin. Merman and O'Connor as Mom and Pop Donahue and their three kids are a song and dance vaudeville act, the Five Donahues. The act hits a snag when the oldest son falls for aspiring singer Vicky (Monroe). O'Connor dances with statues that come to life, Merman belts out tunes in her bombastic style and Monroe performs "Heat Wave" in a way that gives you chills. Color wavers a bit although not as badly as in "How to Marry a Millionaire." Trailers are the only extra.
"The Seven Year Itch" (1955), directed by Billy Wilder. Blu-ray widescreen. Originally Wilder wanted James Stewart for the male lead but scheduling conflicts kept them apart. A young Walter Matthau auditioned for the role, but the studio wouldn't back him, so Tom Ewell, who had won a Tony for playing the part on Broadway, was chosen. This comedy about the temptation of adultery is slow and dated now, although there are still plenty of good lines. It's summer in Manhattan when wives and children are sent to the country while husbands continue to sweat it out at work in the Big Apple. Mid-life crisis hits while the wives are away and Ewell finds himself tempted by his new neighbor, "The tomato upstairs."
This disc has loads of extras including commentary by Wilder biographer Kevin Lally, who compares the film with its stage version and puts the content in context with `50s morals. There's information about the 1930 Hay's Code, the Motion Picture Production Code that begins: "No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin." Read the entire list of rules at [...] It's a gobstopper.
Another documentary, "Monroe and Wilder: An Intersection of Genius" provides interviews from several people who knew them well, and who cover the breakdown between Monroe and her husband, Joe DiMaggio, over the famous subway grate photo shoot. Also find a picture-in-picture track about censored material, a series of short Fox documentaries duplicating info from the other features, deleted scenes, a still-gallery and more. The picture looks stellar and the sound is excellent.
"Some Like It Hot" (1959), directed by Billy Wilder. Blu-ray widescreen. Wilder finally got to shoot a film in black-and-white, just like he had wanted to do with "The Seven Year Itch." The American Film Institute voted "Hot" the best comedy ever made and I'd give it that vote, too. Set during Prohibition, two luckless musicians played by Curtis and Lemmon happen to walk in on the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Now targets of the mob led by George Raft, the boys disguise themselves as girls, join an all-girls' band and head to Florida. Monroe plays the lead singer in dresses that would be daring and dangerous even today. Curtis falls for the delectable Sugar (Monroe) who falls right back. But it's Lemmon and Joe E. Brown who get the last line and laugh, observing: "Well, nobody's perfect." The picture is brilliant; definition and contrast outstanding. Sound is great.
This is the same disc from an earlier Blu-ray release with a commentary by co-writer I.A.L. Diamond's son, Paul Diamond, with screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, with spliced archival remarks from co-stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Also, watch "The Making of Some Like It Hot" featuring interviews with co-writer/director Billy Wilder, co-writer I.A.L. Diamond, Lemmon, Curtis and others.
"The Misfits" (1961), directed by John Huston; written by Arthur Miller, Monroe's husband at the time. Blu-ray widescreen. This was Monroe's and co-star Clark Gable's last film; he died of a heart attack a few weeks after filming wrapped and she passed months later in 1962. But there's more to this than its place as the last film of two great stars. It's a drama of disillusionment and dysfunction with Gable as an old, modern day cowboy who's seen his way of life die. Gable's character and two other men played by Montgomery Cliff and Eli Wallach fall for the new divorcee played by Monroe. She takes to Gable but things just go from bad to worse as the story rambles on. Sound and picture are both very good in high-def, but there are no extras except trailers.