Marilyn Monroe starred in over thirty movies in her career, which started slowly in 1947 and didn’t really kick off until 1952. I thought I would talk a bit about my top 10 Marilyn Monroe movies and the things I like and dislike about them.
Now, I would like to mention that the movies I have selected are from her starring roles meaning films where she had a few lines won’t be included, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the picture (such as All About Eve).
I will be focussing on:
- Marilyn’s performance
- Aesthetics i.e. costumes, sets
This post contains some spoilers!
10. LET’S MAKE LOVE (1960)
Although Marilyn detested this movie, it was a toss-up between this, River of No Return and There’s No Business Like Show Business, which I personally can’t stand. In fact, I’ve only seen TNBLSB once, whereas I’ve watched Let’s Make Love a few times. I don’t like Westerns so RONR didn’t make the cut either. Soz River fans.
Despite Marilyn’s hatred of the script and her character (“The worst part I had to play was Let’s Make Love-I didn’t even have a part“), I find Amanda Dell rather lovable. No, I don’t like the songs or Yves Montand’s character, Jean-Marc Clement. He’s just an out and out creep. Kinda like real life.
Jean-Marc infiltrates an underground theatre company that plan on insulting the billionaire by depicting him in their play. However, he is mistaken as an actor who looks like Clement so is hired for the role. He quickly falls for Amanda and spends his time (and money) attempting to win her over, but not as a millionaire, as a penniless actor.
Amanda is sweet, carefree and kind. She really attempts to help Alexander (the fake name Jean-Marc gave her). And he makes a fool of her. Despite her embarrassment, she still gets with him.
Amanda’s character was the perfect fit for Marilyn perhaps in her earlier career but it wasn’t particularly challenging for her. Which is probably why she didn’t enjoy the picture. I do feel that if the script was stronger, had more depth and had better musical numbers Marilyn may have enjoyed it more. It didn’t help that certain aspects of the script may have had personal digs such as the parallel of Amanda and Marilyn both not graduating. I don’t think it’s a TERRIBLE movie but it’s not a go-to for me. It’s an easy film to watch and has some great cameos from Bing Crosby, Milton Berle and Gene Kelly.
9. THE MISFITS (1961)
I have a love/hate relationship with The Misfits.
What I love: the cast, the characters and the location.
I find the story odd in all honesty. why do relationships happen so fast in Old Hollywood films) and, in places, insulting to Marilyn. There are a lot of reflections between Marilyn and Roslyn, some of which were not necessarily kind things to bring up in a script and share with the world.
After all, this film was meant to be a Valentine to Marilyn from her husband Arthur Miller but Marilyn didn’t see it this way. Instead, she endured a lot of stress during filming and it really marked the end of their marriage. Of course, it didn’t help she had just had an affair with Yves Montand.
Marilyn had barely any break between Let’s Make Love and The Misfits and she was exhausted. Exacerbated by the Nevada heat, insomnia and the deterioration of her marriage meant filming was delayed creating animosity towards her. Further delays were also caused by John Huston cutting into the production budget for his gambling habits but Marilyn had been blamed for this.
The cast, Montgomery Clift, Clark Gable, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter are a bunch of outsiders struggling to make any permanent connections with anyone but there is certainly is chemistry between the four of them. All cast members act superbly, albeit, Marilyn seems exhausted and clearly done with the film.
My frustrations are continued by the fact that no one thought that maybe Marilyn needed a break. More than just one weekend anyway. It’s rumoured she had an overdose during filming which should’ve been enough of alarm that the film should have been postponed until she was better.
Overall, I enjoy the movie but I wish I didn’t know anything about the production of it. Marilyn is an incredibly dramatic actress and I wish she was given more parts like this.
8. BUS STOP (1956)
I absolutely love Marilyn as Cherie. She’s so cute and funny, I find her adorable.
Her performance of That Old Black Magic demonstrates her acting ability and how many dimensions Marilyn has as an actress. As a singer in a saloon, swarming with cowboys, Marilyn depicts Cherie as a lonely girl, with not much talent (Marilyn deliberately sings out of tune) trying to find her way in the world, or as she calls it, her “direction.” Although she may be seen as another “dumb blonde” character, Cherie definitely has a lot more of a back story and depth.
Don Murray’s character Beau, on the other hand, is SO ANNOYING. The way he talks and grab’s Cherie throughout the film infuriates me. But that’s the character, he’s meant to be an untamed manchild.
What I do love about the script is the ending when Marilyn explains how she can’t be right for Beau due to having a bit of a past reputation with other men when he essentially is implied to be a virgin (until he meets Cherie). SPLASH!
7. THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957)
Despite the issues on set whilst filming The Prince and The Showgirl, Marilyn completely blows Laurence Olivier off the screen. With years of experience in the theatre, Olivier was believed to be one of the greats. What I don’t think people expected was Marilyn to out-act him.
The script again isn’t perfect. Basically, the movie consists of Laurence Olivier (Prince Regent Charles) trying to get laid whilst in England… Don’t @ me.
He goes to the theatre where he meets the cast of the Coconut Girl, which includes the beautiful, American Elsie Marina, played by Marilyn.
