Marilyn in Hollywood … From Worst to Best

Marilyn signs autographs for fans at the premiere of How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Writing for Screen Rant, Jack Carter ranks Marilyn’s 29 films from worst (Hometown Story) to best (The Misfits, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Some Like It Hot.) His commentary is well-informed, though I don’t agree with all of it – The Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop both get quite a drubbing. And in 17th place, Marilyn’s penultimate movie, Let’s Make Love, is her lowest ranked star vehicle, outpaced by her first low-budget musical, Ladies of the Chorus.

Hometown Story (1951) – “Monroe plays a secretary at a newspaper with only a couple of scenes in the entire film. Unfortunately for Hometown Story, Monroe is by far the most engaging part of the movie.”

Love Happy (1949) – “Her brief scene is one of the funniest in the film as Monroe and Groucho Marx play off each other hilariously.”

Ladies of the Chorus (1948) – “Marilyn Monroe makes a confident and fun debut as a lead performer in this charming, if slight, B movie.”

Let’s Make Love (1960) – “Little more than a contractual obligation for Monroe. She is clearly uninterested in most of the material she’s given, although her musical numbers are still great.”

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) – “Although Marilyn Monroe only has a small supporting role, she is a highlight in an already fantastic heist film. Her best scene occurs near the end … It’s a gripping scene that is anchored by an incredibly vulnerable performance from Monroe that transforms what could have been a one-note character into someone with more depth.”

All About Eve (1950) – “A role that mirrors her public persona perfectly … she steals her scenes as a young actress that initially seems like a typical ‘dumb blonde’, only to reveal herself as far more clever and ambitious than she first appears.”

Clash By Night (1952) – “The first time that Marilyn Monroe’s name appeared before the title on a major motion picture … far from the glitz and glamour that would go on to define her career, but she does get to show off more of her acting range …”

Monkey Business (1952) – “Cary Grant is charming as usual, and his chemistry with Monroe is positively electric. It’s just a shame that she has a relatively small role.”

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) – “Makes interesting use of Monroe’s public image as a naive and innocent girl by initially playing it straight, before subverting it when the film reveals the true depth of her character’s troubled personality.”

Niagara (1953) – “Monroe proves in Niagara that she is absolutely deserving of her first top billing in a big feature film; her performance as the duplicitous yet vulnerable Rose Loomis is utterly spellbinding. Monroe’s brilliant breakthrough is supported by some of the most gorgeous three-strip Technicolor cinematography the genre has to offer.”

O. Henry’s Full House (1952) – “Marilyn Monroe has a brief appearance as a streetwalker, opposite Charles Laughton … She plays off his advances well, even using her natural voice rather than her typical sensuous, breathy tone.”

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) – “If there’s any one single scene that should serve as an introduction to Marilyn Monroe, it’s not the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch, it’s, in fact, ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ … If The Misfits represents Monroe at her dramatic best, then Gentlemen Prefer Blondes shows her at her best as a performer.”

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) – “May not be the best of Marilyn Monroe’s comedies, but it is one of the most fun. The film has a light and breezy tone, some of the most gorgeous and colourful CinemaScope photography around, and three fantastic central performances … Marilyn Monroe sparkles with some hilarious physical comedy … Her energy is incredibly well-complimented by Lauren Bacall’s wit and wisecracks.”

River of No Return (1954) – “The most straight-laced western that Marilyn Monroe ever made … Otto Preminger truly captures vast American vistas in a way only John Ford did before him. However, the rest of the film does not live up to that level of quality due to its dull, episodic plotting and an abundance of sexism and racism.”

There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) – “It’s an extravagant picture, filled to the brim with musical numbers and lavish CinemaScope photography … However, it does allow the spectacle to take priority over characterisation and plot … While Monroe is good in There’s No Business Like Show Business, it’s Singin’ In The Rain’s Donald O’Connor who steals the show.”

Bus Stop (1956) – “At its best when it’s a showcase of Marilyn Monroe’s acting abilities and performance skills … Her portrayal of the character Cherie is more authentic than any performance she’s given before … The Academy Awards made one of the worst decisions in their history when they decided to give a Best Supporting Actor nomination to Don Murray over Monroe.”

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) – “Brings to mind old-school romantic comedies like My Fair Lady and Pygmalion … features truly opulent production design and rich Technicolor cinematography from famed DoP Jack Cardiff … Monroe is charming to watch as she struggles to wrap her head around the strange rituals and glamour of regency.”

The Misfits (1961) – “Marilyn Monroe gives perhaps her most mature performance, and her sex appeal is used by John Huston to make a comment on the men surrounding her rather than as mere objectification of her body … The Misfits has a tragic, yet hopeful, tone that feels incredibly fitting …”

The Seven Year Itch (1955) – “Marilyn Monroe’s character is treated like an object rather than a person … However, Monroe’s excellent performance does try to lift the character above mere objectification; she has an extraordinary monologue toward the end, done in one take … Unfortunately, these moments in The Seven Year Itch are rare … especially when compared to Billy Wilder’s other comedies.”

Some Like It Hot (1959) – “The second collaboration between Marilyn Monroe and Billy Wilder, makes up for the disappointment that is The Seven Year Itch as it’s the perfect showcase for Monroe’s impeccable comedic talents … Not only is she not overshadowed by Lemmon and Curtis, but she’s also arguably even funnier in her delivery of Some Like It Hot‘s constant barrage of hilarious jokes and wit.”