Tag Archives: BFI Marilyn Monroe

Style on Film: The Seven Year Itch

MM - spotty halterneckThe Seven Year Itch (1955), which is playing at the BFI this week as part of its month-long Marilyn Monroe retrospective, is not one of my favourite Marilyn films but it is a very summery movie – and it features some of my favourite MM summer outfits, in particular the dotty, backless, halter neck dress (above) worn by “The Girl” when she makes her rather chaotic entrance in the brownstone where literary agent Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is living alone, having waved his wife and kids off on their vacation, during a sweltering Manhattan summer.MM - strappy halterneckAs with six of her previous films – notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire – Marilyn was dressed by costume designer (William) Travilla for The Seven Year Itch, which was set during a blistering heatwave. Trying to stay cool and slipping in and out of comfortable/uncomfortable clothing and is a recurring theme in the film and the pastel pink shirt and capri pants ensemble below (which always reminds me of one of Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in the fashion shoot sequence of Funny Face) was what The Girl changed into from her tight sundress. MM - trouser ensembleOf course, the most iconic dress of Marilyn’s film career is the “subway” dress, the white halter neck with pleated full skirt which The Girl wears for a wander round New York after dark. Pausing over a subway grill, she is blasted with a gust of air which makes her skirt billow and provides some welcome relief from the oppressive heat – as well as a prolonged flash of the Monroe thighs (and big pants!) for passers-by to ogle.MM Seven Year Itch subway dress use

What you can’t see in the many stills that feature the Subway Dress is the fact that there is more to Travilla’s most famous frock than the bust-emphasising, drapy halter neck and the light, floaty pleated full skirt. There is a beautiful mid section which highlights the fact that this is a Grecian-style dress, with a distinctly 1950s twist. This photograph from a wardrobe test shows off the full effect. MM Seven year Itch subway dress test shotAnd although The Girl doesn’t go to any formal events in The Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe for the film did include a striking evening gown which is almost as memorable as such previous Travilla designs as the hot pink Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The “Tiger” dress appears in a fantasy sequence, when she visits Richard’s apartment and falls under his spell when he plays Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto for her.MM Tiger dress colour* The Seven Year Itch is showing at the BFI on Friday June 19 and Sunday 21. For more on the BFI’s Marilyn season, which runs till the end of June, click here

 

 

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Marilyn’s Toe Nail Tips

MM - in the bathOne of the best comedy moments in The Seven Year Itch, one of the Marilyn Monroe films playing in this month’s BFI retrospective, is when our wide-eyed heroine, known simply as “The Girl” reveals her embarrassment at having had to have a plumber come round while she was stuck in the bath. “There I was with a perfectly strange plumber,” she says, “and no polish on my toe nails!”

We’ve all been there .. Not naked with a plumber in the vicinity – but affronted by the sight of the naked toe nail. Personally, I can’t stand the sight of mine. Revlon One Perfect CoralAnd maybe Marilyn couldn’t bear to see hers sans varnish either, since the publicity photo for the film (above) features some well-dressed toes. It looks as if MM shared my preference for coral-coloured toe nails for summer, and if she was still around she would have plenty to choose from, from the pale Coral Crush shade of Gel-Look Shine Nail Colour by No7 (£7) to my long-time favourite, Revlon’s aptly named One Perfect Coral (£6.49), which is a vibrant, mood-enhancing shade of the classic colour.

This summer, however, anything goes for the toes – and the shades from Chanel’s Méditerranée collection (pictured below) encapsulate the range of options, since the quartet of new Le Vernis colours includes a must-have sea blue and a deep purple.

Variations on sea colours would probably be my choice too, if my toes were tanned. I’d plump for No7 Gel-Look Shine Nail Colour in the pale turquoise of Mint Treat or the gorgeously rich Persian Blue (£7), a bold blue which, like Chanel’s Lavanda shade (shown below) could look stunning on those of us who are pale – but maybe better for fingernails as on toe nails, it might look as if we have circulation problems! The last time my toe nails were bare for more than the amount of time it takes to repaint them was when having my babies by Caesarian – and I was told that nail polish was banned in surgery.. As Marilyn’s Seven Year Itch character might have said: “There I was, with a perfectly strange doctor – and no polish on my toe nails!”Chanel Summer 2015 nail varnishes

 

 

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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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