“Forever Marilyn” is a seven-movie, seven-disc set from 20th Century Fox that promotes Monroe more than it celebrates her, insomuch as the set contains no booklet or even an essay talking about the arc of Monroe’s career or her years with Fox, when she went from being just a sex symbol to a respected actress who could handle both drama and comedy.
Though someone at Fox came up with the idea of two cardboard bi-folds that form an “M” when you put them side by side, the packaging is the sort that can make fans want to pull their hair out. Four of the discs are tucked into pockets on one simple cardboard bi-fold, while three are tucked inside a second. Under each film is the title, credits, and year of copyright, but you can’t read the top entries because the discs overlap. The bi-folds are called “Book One” and “Book Two,” but there’s nothing bookish about them. It’s like calling the covers of a book with no pages a “book.”
But enough grousing about the packaging. Fox has a habit of going cheap on their multiple-disc sets, so review comments aren’t going to change their minds. As for the collection itself, it could only have been better if Fox had included “Niagara,” Monroe’s foray into film noir. But this is still a solid set. Two of the seven films rate between a 6 and 7 out of 10, while one is a perfect 10 and the rest are solid 7s.
“How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) stars Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall as three “girls” who pool their resources to set up residence in an expensive penthouse one of them rents after the owner was forced to leave the country because of tax evasion—leaving them a fully furnished luxury apartment as well. Their logic runs something like this: to find a millionaire to marry you have a better chance meeting one living in a penthouse than at the meat counter at a deli.
The three women work as models for an exclusive fashion store, and as they pursue rich men they find themselves more drawn to ordinary guys, with one rich guy preferring to pass as a regular Joe. William Powell, Fred Clark, Cameron Mitchell, Rory Calhoun, David Wayne, and Alexander D’Arcy are the men who are drawn to one of the women even though he knows she’s a gold digger.
It’s an amusing enough comedy from director Jean Negulesco (“Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Daddy Long Legs”), though viewers today might find the pacing awfully leisurely. Still, it’s something to watch WWII pin-up girl Grable and acting veteran Bacall inter-act with Monroe—Bacall’s contemporary but a newcomer to the big screen. This one merits between a 6 and 7 out of 10.
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) is more successful, in part because it’s directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, and with a courtroom scene and a scene where a man ends up in a woman’s nightie it’s hard not to recall “Bringing Up Baby,” Hawks’ best-known screwball comedy.
Monroe teams with Jane Russell, five years her senior, in this musical comedy that features them as a song-and-dance team wanting to marry a rich man. Monroe sings “Diamonds Are a Girls’ Best Friend,” and the two knock ‘em dead with “A Little Girl from Little Rock.” There’s obviously better chemistry between the two actresses than Monroe had with Grable and Bacall—so much so that they almost feel like a female version of Hope and Crosby. Their “road trip” evolves when a milquetoast rich man proposes to Monroe, but his disapproving father puts the kibosh on their plans to take an ocean liner to France and marry there by calling his son away on the pretext of a business calamity. Instead, Russell is to go along and chaperone Monroe, and her beau will meet her in France.
More musical numbers and controlled mayhem are provided when the “girls” find themselves on a steamer with the Men’s U.S. Olympic Team, in addition to an elderly man (Charles Coburn) who owns one of the largest South African diamond mines and becomes enamored with Monroe, despite having a wife (Norma Varden). Further complicating matters is a private detective (Elliott Reid) who was hired by the fiance’s father to catch Monroe in a compromising position so that the wedding can be cancelled.
Russell and Monroe sing well together, and separately, too, with each getting plenty of songs. It’s a solid 7 out of 10.
“There’s No Business Like Show Business” (1954) is a throwback film that offers nonstop vaudeville-style song and dance, with Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey the headliners and Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, and Marilyn Monroe getting second billing. Don’t look for Monroe much before the 30-minute mark—though once she appears as a hat-check girl with show-biz ambitions, she gets enough stage time to rival the rest.
This Fox production is typical of the old-time MGM musicals, set in the ‘30s and full of lavish and colorful costumes, big numbers with scads of dancers, and an 8-to-1 ratio of songs to dialogue. Look for one very long musical number as well—in this case, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which goes on in various permutations (including Scottish, with kilts) for about a day and a half.
