Six movies which range from downright stinker to quite good; all part of the amazing career of America's all-time favourite blonde-bombshell.
Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection Vol. Two
Directors: Roy Baker Otto Preminger Henry Hathaway Howard Hawks george Cukor
Producers: Julian Blaustein Stanley Rubin Charles Brackett Sol Siegel Jerry Wald
Writers: Norman Krasna, Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, IAL Diamond, Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, Richard Breen, Frank Fenton, Daniel Taradash
Features: Previews only
Six Marilyn Monroe Movies, with co-stars including Richard Widmark, Anne Bancroft, Yves Montand, Tony Randall, Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Robert Mitchum, Tommy Rettig
Volume Two of the Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection catches us at the very beginning of her career - and towards its close.
The movies are: 'River of No Return', 'Niagara', 'Let's Make Love', 'Don't Bother to Knock' and 'Monkey Business' -- a very mixed bag, with only one perhaps one of these films ranked as amongst her best. But the sum is greater than the parts; we emerge with a heightened appreciation of her gifts.
The highlight of the collection is, for me, 1954's 'River of No Return', featuring the laid-back bruiser Robert Mitchum and, as Robert Mitchum's son,young Tommy Rettig, who you might recall as the boy in the early television series 'Lassie'.
This American-frontier film, directed by Otto Preminger, is really a bit of old hokey, but once you get past the trite nature of its plot (barroom singer with a heart of gold finds true love out West), and if you can ignore the occasional touch of politically incorrect macho sadism verging on rape, it comes over as fast and slick and entertaining. And Marilyn looks just great, particularly in the saloon scene as she sings the film's title-song.
This is delivered in a widescreen anamorphic transfer which seems clean enough. The colours however are strangely dull; my Loewe television rarely needs colour adjustment but I found myself cranking up the tones to get a bit of decent fleshtone projected into that wonderful Monroe skin.
'Let's Make Love' from 1960 would be, for most people, the other notable film in the collection. It too is a very decent anamorphic widescreen transfer, and the colour values are spot-on for this one. It's a very slight movie; the plot is farcically thin if not downright non-existent. For much of the film Marilyn looks almost desperate. She is getting quite pudgy -- not just a bit overweight, but unhealthily pudgy -- and her natural charm which imbued 'Some Like It Hot' which was made just a little earlier, is somehow disappearing.
Her co-star is the French actor Yves Montand. I have seen references in criticism of this movie to his wooden acting, as if he is the worst feature of the film. In fact, he acts in a very subtle and quite suave way, exhibiting a lot of natural humour and charm. He is in fact the film's best feature. And the closing scenes, when Marilyn and Yves connect properly for the first time, are very sensual -- totally believable. Which is as they should be, as they were having a wild fling while making the movie.
'Monkey Business' from 1952 is a black-and-white movie by Howard Hawks, and is one of the very last of the genre known as Screwball comedies. This really should not be in a Diamond Collection as Marilyn's role is too slight - it's not all that much bigger than her role in that masterpiece 'All About Eve'.
Screwball? Schmewball. This genre was tired and ready to be laid to rest by the time they got round to making this movie. Its stars, including Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Charles Coburn, expend a lot of energy on a supposedly wild and whacky story about monkey hormones, creating a movie which is best decently forgotten. The screenplay is by some very respectable names -- Ben Hech, Charles Lederer and Billy Wilder's longtime writing partner I.A.L. Diamond ('Some Like it Hot', 'The Front Page') but by this time, this particular formula had been well and truly wrung dry.
That movie is, however, the only real stinker in this Diamond pack. Next up is 'Niagara', from 1953, where Marilyn plays alongside Joseph Cotten as the husband she is planning to have murdered. He however has different ideas ... and guess who ends up stiff.
It's a B-Movie romp, filmed in great colour. And it must have been made only months before the industry switched to widescreen, since it's in the old-fashioned standard Academy cinema ratio. The acting is acceptable for a 20th Century Fox quickie, though Jean Peters as the second female lead is outstanding -- totally believable in the sort of support role which is often just thrown away. Her fear at the end as Joseph Cotten takes her on an unforgettable tourist-ride towards the Niagara Falls is palpable -- she really does outshine Marilyn in this movie.
The other star is of course the location itself -- the twin Niagara Falls; the spume and wind-whipped sheets of water. At times the camera lingers on the sights as if forgetting there is a drama being told here. Perhaps the President of the local Chamber of Commerce was doubling as camera-man.
Finally, we move on to my surprise in the collection, the only movie I had never seen, 'Don't Bother to Knock' from 1952.
And I was very pleasantly surprised. This is another 20th Century Fox quickie B-Movie, using their standard casts --every person behind the bar, in the lift, in the hotel foyer, is a bit-actor we've seen a hundred times before.
But Marilyn is surprisingly effective as the girl mourning the death in war of her boyfriend, who becomes psychologically unhinged and dangerous. She exploits in her acting what seems to be a very real vulnerability in her own character. And she is not concerned about looking beautiful -- in this film the character is more important than Marilyn.
She is given great support by a powerful, though underrated actor, Richard Widmark, and by the young Anne Bancroft. The ending eschews false dramatics. Its very underplayed reality raises goose-bumps with its honesty and emotion. It is the 'sleeper' in the collection, a film which will continue to grow on further viewing. It is an Academy-ratio transfer, black and white, but this psychological drama doesn't need Technicolour or Widescreen.
All in all, The Diamond Collection Vol. Two has only one real lowpoint, the badly-dated 'Monkey Business'. 'Niagara is a view-once-only movie, and I think 'Let's Make Love' is at that level too. The movies that will last from this collection are 'River of No Return' and 'Don't Bother to Knock'. Take those movies, and add a couple from the Diamond Collection Volume One, and then we'll have a REAL Diamond Collection worth the collecting!
ANTHONY CLARKE (email@example.com)