Archive for April, 2020

Film Log #8 – 4.2020 (the one about Marilyn Monroe)

Monday, April 6th, 2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

After having been so fascinated by Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle (1950, directed by John Huston), I went ahead and rented two more of her pictures: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, directed by Howard Hawks) and River of No Return (1954, directed by Otto Preminger).

I should have known better than to watch a comedic musical in GPB, but because of its iconic status as well as being a landmark for Monroe, I gave it a go. It’s funny when looking at how drastically our culture changed between My Man Godfrey‘s release in 1936 and GPB in 1953.

This isn’t to say that all comedies in a given era are the same, but it is interesting to point out that as the nation/world was struggling to bounce back from economic collapse, we have a movie about a “forgotten man” who carries the film by outsmarting and comically jabbing at the wealthy.
Seventeen short years later (and a conclusion to a world war that placed the U.S. as the foremost superpower) provides a musical comedy about two showgirls each having a goal to marry a specific kind of man. Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, has a single requirement– that the man be rich. Jane Russell’s character wishes to marry a tall, dark, handsome, and athletic man.

GPB continues down its path of gags and songs and I simply wasn’t up for it. There are small issues that bothered me, but the main issue is that the entire film is a celebration of superficiality. Maybe that’s the point or the joke, but where My Man Godfrey succeeds by Godfrey (as well as the father character) taking shots at the expense of self-indulgence and importance placed on the superficial, the main characters of GPB are celebrated for using cunning tricks to weasel out of any jam that their superficial desires put them in.

Perhaps it would’ve been humorous to watch that film with a date in the 1950s and begin the post-film conversation with, “Can you believe those people?” But as the earth has circled the sun 67 times since this film’s release and as I’ve seen this film’s influence evolve to iconography, this isn’t a funny joke.

Perhaps I’m placing too much blame on the shoulders of a single film that I’m certain meant well while the project was in production, but holy crap is it depressing to watch a significant historical film and have the “benefit” of reflecting on what happens when generations try to emulate a particular horrible character (or whatever a particular generation’s iteration of Monroe’s Lorelei Lee is)?
Many folks talk about rampant stupidity in our society and reference Mike Judge’s 2006 film Idiocracy (a film about a “regular guy” who, by accident, travels into the future and finds a ridiculously dumb society). Often times, art provides us the very time machine we’re looking for and it’s incredible to see what worked and resonated with audiences in the 1950s has created the modern blueprint of how to make wildly and financially successful motion pictures (or even TV shows).

Though GPB plays like a 90-minute tongue-in-cheek joke, it’s hard not to come across certain people (or shows) and feel as though they didn’t understand that the movie was satire. Yet, here we are.

Monroe isn’t ever without her appeal; I just don’t care for this character (much like I don’t particularly care for musicals). But as it is, this film is historically important. If historical importance is meaningful to you, then I recommend this film.

River of No Return didn’t thrill me for an entirely different reason. Once again, Monroe plays a showgirl/singer (and for some reason, we’re inexplicably subjected to three songs) for saloons and casinos in the 1870s American West. Where Monroe played a comical victim of her own character’s desires in GPB, she plays a woman who becomes a victim by the actions of her husband as well as the setting/era/circumstances.

Both Robert Mitchum’s (Mitchum doesn’t begin the film as Monroe’s husband, but is obviously her eventual romantic interest) and Monroe’s characters have their own challenges to overcome, but with it being a Western, the story is able to throw in elements of natural danger anytime it chooses to.
Mitchum’s character, Matt Calder, is challenged by raising his young son while attempting to settle land that will one day be passed on as well as providing an explanation for why Calder was in prison for the the first few years of his son’s life.

Monroe’s character, Kay, has to come to terms with the fact that her husband is a slimy, greedy, miserable male. Those traits are juxtaposed with all the exemplary qualities the Matt Calder displays– and there’s your movie.

What I don’t understand is how two-dimensional Kay’s husband/ex-husband is in the film and how the audience is supposed to immediately understand how this marriage ever came to be. I understand marriage was quite a different agreement/arrangement in those days, but the film leads the audience to believe that there was love in the relationship to begin with, which, I’m the type of viewer that has to see that (I’m not just going to assume that).
But, then again, this is a 1950s Western whose runtime is 90 minutes and they’ve got an awful lot of drama, action, and adventure to pack into that time.

It would be terrible to not mention the exceptional views the film provides (the critics of the time commented on how it was almost too much to bounce back ‘n forth between the the mountains + Monroe).

Last note– Monroe clearly worked with the industry’s best in the tragically short time she had. I’ve seen three of her films. All have been directed by cinematic titans: John Huston, Howard Hawks, and Otto Preminger.

In the end, the movie was good. I didn’t quite buy Monroe as a settler in The Great American West, but the film was entertaining nonetheless.
This is a take-it-or-leave-it recommendation.
I know there are better Westerns.
I know there are better Mitchum films.
and I believe there are better Monroe films.