In Marilyn’s Shadow: Arthur Miller Onscreen

Over at Alt Film Guide, Andre Soares looks at Arthur Miller’s mixed fortunes in adapting his plays for the screen in the light of his relationship with Marilyn. (The newlyweds are shown above at a London performance of this play, A View From the Bridge, in 1956.)

“Featuring shades of the adulterous liaison between the middle-aged Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, A View from the Bridge has New York City dockworker Eddie Carbone lusting after his wife’s teenage niece/adopted daughter. Later on, instead of taking on the mighty, the ‘everyman’ goes after those who wield less power than he does … In fall 1956, Miller’s expanded two-act version of the play was presented in London’s West End, with Peter Brook directing.

Lovers for some time, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe wed in June 1956 … When not fighting the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism, during his time as Monroe’s third and final husband, Miller did uncredited work on her 1960 star vehicle Let’s Make Love and penned a screenplay expressly to showcase her under-tapped dramatic talent.

That evolved into the modern-day Western/psychological drama The Misfits (1961), an ill-fated production that turned out to be Monroe’s last completed film.

Their marriage on the rocks, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were at odds with one another during the making of The Misfits, which began shooting in July 1960 in the northern Nevada desert, where temperatures reached 100°F (approx. 38°C).

Miller would reportedly see the production as ‘the lowest point’ in his life. He was kept busy, continually revising the screenplay as filming extended for months in large part because Monroe, by then addicted to alcohol and pills, was frequently either running late or absent from the set.

Although a not inconsiderable box office performer – an estimated $4.1 million in rentals (the studio’s share of the gross; approx. $55 million today) – The Misfits turned out to be a major commercial disappointment due to its exorbitant $4 million budget.

Beginning in the late 20th century, The Misfits’ dramatic effectiveness has been reassessed … In all, this Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe collaboration remains the only Miller-connected big-screen release that approaches the standing of a – however flawed – classic.

Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Sidney Lumet and adapted by poet Norman Rosten (veteran screenwriter Jean Aurenche penned the French-language version), A View from the Bridge / Vu du pont (1962) stars Italian Raf Vallone as Eddie Carbone; Americans Maureen Stapleton and Carol Lawrence as, respectively, Eddie’s wife and her niece; and as the Italian immigrant brothers, French actors Jean Sorel (with whom the niece is infatuated) and Raymond Pellegrin.

Alongside Albert Camus’ introspective 1957 novel The Fall, the aftermath of the Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe relationship would itself become the basis for Miller’s 1964 play After the Fall, mostly set inside the mind of a middle-aged New York lawyer reminiscing about his life while contemplating the possibility of marrying his latest lover.

The playwright’s first Broadway-produced work since the 1955 combo A View from the Bridge/A Memory of Two Mondays – and his first collaboration with director Elia Kazan since their falling out in the early 1950s – After the Fall, even if a critical misfire, ran for 208 performances at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre.

Elia Kazan’s future wife Barbara Loden was cast in the Monroe-inspired role. Jason Robards was the reflective lawyer and Salome Jens the prospective German wife.

Directed by Gilbert Cates, a 1974 made-for-TV production starred Faye Dunaway, Christopher Plummer, and Bibi Andersson.

Apart from George Schaefer’s little-seen 1978 movie version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which Miller had adapted for the American stage in 1950, nearly three decades would pass before the playwright had any other work transferred to the English-language screen.

In 1990, his 1984 one-act play Some Kind of Love Story became Karel Reisz’s mystery thriller Everybody Wins, adapted by Miller himself. Debra Winger and Nick Nolte starred in the box office dud: $1.4 million domestic gross against a $19 million budget.”