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Our reviews of Billy Wilder Film Collection (published March 17th, 2008), How To Marry A Millionaire (published June 12th, 2001), Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection #2 (published May 7th, 2002), The Misfits (published July 11th, 2001), The Misfits (Blu-ray) (published May 23rd, 2011), River of No Return (published June 10th, 2012), The Seven Year Itch (published June 12th, 2001), Some Like It Hot (published June 13th, 2001), Some Like It Hot (Blu-ray) (published May 23rd, 2011), and There's No Business Like Show Business (published June 12th, 2001) are also available.
Hollywood's quintessential icon of sex appeal.
"I think it's just elegant to have an imagination. I have no imagination at all. I have lots of other things, but no imagination."
Facts of the Case
In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a sensible brunette (Jane Russell, The Outlaw) and a ditzy blonde (Marilyn Monroe, All About Eve) board a cruise ship and find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of romantic misadventures.
In How to Marry a Millionaire, Schatze (Lauren Bacall, The Big Sleep), Loco (Betty Grable, The Gay Divorcee) and Pola (Marilyn Monroe) join forces to purchase a lavish apartment in the hopes of using it to land a rich man. Alas, things don't go according to plan and many hijinks ensue.
In River of No Return, a poor farmer (Robert Mitchum, Night of the Hunter) and his young son find themselves in dire straits when a desperate gambler (Rory Weston, The Texan) steals the farmer's only horse and rifle. The gambler promises to return the items, but only after he's completed a lengthy trip. Meanwhile, the farmer does what he can to evade Indian attacks and strikes up a relationship with the gambler's conflicted girlfriend (Marilyn Monroe).
In There's No Business Like Show Business, the esteemed vaudeville stars Molly (Ethel Merman, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) and Terence Donahue (Dan Dailey, The Pride of St. Louis) attempt to stay afloat as the public's interest in vaudeville begins to wane. Meanwhile, young Tim Donahue (Donald O'Connor, Singin' in the Rain) finds himself head-over-heels for an up-and-coming starlet named Vicky Parker (Marilyn Monroe).
In The Seven-Year Itch, a happily married man (Tom Ewell, Adam's Rib) sends his wife and son off to the country for the summer. However, unlike so many other married men, he's determined not to use this opportunity to fool around…until he sees The Girl (Marilyn Monroe) who moves into his apartment building. So begins a valiant battle between the man's conscience and his libido.
In Some Like it Hot, Joe (Tony Curtis, Spartacus) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon, The Fortune Cookie) pose as female musicians in the hopes of hiding from a violent mobster (George Raft, They Drive By Night). Meanwhile, both men begin hatching elaborate plots to act on their amorous feelings for lounge singer Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe).
In The Misfits, an broken-hearted divorcee (Marilyn Monroe) strikes up a relationship with a weary old cowboy (Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind) and moves to his Nevada ranch in the hopes of starting a better life.
Forever Marilyn gathers seven of the features Marilyn Monroe made during her time at Fox. While it isn't quite a definitive portrait of her best work (some essential titles are missing and some pretty inessential titles are included), it allows viewers to enjoy a sizable sampling of Monroe's catalogue in hi-def. Watching all seven of these flicks, I was struck by a common factor: Marilyn Monroe isn't really the central character in any of these movies, and yet almost all of them are most assuredly "Marilyn Monroe" movies. Her beauty and magnetism are so considerable that everything else inevitably orbits around her. Perhaps she wasn't the world's most versatile or nuanced actress, but nobody can replicate her presence.
Things kick off on an entertaining note with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a slight but amusing comedy directed by Howard Hawks. Though the plotting is rather by-the-numbers, Hawks' energetic direction and the performances of the two leads keep things entertaining. Jane Russell's wary, earthier brand of sensuality serves as effective counterpoint to Monroe's typically breathy, ditzy turn (a performance that gets a bit of meta-textual commentary when Monroe declares, "I can be smart when it's important, but most men don't like it."). The musical numbers (including the iconic "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend") are consistently enjoyable, and Russell nails a third-act courtroom sequence in which she gets to lampoon Monroe's image. Even though Hawks reportedly didn't have a particularly good time working on the film (when asked how it could be improved, Hawks suggested that Marilyn be replaced, that the screenplay be shortened and that he be fired), he deserves a good deal of credit for transforming the original stage production into a decidedly cinematic affair.