He invites her to join him for dinner which she believes is a party with other guests. When she realises that it is a private affair, she attempts to flee before the Prince Regent arrives. Backed into a corner, she stays. Ultimately feeling insulted by the behaviour of her host she drinks alone throughout the evening. When the Prince decides to begin paying attention to his guest she rejects him, causing him humiliation. As she plans on leaving he attempts one more time to win her over and succeeds but she passes out before he can make his final move. Gross.
There’s a little back and forth with the affections between the two and some political mumbo jumbo. But despite the crappy storyline, it’s a very pleasant and easy movie to watch. PLUS Elsie is adorable.
6. THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955)
Alcohol, smoking and junk food. Three things Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) has been advised to stay away from. But it doesn’t take long before he’s enjoying life’s pleasures. With his family travelling to escape the New York heat, he is left with nothing but his work. Until he meets The Girl upstairs (Marilyn).
Richard believes Marilyn, like many other women in his past, is attracted to him and will cause issues with his marriage. However, The Girl is simply a friendly neighbour with no intention to have a passionate affair with a married man. Although slightly air-headed, The Girl is sweet and naive to Richard’s advances.
There are many comedy moments and stunning costumes on Marilyn’s part. She simply glows on screen.
5. NIAGARA (1953)
Even if Niagara didn’t have Marilyn in it, I think I would still watch it, it’s that good! The film noir thriller, set at Niagara Falls is a dramatic story about a married couple (The Cutlers) who meet a Rose Loomis who is attempting to convince the world her husband is mentally unstable. She plots to have her lover kill him and make it look like suicide. But things don’t go quite to plan, leaving Rose, scared for her life. Polly and Ray get caught up in the plot putting them at risk.
Although she’s not in the entire movie, her role is definitely the highlight. And oh my, I love her singing Kiss. So smooth and sexy.
You don’t want to hate her character, she just doesn’t come across as a murderess. She appears to everyone else as a caring woman, looking out for her controlling husband.
Joseph Cotten, who plays George Loomis is a fantastic co-star of Marilyn’s and I would have loved to see them work together again, perhaps in a Hitchcock movie. Marilyn definitely needed more thrillers in her career, her femme fatale role was fantastic.
4. HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953)
Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe… What more could you want?
These three beautiful and glamourous but broke women are on the hunt for a man (or men) who can set them up for life. Pretty soon they find that money isn’t everything. The story is simple but funny and quite sweet,
Marilyn is HILARIOUS as the almost blind Pola. Although with less experience than Lauren and Betty, she is certainly their equal on screen. The three work perfectly together.
And the costumes! UGH, can we talk about this dress?
3. DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK (1952)
Nell (Marilyn) is the niece of an elevator operator, Eddie (Elisha Cook Jr.), in a fancy hotel.
Eddie offers Nell to be a babysitter for Bunny to some guests, in order to help her independence and try and get over the loss of her fiance, who died in the war. Another hotel guest, Jed (Richard Widmark) sees Nell in the window opposite his, belonging to the family of the child she’s babysitting and they get close. When the little girl, Bunny (who is pretty annoying), enters Nell starts to become unhinged and sends her to her room. She begins to believe Jed is her fiance, back from the dead.
Although Nell treats Bunny badly, I feel terrible for her (Nell, but also Bunny I guess) and her troubles. I love the fact that Jed does too and becomes an understanding shoulder to cry on.
Marilyn switches seamlessly from childlike naivete to sexy temptress to unstable aggressor. Her acting in this film is flawless.
2. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
This was the first Marilyn movie I saw and I fell in love from the get-go. Marilyn isn’t the one and only quality about this movie, which cannot be said for many others! Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are hysterical as Jerry/Daphne and Joe/Josephine/Junior who are witnesses to a murder. They decide to flee by joining an all-girl band where they meet Sugar, both falling for her beauty and charms. On the hunt for a millionaire, Sugar confides her type to Josephine who disguises herself (or himself) as Junior, the heir to Shell Oil. He convinces her he cannot fall in love or feel the affections of another woman thus resulting in him spending an entire evening smooching with the beautiful ukelele singer.
Billy Wilder is a genius director and he proves this with The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot (and of course many others). Although Marilyn had issues again during the production of the film, the end result is phenomenal. She again shines off the screen, equally as great as her co-stars, if not better,
1. GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953)
Last but definitely not least my absolute favourite Marilyn movie.
This film is the epitome of a classic Marilyn Monroe picture.
Marilyn plays Lorelei Lee, a showgirl and gold digger (like HTMAM. She is engaged to Gus Esmond, son of a millionaire who refuses Gus to marry Lorelei. She and her friend Dorothy sail to Paris, without Gus however, Dorothy falls for a private detective (unknownst to her) who is hired to watch Lorelei. Lorelei meets and befriends Piggy, the owner of a diamond mine and manages to convince him to give her his wife’s diamond tiara. Despite him willingly handing it over to Lorelei, it is reported as stolen, leaving Gus to abandon Lorelei and Dorothy in Paris to become showgirls in France. The police are eventually called to arrest Lorelei for the theft. However, Dorothy and Lorelei work on a plan to save her from imprisonment.
Her gowns are phenomenal. Her comedic timing is perfection. Her friendship with Jane Russell (who plays Dorothy) is precious. The music and dance numbers are wonderful. It’s such a fun film and I feel really put Marilyn on the map.
What are your favourite Marilyn movies?