Friday, 20 March 2015

Close Up: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe is famous for her 'dumb blonde' roles, performances that influenced her public persona. She was seen as a unbelievably sexy and good-looking, but rather naive about it, with a sweetness of manner that avoided vulgarity. She was also notoriously difficult to work with, often coming late to set (if she turned up at all), and had many issues with alcohol and drugs (but hey, it's Hollywood, who doesn't!). However, Monroe was a fine comic actor, with a good sense of timing and she not afraid to look daft. These four performances show that while she was often typecast, she did bring subtle differences to these roles.

Some Like It Hot
This film is a great example of ensemble acting; everyone is on their game and each supports the other's performance. This is true for Monroe, who is the sexy and sweet Sugar Kane, a great foil for Tony Curtis' 'Joe-sephine' and Jack Lemmon's 'Gerald/ Daphne.' I am unsure about calling this a 'dumb blonde' role. Though Sugar tells us she 'not very bright,' her slight aura of melancholy gives her a bit of depth. The number 'I'm Through With Love' best captures this, as she sings about yet another heartache. Considering how difficult the shoot was for all involved, the polish and joy of the finished product, particularly Monroe's performance, is amazing.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Lorelei Lee is a quintessential dumb blonde; she gets stuck in a porthole, does not know where to wear the diamond tiara ('I just love finding new places to wear diamonds'), and she accepts the diamond tiara as a gift without considering the consequences (the man's wife presses charges!). Gentlemen allows Monroe shows off her singing abilities; she was not brilliant, but certainly competent. Comedy is notoriously difficult to get right, and Monroe is very funny in this film. The porthole scene always makes me giggle. Jane Russell, as Lorelei's friend Dorothy, does a great impression of Lorelei, which is really an impression of the Monroe persona.

Bus Stop
It has been several years since I saw this, but I remember it being a change of approach for Monroe. Her character, Cherie is a rather poor singer working in a bar. Monroe gets the uncouthness of Cherie just right, while also giving her depth; she is determined to be respected by the next man she loves, and refuses to bow to cowboy Beauregard's bullying behaviour. When one considers the musical number early on, one sees the abilities of Monroe. Her rendition of 'That Old Black Magic' is terrible, her voice struggling to hit the high notes. Monroe can sing, as demonstrated in many of her other films; her deliberately bad performance is great piece of acting. 

The Misfits
Monroe plays newly divorced Roslyn Tabor who falls in with a group of mustang hunters in Nevada.  There is palpable pain in this performance, as Roslyn comes to terms with the anger and violence of the men she is with, particularly Clark Gable's Gay, with whom she is falling in love. The most striking moment in the film is Monroe running away from the men on the dried-up lake, calling them beasts in their treatment of the wild horses. Similarly to Some Like It Hot, there were many problems on set, one of them being the breakdown of Monroe's marriage to Arthur Miller. The pain and vulnerability of her performance is definitely inflected with this event.

Do you have a favourite Marilyn Monroe performance?

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