Tag Archives: All About Eve

Mad About Marilyn’s Movies

A glamorous Marilyn Monroe in a red dress.

Marilyn Monroe in a publicity shot for How To Marry a Millionaire (courtesy of BFI)

This month, the BFI is treating London film-goers to a terrific retrospective of the ultimate movie star: Marilyn Monroe. It’s more than 50 years since her premature death  – and it’s certainly time to honour her in the way she would have wanted: as an actress and performer. After a half century of speculation about the myths that swirl around her suicide, we need to move on – and look past the legend, to the legacy on film. The riddles of Monroe’s mixed-up mind and the hushed-up circumstances of her death will never be fully understood – and the obsession with her personal life, her sex appeal and her status as a cultural icon overshadow one important thing: her work.

Marilyn Monroe’s was a dazzlingly impressive if spectacularly short career. Not only was she a phenomenally talented comedienne who created the definitive “dumb blonde” persona, but she was also an exceptionally gifted and affecting actress – some of whose performances are so raw that they make for uncomfortable viewing – and a wonderful singer whose recordings of even established pop tunes became iconic, if not definitive, versions. Like other geniuses who died young, she left a small body of work packed with moments of greatness and at least one bona fide masterpiece, in the form of Some Like It Hot.

Indeed, it’s astounding to realise that a star whose name has been known in every corner of the globe for half a century only had leading roles in 11 films spread out over the last decade of her 36-year-old life. Such was the impact of her unique brand of irresistible sex appeal –  vulnerability combined with voluptuousness, sensuality plus serenity, child-like naivete fused with a very wholesome and womanly guile – that her presence transcends much of the material she worked with. She was born to be a movie actress: the camera loved her. Billy Wilder, the only director who worked with her twice during herSome Like it Hot 4 leading lady phase, described her appeal on camera as “the flesh impact .. Some girls have flesh that photographs like flesh. You feel you can reach out and touch it.” He made great use of this when he filmed her in Some Like It Hot.

It was, of course, her physical appeal which first landed her a screen test – but it was immediately apparent to no less a figure than 20th Century Fox’s production chief Darryl Zanuck that she was more than a particularly sexy starlet. “It’s a damn good test,” he said when he saw the rushes. But that didn’t stop his studio, or others – like Groucho Marx who cast her in Love Happy (1949) on the strength of the fact that she had “the prettiest ass” – from casting her purely in decorative roles. This soon instilled in her the resolve to become an actress and win respect.

She won some especially valuable respect early on – from John Huston who directed her when she played a crooked lawyer’s naive young mistress in his superb heist movie The Asphalt Jungle (1950). She may only have been in two short scenes, and her name may have been omitted from the titles when the film was previewed, but Monroe caught the audience’s eye then – and again that year when she stole a scene from right under Bette Davis’s over-powdered nose in All About Eve. Those films got the public talking but Monroe’s launch into the bigtime was still a couple of years away. And she used that time to get professional help with her acting.

The breakthrough came in 1953. Monroe had the opportunity to get her teeth into a juicy dramatic role (and her bottom into a particularly tight skirt – essential for the scene in which the famous Monroe walk was first captured on camera) when she played the treacherous, man-eating Rose in Niagara. And, that same year, she created the definitive dumb blonde in the lavish comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire. She may not have been the first dumb blonde but, with her combination of big-eyed innocence, dopeyness and a hapless way of always landing on her feet, she was the most lovable and the most enduring.

In those two career-making films, she revealed herself to be a great comedienne, up there with Mae West in the comic timing stakes (and in her own, offscreen, gift for one-liners) and willing to send herself up a la Carole Lombard or any of the screwball comedy era stars. This aspect made her particularly appealing to both sexes.

Director Nunnally Johnson later said: “I believe that the first time anyone genuinely liked Marilyn for herself, in a picture, was in Millionaire. She herself diagnosed the reason for that very shrewdly. She said that this was the only picture she’d been in in which she had a measure of modesty about her own Prince and the Showgirl 4attractiveness. She didn’t think men would look at her twice, because she wore glasses … . In her other pictures they’ve cast her as a somewhat arrogant sex trap, but when Millionaire was released, I heard people say ‘Why, I really like her!’ in surprised tones.”

Despite her success and the fact that she had proved that she was more than window dressing, Monroe was still trapped in what she described as “sex roles” – even River of No Return (1954), a western drama by no less serious a director than Otto Preminger, offered her little opportunity to show her worth as an actress. Announcing the formation of her own production company (and act which ensured that Fox renewed her contract and met her terms), she told the press : “I want to broaden my scope. I want to do dramatic parts. It’s no temptation to me to do the same thing over and over. I want to keep growing as a person and as an actress … in Hollywood they never ask me my opinion. They just tell me what time to come to work.”

Her next four films marked the peak of her short career. She gave a nuanced comic turn as “The Girl Upstairs” in Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch (1955) and a superb dramatic performanceas the flighty, southern “chantoosie” Cherie in Bus Stop (1956); a performance which prompted the film’s director, Joshua Logan, to later describe her as “as near genius as any actress I ever knew”. By this time, Monroe was studying with the Actors Studio in New York, and her un-starry, “courageous”, willingness to sacrifice her looks for the sake of her character was one aspect of her work on the film which impressed Logan. She may not have had a rapport with Laurence Olivier on The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) but this period drama garnered her more rave reviews. The pinnacle of her success came in 1959 with her gloriously endearing portrayal of the uber-naive Sugar Kane in the uproarious Billy Wilder comedy Some Like it Hot.The Misfits 5

Monroe was never better than as the gullible Sugar and her performance was the perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. Sadly, though, she was descending into her own personal hell – a troubled personal life that was so thoroughly and intrusively documented in the press that it became increasingly difficult to appreciate where reality ended and performance began. And which makes her final complete film, The Misfits (1961) – in which she played a damaged, child-like woman in search of direction and in need of protection – all the more poignant.