How to Marry a Millionaire hasn't aged quite as well, partially because of the manner it assumes that women want nothing more out of life than to land a good man. Still, the antiquated social attitudes weren't exactly uncommon at the time. More problematic is the fact that once the film sets its plot in motion, there are precious few surprises along the way. It quickly becomes obvious that each of the women will eventually set aside their chosen millionaire for a more humble lover, and there aren't enough laughs packed into the scenarios. Still, a handful of performances rise above the formula from time to time. Lauren Bacall's no-nonsense turn is terrific, and her scenes with William Powell (dignified and graceful as ever) have a level of depth that the rest of the movie never approaches. The final scene they share together feels as if it's been transported in from one of the year's best dramas. And of course there's Monroe, who gets short-changed by the movie (she seems to disappear for very lengthy stretches of the film) but who makes a predictably big impression nonetheless.
Monroe reportedly loathed River of No Return (going so far as to call it a "Z-grade western"), but it's actually one of the more intriguing efforts of her career. For starters, it gives Monroe a chance to break free of playing "Marilyn!" for a change and deliver a real performance (it's a bit startling to see her so sturdy, straightforward and capable in this film immediately after watching her giggle her way through the previous two outings). Otto Preminger makes terrific use of some breathtaking outdoor locations; it's a movie that takes full advantage of the Cinemascope format. Robert Mitchum's naturalistic performance seems to encourage Monroe to take a similar approach, and the two have a low-key chemistry that works quite well. The plotting is mostly typical western fare and the ending is a little too contrived, but this sweeping romance is a nice change-of-pace from the glitzier films included in Forever Marilyn.
Speaking of glitzy: the showiest and emptiest film in the collection is undoubtedly There's No Business Like Show Business, which is essentially a series of elaborate Irving Berlin numbers strung together by a half-baked plot. We get one lavish set piece after another accompanied by some genuinely good music, but there's precious little that allows us to connect to the characters in any substantial way. You could make one heck of a clip reel from the film, but at nearly two hours it really starts to drag after a while. Monroe's presence is particularly minimal in this one; she's playing a relatively minor supporting character who sings a trio of sultry tunes, engages in a little backstage drama, and then disappears.
Things improve considerably with Billy Wilder's The Seven-Year Itch. The film is best-known for the iconic scene in which Marilyn delights in the gusts of air coming from a subway grate, but too many people have forgotten what a clever, smart, entertaining story the film offers. Tom Ewell's performance as a man attempting to suppress his adulterous urges is supremely entertaining stuff, and the film's clever fantasy sequences always provide a comic charge when they appear. The laughs are sophisticated and subversive, and Marilyn gets an opportunity to thoroughly satirize her public image in a variety of clever ways. Wilder had a tremendously difficult time working with Monroe throughout the shoot, but it's easy to see why he bothered going to all the effort: no one else could have played the film's innocent, sensual object of desire so effortlessly.
Wilder re-teamed with Monroe for Some Like it Hot, arguably his funniest film. The "men in drag" schtick has been handled rather badly by a host of imitators over the years (White Chicks, anyone?), but the comedy in Some Like it Hot comes from characterization rather than clothing. Lemmon pulls off some masterful physical comedy in the sequence in which he attempts to cozy up to Monroe without revealing his real gender, and Curtis' silly Cary Grant impression offers some of the most entertaining scenes of his career. Meanwhile, no other film in this collection offers such a perfectly captured portrait of Monroe's potent screen presence and personality. She's dynamite during both the musical numbers and the romantic comedy hijinks, and Wilder's dynamic direction somehow makes her seem like even more of a movie star than she really is. Entertaining from start to finish, Some Like it Hot is a genuine classic.
The most underrated film of the collection is probably The Misfits, directed by John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller. It's easily the bleakest and most thematically ambitious production included in this set, and as such it feels a little at odds with everything else (even River of No Return). It's a lonely, wistful saga of the American dream turned sour; it overreaches at times but achieves a handful of genuinely profound moments nonetheless. Monroe and Clark Gable do some of the most impressive acting of their respective careers, infusing their familiar screen personas with shades of weariness and regret. Sadly, it would be the final screen appearance of both actors. It's a moving, minor-key finish to a generally cheerful, upbeat collection of Monroe's work.
