Back to the Movies: Marilyn’s Lucky Eight

Marilyn in Niagara (1953); and with Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Following her article about Marilyn Monroe Productions (see here), Maureen Lee Lenker is the latest critic to recommend some of Marilyn’s best movies – eight, to be exact – for Entertainment Weekly.

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

“Though this marked Monroe’s 19th film, she had spent the vast majority of her earlier career laboring in thankless bit parts or brief appearances in comedies (she has a memorable turn in All About Eve) … Don’t Bother to Knock was the first film to truly grant her a juicy dramatic leading role, one that allowed Monroe to tap into her own childhood traumas and abuse … This noirish drama signalled a turning point in Monroe’s career.”

Niagara (1953)

“For an actress traditionally known as a blonde chanteuse, Monroe actually made a surprising amount of noir films … Niagara rocketed Monroe to superstardom, codifying her sexpot image as enshrined in reviews that compared her figure in her tight dresses to the beauties of Niagara Falls. But it also proved Monroe’s deft ability to use her appearance as part of her craft, delivering a multifaceted and complex rendering of the scheming Rose.”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

“The script was tailored to Monroe and [Jane] Russell’s strengths as comedians and entertainers …. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes established Monroe as a full-blown movie star, but it also gave her a platform to winkingly send up the image on which she’d risen to fame.”

Marilyn with David Wayne in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953); and with Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot (1959)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

“This third title features Monroe in glorious Technicolor and Cinemascope alongside two other famous Hollywood blondes … Once again Monroe sent up her image, bantering with Bacall and Grable to craft another wry, deceptively smart story of women who ultimately give in to romance over their gold-digging intentions.”

Bus Stop (1956)

“In a significant dramatic turn, Monroe plays Cherie, a performer at a local bus-stop cafe with Hollywood aspirations … Monroe took a direct hand in making Cherie as authentic as possible, distressing her costumes, darkening her hair, and mastering an Ozark accent. She earned rave reviews for the work, finally garnering some of the respect that she craved as an actress.”

Marilyn with Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952); and Mon­roe Vs. Oliver in The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957)

“Made by Marilyn Monroe Productions, The Prince and the Showgirl shows Monroe at her most effervescently charming. As showgirl Elsie Marina, she combines her new acting methods with her already winning sense of humor and flirtation … This production was notoriously trying for Monroe, and consequently, for all who worked with her — but the result proves she can hold her own opposite one of the most renowned actors of the 20th century in [Laurence] Olivier.”

Some Like It Hot (1959)

“Named the No. 1 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute, Some Like It Hot is perhaps the most enduring of Monroe’s films … Director Billy Wilder struggled while working with Monroe, whose now-rampant pill addiction caused her to be forgetful and constantly late. But her comedic timing doesn’t suffer for it, and her romance with Curtis is one of the silver screen’s most indelible. Sugar may have been trading on Monroe’s body and persona, but as always, she brings a humanity and innocence to the role that elevates it beyond the ditzy sexpot rendering she resented.”

The Misfits (1961)

“Monroe’s last completed film is this sombre drama, written by her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, who was constantly revising the script throughout production. It’s another stripped-down role for her (though she reportedly hated the film) … Though this was perhaps Monroe’s most difficult time on a set (director John Huston shut down production to accommodate her stay in the hospital for relaxation and treatment for depression), it remains a luminous and melancholy finale.”

Marilyn as Cherie in Bus Stop (1956); and with Eli Wallach in The Misfits (1961)