* The Marilyn Monroe season runs from June 1-June 30. For a full list of films and times, click here

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My Week in Beauty

MONDAY

By far the most intriguing and seductive-looking of the new batch of lipsticks is Guerlain Rouge Automatique (£24.50, available in Selfridges now, and nationwide from May 1). Guerlain certainly knows how to package its products: their Rouge G lipsticks, with their pop-out mirror and bullet-shaped tube, look like they should belong to a Bond girl, if not 007 himself. And the Rouge Automatique is just as impressive and gadget-like in its design; the difference being that it is a reproduction of the original, 1936, Rouge Automatique which was designed without a lid so that the woman applying it could do so with one hand.

Of course, there’s more to it than the flick-knife style tube. I became an instant fan of the Rouge Automatique when I tried a few on Monday – the texture is gorgeous: moisturising, comfortable and rich. And the 25 shades include some real beauties – especially in the corals and reds. I’m looking forward to posing with mine … After all, it’s far too elegant and sexy to be kept hidden in the make-up bag.

TUESDAY

Over lunch with my beautician friend Margaret she gave me the low-down on the last new product I asked her to test – Clinique Moisture Surge Tinted Moisturizer SPF15  (£21; currently available exclusively at Selfridges, Brown Thomas and at www.clinique.co.uk just now, and nationwide from April 22). I hadn’t wanted to judge this one all by myself as I’m a bit of a tinted moisturiser virgin – I’ve tended to avoid them because there usually isn’t a shade pale enough for my fair complexion, and also because, having a less than perfect skin, I feel more confident with a full coverage foundation.

Anyway, Margaret was highly impressed. ” I’m really enjoying the Moisture Surge,” she said. “It has a lovely texture and great coverage, but best of all – it lasts! Most tinted moisturisers disappear pretty quickly – but not this  one. It will definitely be in my holiday make-up bag! I would buy this product again.” .

WEDNESDAY

When you write about beauty, your local upmarket department stores becomes your second home – and I paid mine, the historic Glasgow store Frasers, a visit on Wednesday in order to meet with Dafna, the PR for Bobbi Brown. She was in town to brief journalists on the American make-up guru’s latest wonder concealer-corrector, Creamy Concealer Kit (£23.50; www.bobbibrown.co.uk).

Sure enough I was impressed with the results of my mini-makeover using the kit. It contains two products: the corrector which neutralises dark circles and lines, and the concealer which lightens the skin. It undoubtedly brightened the eye area and gave my complexion a much-needed lift. I’ll be interested to see how I get on with it when I try it at home.

In the meantime, I’m delighted with the new mascara that Dafna brought me: Bobbi Brown Lash Glamour Extreme Lengthening Mascara (£18). It certainly lives up to its name thanks to its unusual bristles, which interlock with the lashes like a zipper, coating each hair with colour from root to tip, and the  slightly curved shape of the brush which encourages lashes to stand to attention..

THURSDAY

My deputy tester (and head of the anti-ageing cosmetics department) may not have been terribly taken with Clarins’ most recent addition to its Instant Smooth collection – the Instant Smooth Line Correcting Concentrate (£24; www.clarins.co.uk), a pen which is supposed to make wrinkles disappear in one stroke – but my experiments with their latest body lotion has been much more successful.

Clarins Extra-Firming Body Lotion (£39.50) is certainly pricey but I’ve enjoyed using it more than I have enjoyed using most products in this category for a long time. By Thursday, I had been using it (just once a day instead of the recommended twice – who has time in the morning?!) for a couple of weeks, and I became convinced that I was starting to notice a difference. It helps that it smells lovely… It contains lemon thyme extract, which encourages the production of a protein essential in maintaining the skin’s elasticity, and plant extracts which reactivate the production of type 1 collagen, thus improving skin density and firmness. Oh, and it feels gorgeous!

Clarins newsflash: the Clarins Spa at Frasers (0141 221 5760) in Glasgow is offering any 80 minute treatment (including the sublime TriActive facial) for the bargain price of £40, if booked before Thursday April 21.

FRIDAY

Every time I use the Chanel Crayon Sourcils  Sculpting Eyebrow Pencil (£18.50; for stockists call 020-7493 3836),  which I opened on Friday, I can’t help but think of Bette Davis (left), who wouldn’t have pulled off quite as magnificent a performance as catty Margo Channing in the classic bitch-fest All About Eve had she not had a pair of well-defined eyebrows working in her favour. It’s a cliche but it’s true: eyebrows do frame the face. Their shape can drastically – and dramatically – transform your whole look. Could Bette have been quite as memorable as Margo without those thick, yet well-tamed, eyebrows, which balance out the cruel, full mouth?

The new Chanel pencil is – as most are today – a double-ended affair, with a brush at one end and the pencil at the other. It’s difficult to draw comparisons with other very similar pencils on the market, but what is particularly impressive about this one is the choice of colours available: there are four, including two shades for blondes. Fasten your seatbelts for some serious eyebrow-arching …

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