Judge Sandra Dozier breathes a great big sigh of relief as she reviews this Marilyn Monroe comedy.
Marriage Isn't Always Until Death Do You Part…
Can the public get enough of Marilyn Monroe? Fox doesn't think so, and they are wisely putting out a complete library of her early screen performances, leading up to their signature release of a Marilyn Monroe "Diamond Collection" box set in late May, 2004. This is an excellent opportunity for Monroe fans to complete their library of Monroe paraphernalia, and for casual fans to see some of her early work, which hasn't been widely shown since it came out.
Facts of the Case
A kindly judge (Victor Moore, Ziegfeld Follies) jumps the gun on his certification to grant wedding licenses, and the five couples he married before the date his certification was valid are actually considered not married in the eyes of the law, in spite of their official marriage documents. The error isn't discovered until two years later, when one of the couples goes to court for a divorce. The Governor's office is in quite a pickle—should they keep mum and risk a lawsuit, or, worse, publicity? They decide to notify each couple by mail, informing them of the situation and suggesting they remarry. How this affects each couple is found in a series of vignettes that follow.
The first couple is Mr. and Mrs. Gladwyn (Fred Allen, It's in the Bag and Ginger Rogers, Roxie Hart), who got married partly to do a husband and wife morning radio show. When we catch up with them, they are fighting like cats and dogs, and Mr. Gladwyn is only too happy to receive notification that he is now an unmarried man. The only problem is that their lucrative contract was signed by "Mr. & Mrs." instead of their real names.
Next is Mr. and Mrs. Norris (David Wayne, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Marilyn Monroe). Marilyn is the wage earner in the home, modeling and currently working her way up in the Mrs. Mississippi pageant. Mr. Norris feels neglected and unloved. When he gets the letter in the mail, he tries to use it as leverage to keep her at home with him—how can she compete in the Mrs. Mississippi pageant if she isn't a Mrs.? The next scene dissolve tells us—she'll go to the Miss Mississippi pageant. Dabbs Green, perhaps best known as Reverend Alden in Little House on the Prairie, makes a cameo appearance in this scene.
From there we peek in on Mr. and Mrs. Woodruff (Eve Arden, Grease and Paul Douglas, Solid Gold Cadillac), who have grown distant in their marriage. Although things are comfortable, it is far from the party life Mr. Woodruff used to know. Receipt of the letter stirs visions of women every night, going out on the town, and (unfortunately), the bar bill to match. Thinking of that, he decides to not only rip up the letter, but to burn it just to be sure.
Posh couple Mr. and Mrs. Melrose (Louis Calhern, Notorious and Zsa Zsa Gabor in an early role) are planning a get-together during his next business trip, but things go wrong and he is framed for infidelity by his own wife. Fortunately, the letter arrives just in time, enabling him to protect his assets.
Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher (Eddie Bracken, National Lampoon's Vacation and Mitzi Gaynor, South Pacific) are expecting a baby, but Mr. Fisher gets the letter just as he is shipping out overseas. He is determined to get married before then, just in case, and goes AWOL in order to meet up with her, get a marriage license and physical, and see a justice of the peace.
Edmund Goulding (who also directed the classics Grand Hotel and Dark Victory), was adept at movies featuring deep, intricate tales and melodrama. Although his expertise was not in creating light slapstick comedy, he did well with We're Not Married!, a difficult film due to the vignette story structure—basically, five mini-films within a larger film, all of required to come in under ninety minutes.
Despite the clever story idea and excellent direction, I found the pacing and story to be too tightly packed, and the movie as a whole had a flat, rushed quality. The editing style created segments that zip by without making much impact, and the ending was so brief and tacked-on, you'd think it was a shotgun wedding. With the exception of the "Glad Gladwyns" (as the aptly titled radio show was called), there was hardly enough time to get to know each character before they were whisked off-screen to make way for a new couple. It's difficult to understand why some of the couples got back together again, when they were plainly discontented or downright unhappy with their spouses.
After watching a scene in which the judge's wife (Jane Darwell, The Ox-Bow Incident) clearly mouths "five couples," but the soundtrack says "four couples," I wanted to know why this Blade Runner-esque bit of ADR looping was necessary. A little digging reveals that there was an entire scene involving a different couple (Walter Brennan and Faith Emerson) that was lifted from this film. Apparently, these scenes were restored for the TV version, but not for the DVD version, even as extras. This might be because they were released on a separate DVD title (1997's "Treasures from the Hollywood Vaults"), but should have been included at least as an extra.
As it is, extras are limited to a trailer for this movie and trailers for all the other movies released in the Marilyn Monroe line. There is also a compelling trailer for the excellent looking "Diamond Collection" box set, which includes footage I have never seen live (reason alone to rush right out for a purchase on release day). I also found the menus to be uninspired, with garish pastel colors and a badly colorized version of Marilyn in her Miss Mississippi costume.
Fortunately, sound and image fare very well in this release, with only slight imperfections in the print, and otherwise deep and rich grayscale throughout. The sound is also robust and shows off the music nicely, both in the mono and the dual-channel stereo soundtrack. There is only a slight hiss in the background at louder volume levels.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fans who want a complete collection of Marilyn's appearances on screen will not be disappointed by this early effort, which features her in runway gear for most of her screen time. She looks radiant and captures the camera's attention, as usual. Partnered with the handsome David Wayne, who appeared with her in other movies, the two have a believable chemistry even during their brief time together on screen—Marilyn is present for about six of their ten-minute segment. The picture quality for this black and white film has also survived remarkably well, with excellent grayscale quality that gives the image depth and pop.
Skip this one unless you want a complete collection of Monroe appearances in film. Despite the best intentions and a few laughs from each segment, the hurried editing and constant shifting to new characters will grow wearisome before the end of the feature.
We're Not Married! must forfeit its crown and be reduced to a tearful show of support as second runner-up.
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• Theatrical trailer
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