Archive for Marilyn Monroe

Drag Race

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2023 by dcairns

Interesting to see Richard Oswald’s Pottier’s FANFARE D’AMOUR, the original of SOME LIKE IT HOT. Not a bad comedy, but so outclassed by its more celebrated remake that falls into shadow even as you watch. I do think Billy Wilder might have been more generous to it — I guess it wasn’t customary to credit European originals back in the fifties? But I seem to recall most remakes having the initial writers’ names included. Most audiences and critics must have assumed SLIH was an entirely original conception.

(Neil Jordan’s instantly-forgotten THE GOOD THIEF similarly fails to tell us that it’s a straight remake of Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR.)

Wilder said that coming up with a life-or-death reason for the protags to assume female attire was the change that made his film “work,” ungenerously implying that Oswald’s didn’t work, was a failure. It was a smart change — it’s not too obvious watching FDA why the later parts lack tension and seem to devolve into a lot of running about.

Every element of a film typically needs more than one purpose: boldly enlisting the St Valentine’s Day Massacre enabled Wilder & Diamond (whose idea this may have been) to timeshift the story to the ‘twenties, which meant everyone would be wearing funny clothes (“You ever notice that whenever Charlie’s Aunt is revived, they always do it in period?”), which helps make the drag more plausible somehow; it also allowed for all the jokes about Prohibition and the parody of the gangster genre, even if George Raft and Pat O’Brien were figures from a slightly later cinematic era.

Oswald’s Pottier’s leads are skilled, but they don’t take the female impersonation seriously enough — suspension of disbelief goes out the fenetre when we don’t buy that anyone would be fooled. Monty Python “pepperpots” don’t cut it. Wilder must have hoped his actors could pull it off, but the funny clothes were an insurance policy. SLIH was an unusually period-accurate film for its day, which tends to be overlooked because, I think, Monroe is such a spectacularly fifties personality. Not that you couldn’t get somebody looking approximately like her in the twenties, but, strange as it seems, she wouldn’t have been considered fashionably attractive…

Thanks to Christine for the video.

Blonde Bomb

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 21, 2023 by dcairns

A moment from mercifully near the end of BABYLON, Damien Chazelle’s poison pen love letter to cinema.

It’s 1952. “Marilyn Monroe wasn’t really that big then, was she?” observed Fiona.

It’s true — in 1952, Monroe had supporting roles in Hawks’ MONKEY BUSINESS and Lang’s CLASH BY NIGHT. She had a starring role in DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK. She was starting to become famous. But NIAGRA and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES happened in ’53.

Freezing the image, the enigma becomes still more puzzling. Why are there two Monroe posters, one just a portrait, and the other just her name, in a shop selling televisions, a radio and a clock? Some kind of commercial tie-in? I can’t read the lettering under her name — it says SOMETHING TELEVISION SOMETHING.

Anyway, there could be a rational explanation, which is more than you can say for most of what happens in BABYLON. More tomorrow.

Film With Sleep

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2022 by dcairns

Roy (Ward) Baker’s NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP opens with Gary Merrill waking from a nightmare, so I immediately felt cheated. Firstly, the character has been asleep, secondly, he’s Gary Merrill. I decided to watch the movie for Linda Darnell, and instead we have GM, seemingly quite good guy, but adequate to hold one’s attention onscreen only in ALL ABOUT EVE, where he’s supported by more interesting players on all sides. He serves, I guess, as a kind of anchor. He has what Ken Campbell called “the legendary minus factor,” — you can inject him into a scene if it’s in danger of getting too exciting. He’s like Hugh Beamont’s less exuberant brother.

NWS casts GM as a neurotic alcoholic songwriter whose problems with his stage mother have left him incapable of forging relationships. He’s married a rich woman, has an exotic mistress, and grasps at a last-chance “redemptive” fling with starlet Darnell, a looong way into this film. We seem to be supposed to be on his side, but it’s pretty hard to sympathise, and the potential “solution” to his worries, another mistress, doesn’t convince — isn’t he just making the same mistakes over again?

My copy of the film is grungy, which doesn’t help. Impossible to really judge the emotional effect of the film when everything looks like it’s been shot through translucent black soup.

Had NWS starred Richard Widmark, it might have stood a chance — an actor whose dynamism and nerviness could often compensate for really unsympathetic character traits. Merrill can only play for pathos by being a sad-sack. The grimy transfer makes him seem older, a disconsolate empty scrotum with a hairstyle that looks like it landed on him from above like a pancake.

The women around him are a mixed bunch — June Vincent avoids making her mothering wife an appalling character, a noble choice, but maybe that would have been more interesting to watch? Hildegarde Knef’s vocal delivery is quite Schwartzeneggerian, which is distracting. Darnell makes everything brighter and better, before she’s called upon to perform a peculiar roleplay, which goes on for a long time and is embarrassing to watch, the more so as she’s built up some warm feeling.

There’s a final plot twist which isn’t. An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with Tony Randall did the alcoholic blackout thing far better (and Randall is astonishing in it). The script seems to have been intended to float a series of possible twists, each of which is then disproven, but it SO doesn’t pull this off.

The most interesting aspect, for me, was that the movie, a product of Baker’s brief stint in Hollywood at Fox, has several of the same qualities as his better-known DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK, recently recalled to memory by its featuring in BLONDE (although we never meet an English director in that movie’s “reconstructions”). Both films feature cod psychology (dollar-book Freud, as Welles called it) and make their leading ladies seem awkward with almost unplayable scenes, where Baker seems unable to help them, or not enough anyhow.

(I don’t remember INFERNO well enough to say if it follows these trends.)

But this movie makes DBTK look like The Mahabharata.

What’s surprising and disappointing is that RWB, who was capable of striking effects in terrific films, doesn’t seize upon the resources of Hollywood to do anything interesting or expressive or different, despite the psychological bent of the films he was assigned. This one has a flashback within a flashback, flashbacks which then turn out to be possibly false, but then again turn out to be true after all, but none of it encourages him to any formal experimentation at all. It’s like he was intimidated by the studio apparatus rather than inspired by it. Which would seem strange, as he was known in the UK as quite a formidable tough guy who wouldn’t hesitate to tear a strip out of a crewmember who displeased him.

I have other questions about Baker. More soon.