Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Marilyn: mysterious girl

Interest in Marilyn Monroe never ceases, her films are on television a lot here, the BFI is starting a new season on her, and there are more features on her in the papers. Its been interesting to finally get around to NIAGARA again:

NIAGARA, 1953. Rose Loomis, a Technicolor femme fatale and Monroe's first star billing, is young and highly sensual. Her marriage to the jealous and depressed George (Joseph Cotten) plays out in front of honeymooning couple Polly and Ray, including the unveiling of Rose's many secrets. Unlike Monroe's later roles exploring playful and innocent sexuality, this noir portrays sex as deadly ...
So says the BFI in their notes on Henry Hathaway's lurid 1953 thriller, a delicious noir in lurid color.

Marilyn is the most striking thing here, Cotten seems sadly diminished, Jean Peters is adequate but Max Showalter is gratingly annoying as the doofus husband. The publicity at the time of course had MM competing with the majestic waterfalls, it is certainly interestingly worked out as Rose and her lover scheme to kill her husband (perhaps he has a large insurance policy?) but the jealous husband soon cottons on, as Rose finds out when she goes to the morgue to identify the body she expects to be her husband's .... soon, she is trapped as he follows her around town, it was unwise of her to climb those stairs up to where those bells ring .... After MM's exit, what remains is a routine timefiller.
She has some stunning moments here, in that tight blue suit as she walks past the honeymoon couple teetering on those "fuck me" shoes, and then in that lurid pink dress for the "Kiss" sequence ...
1953 was certainly Marilyn's year - after those small roles that got her noticed in 1950 in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ALL ABOUT EVE (as well as that comic western TICKET TO TOMAHAWK), by 1952 she was in WE'RE NOT MARRIED, Lang's CLASH BY NIGHT, Hawks' MONKEY BUSINESS as Miss Laurel the secretary who cannot type, and her hypnotic role as the disturbed babysitter in DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK. Then, NIAGARA in 1953 followed by GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. She was still working for peanuts though for Fox, who only saw her in dumb blonde roles - as in 1954's RIVER OF NO RETURN (where she makes an interesting character of her standard saloon girl role) and she certainly lights up the screen in THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS with those three sizzling numbers - apparantly she did this to get the SEVEN YEAR ITCH role. But soon she was leaving Fox for New York and the Actors' Studio, returning under new terms for BUS STOP. Then her most interesting films were made away from Fox: England for THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, for her own production company, SOME LIKE IT HOT in 1959 and 1961's THE MISFITS. Her last two films for Fox were the dreary comedy LETS MAKE LOVE where she sparkled in a few numbers, and looked marvellous in the fragments of SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE ... a new slimmed down Marilyn for the 1960s .... but it was not to be.

What did they think about her at the time? Here is an interesting piece by author (INSIDE DAISY CLOVER), screenwriter and one time editor of "Sight & Sound" Gavin Lambert, written in 1953, who perceives her special qualities:
"This well-formed but rather mysterious girl ... does not fit in any of the cinema's established categories for blondes. Her acting can at best be described as reluctant, she is too passive to be a vamp, she is no menace because so easily frightened; and she is certainly no bombshell because she never bursts.
She walks - only that can account for the curious swaying of her hips - as if the whole earth were a tightrope on which she has to balance. Her face, with its eyes inclined to pop and mouth perpetually parted for a kiss, looks vaguely drugged. For all the wolf calls that she gets and deserves, there is something oddly mournful about Miss Monroe. She doesn't look happy. She lacks the pinup's cheerful grin. She seems to have lost something or to be waking up from a bad dream."
Quite perceptive. Wonder what he thought of her as the decade wore on as the critics discovered that comedy was her forte, she could sing as well, and wanted to try dramatic roles. It was this underlying melancholy that gave her comedy its special flavour - there was always something forlorn in it, a pathos barely concealed. She was so extraordinary and so exciting then - on endless magazine covers, she and Elizabeth Taylor being the two polar screen opposites, the blond and the brunette. 
Both Carroll Baker and Mitzi Gaynor have written about the electric effect Marilyn had on men, and on their husbands in particular, when she focused on them saying their name with that special emphasis of hers ....

When she died in 1962 everyone tried to explain her. Her canonisation was so sudden then after she had spent so much time getting people to take her seriously. But she was no joke, as she studied to improve herself and into the company of America's great sporting hero and playwright, not to mention the White House ...
One only has to see how marvellous she looked here in 1953, and then in her final summer 1962, a mere nine years later on that Malibu beach, in those timeless George Barris pictures. 
Click label Marilyn-1 for my 2010 appreciation on her. 


  1. She's great in that. I blogged about it not to long back too and am definitely of the same mind as you Michael

  2. Love Niagara but I agree that Joe Cotton seems less engaged than usual. James Mason was initially set but bowed out, his brand of suavity with an underlying menace even when playing the sap would have suited the role better.

    Marilyn is so good at the conniving villainess it's a shame her persona became such that she was never able to be cast in that type of role again. She was Fritz Lang's original choice for Debbie in The Big Heat but Fox wanted too much money to loan her to Columbia. Gloria Grahame was great in the role of course but interesting to wonder if the loan out had happened paired with Niagara how the two paired together would have affected the trajectory of MM's career.