My only significant complaint with Forever Marilyn (Blu-ray) is that the collection seems like it was thrown together with very little effort. The seven Blu-ray discs are housed inside a pair of thin, flimsy cardboard "books," which are then stored inside a thin, flimsy cardboard box. I suspect many copies of the set will be damaged during shipping, as it's just not sturdy enough to withstand much handling. The disc design also reeks of laziness: the five new-to-Blu flicks feature matching artwork, but the two previously-released efforts (Some Like it Hot and The Misfits) have simply been repackaged and contain their own unique artwork. This should have been a special collector's set (particularly considering the high price tag), but instead it feels like a rush job.
Thankfully, things are a bit more impressive in the transfer department. Some Like it Hot and The Misfits have already been reviewed on this site, so I'll refer you to those reviews for more info on how those look (the short version: they look good). Gentlemen Prefer Blondes looks sharp, clean and detailed, but there's some moderate digital noise reduction that may prove troublesome to some viewers. I didn't find it too excessive, but it must be admitted that the film doesn't look quite as natural as it ought to. How to Marry a Millionaire doesn't look quite as eye-popping as a number of other hi-def presentations of Cinemascope releases (included some featured in this set), but it's warm and sharp throughout. There are minor color fluctuations from time to time, but nothing too troublesome. River of No Return looks gorgeous, at times justifying Monroe's complaint that the acting was third to the Cinemascope and the scenery. It's a little soft and there are a few flecks and specks that pop up, but generally the image is very easy on the eyes. There's No Business Like Show Business is as eye-poppingly colorful and opulent as it ought to be, though again it isn't quite as sharp or detailed as I would have liked (there's a lot to soak in in terms of set design). Finally, The Seven-Year Itch isn't quite as drenched with color as the previous films, but the level of detail is stronger and the image is consistently above-par to a degree that most of the others aren't. Overall, these restorations avoid any serious missteps without hitting any significant heights.
All of the movies have been granted a DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track, and the sound mixes are comparable to the transfers: the movies sound quite sturdy, but never really do anything remarkable. The musical numbers obviously tend to stand out and receive rich mixes (the orchestral overture at the beginning of How to Marry a Millionaire in particular), but generally these films aren't going to do much to challenge your speaker system. Dialogue tends to be clean and clear in every case, sound design is well-captured when it's heavily-employed (as in River of No Return) and the scores sound consistently crisp and clean. There's No Business Like Show Business stands out as a highlight track in some regards, but that's mostly because it features the largest amount of material to showcase in the audio department.
Supplements are inconsistently spread across the seven discs: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire feature a trailer and a Movietone News clip, while The Misfits, River of No Return and There's No Business Like Show Business only offer trailers. However, the two Wilder-directed films come with copious supplements. The Seven-Year Itch gets a commentary by Kevin Lally, a handful of featurettes ("Monroe and Wilder: An Intersection of Genius," "Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman" and "Hollywood Backstories: The Seven-Year Itch"), some deleted scenes, a trailer, stills galleries and a couple of needless interactive features ("Marilyn Monroe Interactive Timeline" and "The Hays Code: Picture-in-Picture with Sexual Innuendo Meter"). Meanwhile, Some Like it Hot gets a commentary from Paul Diamond, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, more featurettes ("The Making of Some Like it Hot," "The Legacy of Some Like it Hot," "A Nostalgic Look Back," "Virtual Hall of Memories" and "Memories From Sweet Sue's") and a trailer.
Forever Marilyn is overpriced and poorly-packaged, but it's nice to have a sizable chunk of Marilyn's work available in hi-def. Since all of these Blu-ray releases have been made available individually as well, I'd recommend simply picking the ones you want and getting the films in sturdier cases. Still, if price is no object and you're only interested in the films themselves, the collection is recommended.
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Scales of Justice, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Perp Profile, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Distinguishing Marks, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
• Movietone News
Scales of Justice, How To Marry A Millionaire
Perp Profile, How To Marry A Millionaire
Distinguishing Marks, How To Marry A Millionaire
• Movietone News
Scales of Justice, River Of No Return
Perp Profile, River Of No Return
Distinguishing Marks, River Of No Return
Scales of Justice, There's No Business Like Show Business
Perp Profile, There's No Business Like Show Business
Distinguishing Marks, There's No Business Like Show Business
Scales of Justice, The Seven Year Itch
Perp Profile, The Seven Year Itch
Distinguishing Marks, The Seven Year Itch
Scales of Justice, Some Like It Hot
Perp Profile, Some Like It Hot
Distinguishing Marks, Some Like It Hot
Scales of Justice, The Misfits
Perp Profile, The Misfits
Distinguishing Marks, The Misfits
• IMDb: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
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