Scene By Scene: Marilyn’s ‘Career-Defining’ Comedies

Over at The Film Magazine, Emily Nighman looks at three of Marilyn’s most popular comedies, and considers how she brought each role to life.

“Early on in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the women are set up as binary opposites with Monroe’s Lorelei as the stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’ chasing men with money while Dorothy, the sensible brunette, prefers men for their looks and for love. They face many obstacles along the way … In the end, however, both women get exactly what they want: Dorothy marries Ernie for love and Lorelei marries Gus for his money.

On the surface, the film promotes a conservative ideal where a woman’s happy ending is determined by holy matrimony. However, Monroe’s star-making performance as the gold-digging Lorelei upends this superficial reading as she reveals near the end of the film that her ‘dumb blonde’ persona is itself a performance. In a clever scene between Lorelei and Gus’s father, she reveals that she can be ‘smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it,’ and that marrying for money is shrewd when women have so few options. Monroe is rumoured to have suggested the line herself.

With her sex symbol status solidified, Marilyn Monroe went on to star in her first film with director Billy Wilder … Unlike Gentlemen Prefer BlondesThe Seven Year Itch provides Monroe few opportunities to express female empowerment and assert herself Her character embodies Richard’s fantasies as an object of his desire and she is even denied a name, being credited as The Girl. Underneath the gags, however, viewers are invited to read camp in Monroe’s performance … We are rewarded for being in the know about her ‘blonde bombshell’ persona.

Wilder is clever when, in one minute, he depicts Richard’s femme fatale fantasy of The Girl in a tiger-print gown swooning over his musical talents and, in the next, has the real Girl enter his apartment in pink pyjamas. We end up laughing not only at his mistake, but also at Monroe’s self-awareness in her character. And like Lorelei, Monroe and The Girl merge into one as Richard sarcastically wonders if she really is Marilyn Monroe.

In one of her final films, Some Like It Hot, Monroe starred as Sugar, a sassy singer who befriends two male jazz musicians who disguise themselves as women and join her all-girls band to escape Chicago after witnessing a mob hit … Although Sugar does not seem to be a far cry from Monroe’s earlier roles as Lorelei and The Girl, this character carries a maturity and cynicism that the others did not.

We are first properly introduced to Sugar in the bathroom on the train to Miami where she sneaks a drink from a flask in her nylons. She describes how she is running away from past boyfriends who used her and then left, and she tells Joe and Jerry that she could stop drinking if she wanted to but she does not want to … More than in her previous roles, she is honest, messy, and relatable, and her performance has gone down in history in what is considered one of the best American films ever made.

Marilyn Monroe has often been dismissed as nothing more than her screen persona … In recent years, the public discourse around the star has changed as modern fans have interpreted her confidence and sexuality as feminist empowerment. Yet, behind her image as either a glamorous star or a feminist icon, hid a complex woman, and these three career-defining roles in Gentlemen Prefer BlondesThe Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot contributed not only to her legacy, but to her ability to speak for herself.”