Monroe holds her own, singing a sultry rendition of “Heat Wave,” which, like the rest of the songs, was written by the legendary Irving Berlin. Other tunes include “Lazy,” “You’d Be Surprised,” “After You Get What You Want You Don’t Want It,” “A Sailor’s Not a Sailor (‘Til a Sailor’s Been Tattooed),” “A Man Chases a Girl (Until She Catches Him),” “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” the jingle “Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “If You Believe,” “Remember,” and the title song, which, belted out by Merman, became the singer’s signature song. Warning: many will find her voice grating.
With so many songs there’s not much room for plot, but it’s about the Vaudevillian Donaghues (Merman and Dailey) as they add to the act with each child they have, and the complications that result when their boys as grown men find other interests—one, religion, and the other, Marilyn. You have to like musicals to like this one, and even then it’s pretty average—a 6 out of 10, I would say.
“River of No Return” (1954) also featured Calhoun in what turned out to be Monroe’s only period Western, which paired her opposite the rugged, no-nonsense Robert Mitchum. Monroe plays a saloon singer who’s abandoned by her boyfriend (Calhoun), a gambler who steals a farmer Mitchum’s horse and rifle. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and there’s no way he’s going to let that varmint get away with leaving him and his boy defenseless and unable to escape when their homestead is deep in Indian country.
This is the film that famously put Mitchum, child actor Tommy Rettig (“Lassie”), and Monroe on a raft in rapids—though there’s a lot of green screen work with stunt doubles. Director Otto Preminger (“Exodus,” “Anatomy of a Murder”)was reluctantly onboard, as, reportedly, was Monroe, which led to plenty of tension on the set. Mitchum famously told Monroe to just be herself and stop listening to her acting coach. It was the only pairing of the two stars, and the public loved them together. It still plays well as a ‘50s Western, and rates a 7 out of 10.
“The Seven Year Itch” (1955) includes the famous scene where Monroe’s dress blows up as she straddles a subway vent, and while that shot makes the film iconic, director Billy Wilder makes it classic. So, actually, does Tom Ewell’s performance as Richard Sherman, a bland middle-aged man who finds himself tempted for the very first time when his wife is away and a sexy neighbor (Monroe) pays him attention.
Monroe plays a model who’s in town to do a string of television commercials. Ewell, meanwhile, is an editor whose current project happens to be a psychiatric tome that argues why men typically have affairs after seven years of marriage. His character’s imagination runs wild, interrupted by calls from his wife as she vacations in Maine with their young son. In fact, there are as many fantasy sequences in this film as there are in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Look for Carolyn Jones (Morticia, on TV’s “The Addams Family”) in a small role, and character actor Oskar Homolka as the psychiatrist. If you’re not put off by fantasy sequences, this one is another solid 7 out of 10.
“Some Like It Hot” (1959) is Wilder’s piece de résistance and a classic comedy many consider to be the Silver Screen’s very best. Actors Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis have such great chemistry together and they’re such professionals that they really had a positive influence on Monroe, who delivers one of her best performances while looking as if she hardly worked up a sweat doing so. She appears to enjoy herself and the film, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Lemmon and Curtis famously play speakeasy musicians during the Roaring Twenties who, after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, disguise themselves in order to take a train out of Chicago to play saxophone and bass for an all girl’s band that’s booked to play a Florida gig.
In drag Lemmon and Curtis are a riot, but Monroe holds her own as Sugar Kane, the band’s ukulele-strumming singer who melts when a saxophone player comes on to her. That sets the stage for Curtis to pretend he’s a rich man and Lemmon to be his “wing man” by letting a wealthy, butt-pinching playboy (comedian Joe E. Brown) “woo” him.” It’s a classic screwball comedy that’s full of laughs and includes dynamite performances by Monroe singing “Runnin’ Wild” and “I Wanna Be Loved by You” (Poo poo be do!). More than anything, the film showed that Monroe could hold her own with top comedic talent ad libbing along the way. I’d give this black-and-white film a perfect 10.
“The Misfits” (1961) is a sad black-and-white film from John Huston that’s elegaic in nature. Clark Gable plays a aging cowboy who’s watching younger ones like Montgomery Clift take the reins of a world that has made his style of “cowboyin’” obsolete. Enter Monroe, who plays a divorced woman who finds Gable attractive, and the two fall in love. But the West is changing and it’s tough to make any kind of life (or money) doing what these guys do. About the only thing left is to round up the other misfits—a herd of wild horses—and sell them to a dog food manufacturer . . . something that appalls Monroe’s character.
John Huston directed “The Misfits,” which was not only Gable’s last completed film, but Monroe’s as well. Both Clift and Monroe were experiencing health problems because of alcohol and prescription drugs, and Monroe’s chronic tardiness allegedly made Gable say, on the final day of shooting, “Christ I’m glad this picture’s finished. She damn near gave me a heart attack” . . . then died of a heart attack on the very next day. Monroe died less than a year later, but their performances in this film stand as an ironic counterpoint and a monument to their talents. It’s another solid 7 out of 10.
All of the films are sold separately, and the discs appear to be identical.
Fox did a nice job on the AVC/MPEG-4 transfers, with all the films looking surprisingly fresh, given their age. Colors are bold and bright, black levels are inky, detail is evident in medium shots as well as close-ups, and the black-and-white films (“The Misfits,” “Some Like It Hot”) feature nice gradations on the black scale.
“How to Marry a Millionaire” — 2.55:1 aspect ratio
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” — 1.37:1 aspect ratio
“There’s No Business Like Show Business” — 2.55:1 aspect ratio
“River of No Return” — 2.55:1 aspect ratio
“The Seven Year Itch” — 2.55:1 aspect ratio
“Some Like It Hot” — 1.66:1 aspect ratio
“The Misfits” — 1.66:1 aspect ratio
Like the video, the audio is rock-solid on all of these discs, though the ambient sounds on the rear speakers are at a minimum—most evident in “Some Like It Hot.”
“How to Marry a Millionaire” — English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Russian, German and French DTS 5.1, English Dolby Digital 4.0, and Catalan, Italian, Czech and Turkish Dolby Digital Mono; subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Cantonese, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish and Turkish
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” — English DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, German, and Russian DTS 5.1, and English, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Czech and Turkish Dolby Digital Mono; subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Cantonese, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish and Turkish
“There’s No Business Like Show Business” — English DTS-HD MA 5.1, German DTS 5.1, English and Russian Dolby Digital 4.0, Turkish Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish, Catalan and Italian Dolby Digital Mono; subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Cantonese, Catalan, Croatian, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish and Turkish
“River of No Return” — English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Russian, German, and French DTS 5.1, English Dolby Digital 4.0, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish and Catalan Dolby Digital Mono; subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Indonesian, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian and Swedish
“The Seven Year Itch” — English DTS-HD MA 5.1, French and Spanish DTS 5.1, English Dolby Digital 3.0, Thai Dolby Digital 2.0; subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin, Thai
“Some Like It Hot” — English DTS-HD MA 5.1; French, Italian, German, Russian, Catalan DTS 5.1; Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Thai Dolby Digital Mono; subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Cantonese, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish and Russian
“The Misfits” — English DTS-HD MA Mono; German, Italian and Japanese DTS 2.0; French, Portuguese and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0; subtitles in English SDH, French, German, Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese
Not much here, except for “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like It Hot.”
“How to Marry a Millionaire” — Newsreel, theatrical and international trailers
“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” — Newsreel, trailer
“There’s No Business Like Show Business” — Trailers
“River of No Return” — Trailer
“The Seven Year Itch” — Commentary by Wilder biographer Kevin Lally; Hays Code PIP option; Marilyn Monroe timeline; “Monroe & Wilder: An Intersection of Genius” (26 min.); Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy with (Producer) Tom Rothman (17 min.); “Hollywood Backstories: The Seven Year Itch” (25 min.); two deleted scenes; Fox Movietone Newsreel; Still galleries
“Some Like It Hot” — Commentary featuring Paul Diamond and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, with intercut interview segments with Curtis and Lemmon; “The Making of Some Like It Hot” (20 min.); “The Legacy of Some Like It Hot” (20 min.); “Nostalgic Look Back” (31 min.) with Leonard Maltin and Tony Curtis; “Memories from the Sweet Sues” (12 min.) interview with several of the original “girls”; Virtual Hall of Memories (21 min. clip and still gallery); trailer
“The Misfits” — Trailer
Apart from the packaging and the lack of a retrospective essay or anything to tie the set together, this seven-film collection is a nice one. It all hinges on whether fans like those individual Blu-ray cases or want to save money on a cardboard boxed set. The discs themselves are the same.