Tag Archives: Some Like It Hot

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

After a particularly glam night at the movies – local burlesque outfit Club Noir had launched a series of Film Nights at the Glasgow Film Theatre with a screening of Some Like It Hot on Sunday – I was inspired to up the ante, glamour-wise, on Monday and wear a bolder, redder lip than usual.

The decision to experiment with the latest reds couldn’t have come at a more apt moment as I hadn’t yet got round to trying out Chanel’s forthcoming lip lacquer – Chanel Rouge Allure Extrait de Gloss (£22.50; from October 1). Its Exces shade is exquisite  – though possibly not so much the kind of coral red that Some Like It Hot star Marilyn Monroe would have worn; more the sort of cherry red that her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes partner Jane Russell would have plumped for. It will definitely get another outing next time Club Noir serves up a suitably sexy film.

TUESDAY

Movie star make-up requires movie star make-up remover so it’s appropriate that I’ve been using an old favourite of the Hollywood brigade – Pond’s Cold Cream (£3.99, www.boots.com).

It’s no wonder this 103-year-old cleanser is so popular amongst people who have to wear layers of make-up all day: it does what it promises – melts away the make-up and softens the skin at the same time.

Incredibly, I had never used it until I was given a jar a fortnight ago, but I am a convert and at such a credit crunch-friendly price, I’m willing to ignore my slight aversion to its fragrance …

WEDNESDAY

On Wednesday I travelled to London where I was to interview a rising star of the jazz world -Nikki Yanofsky. Arriving early at the jazz club where she was to do her sound check, I had time to give myself a mini-manicure (well, the interview was all prepared..), using one of the two beautiful shades of nail varnish in the new French Coquettes collection from Lancome for autumn/winter.

Lancome Le Vernis in Metropolitan Beige (£12) – what an appropriate shade for a visit to the capital – is one of the prettiest and most delicate nude varnishes I’ve come across. It looks peach-c0loured in the bottle, and glistens slightly. And it dries very quickly.

Its sister polish in from the same collection – the Rouge Noir-esque Black Cherry shade – is also fab, and has quickly become a favourite for nights-out. Indeed, it was my polish of choice for the Some Like It Hot extravaganza at the weekend – after all, how much vampier can you get?

THURSDAY

One style icon who would have appreciated my doing my own nails is Grace Kelly, the subject of the V&A’s wonderful exhibition, Grace Kelly – Style Icon (until September 26) which I finally got to see on Thursday. The movie star turned princess remained refreshingly practical throughout her life when it came to her look: she bought clothes that she fell in love with and then got great use out of them, and she kept to a fairly simple and elegant maquillage.

The shop within the exhibition is a little treasure trove of Grace-inspired costume jewellery (mainly pearls, of course) and accessories, but one item that was missing was the compact – an essential if you plan to emulate that ladylike look which is so current  this autumn. Grace, like any 1950s woman, would not have left home without some pressed powder in her purse.

I couldn’t have got round that exhibition in what I like to think was a Grace-ful manner had I not brushed on some of the new Clinique Redness Solutions Instant Relief Mineral Pressed Powder (£24; www.clinique.co.uk) – it was so hot and stuffy in there! It undoubtedly saved me from an oily T-zone and flushed cheeks .. The same, yellow-coloured, powder got me through a particularly uncomfortable train journey home, on a ridiculously crowded Virgin Pendolino train. I wonder how the ever-cool Grace would have fared under such trying circumstances..

FRIDAY

It’s only five weeks since my hair was last coloured but it’s been driving me mad – and by Friday I just wanted to tie it back and not think about it. I remembered that I’d been sent a rather scary-looking new hair tool – the Goody Spin Pin (£4.99; from Asda stores) – and decided to give it a go. It’s actually two spiral pins – and it turned out to be surprisingly easy to use. You pull your hair back into a pony tail, twist it round into a bun shape then effectively screw the pins in – one from above the bun and the other from below.

With my fine, poker-straight hair, I found that a low bun, at the nape of the neck or over to one side, looked particularly pretty. In fact, it looked a little like the sort of style that Grace Kelly and the other great Hitchcock blonde, Kim Novak, favoured in the 1950s.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I was thrilled to discover that one of my favourite films from the 1950s, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), is getting a new lease of life in cinemas this month – and I’ve been polishing my tiara in readiness for a girls-only outing to see it at my local cinema.

There’s nothing like watching a brilliant old movie on the big screen, and in the company of others (as opposed to watching it alone, on TV, in your jammies).  I’m even hoping for a bit of a singalong as this is the film in which Marilyn Monroe performed her iconic Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend number (pictured above).

This was one of Marilyn’s breakthrough films – and her performance as dopey, and utterly transparent (except to men), gold-digger Lorelei Lee is hilarious – and beautifully complemented by Jane Russell’s priceless turn as Lorelei’s wise-cracking, worldly-wise best pal, Dorothy Shaw.

The pair set sail for Paris in the hope that Lorelei’s wealthy fiance will shake off his disapproving father and follow her there for their wedding. But en route, Dorothy, the supposed chaperone, is distracted by the Olympic team while Lorelei is distracted by the diamond tiara owned by the wife of English aristocrat Sir Francis Beakman (played by veteran character actor Charles Coburn, pictured below).

Not only is the film sparklingly funny (it was directed by the great Howard Hawks and based on Anita Loos’s dryly witty book), and glorious to look at, but it also boasts some terrific songs – including the Hoagy Carmichael/Harold Adamson number When Love Goes Wrong (above), which our heroines sing at a pavement cafe in Paris, accompanied by an accordionist. Marilyn was really a very good singer and this movie – along with Some Like It Hot – showcased her oft-unsung vocal talents.

Ironically, Marilyn was not intended to be the star of the film – she actually gets second billing after Jane in the credits, and her salary was considerably lower. But her response to being told that she wasn’t the star was: “Well, whatever I am, I’m still the blonde.”

Despite the potential for rivalry, the two stars got on famously, and 20th Century Fox sought out other projects for them to work on together – but, sadly, that onscreen reunion never happened.

*The new print of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is showing  at selected cinemas now.

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Unsung Marilyn

Some Like It Hot, the riotous Billy Wilder masterpiece which the American Film Institute named the best comedy Hollywood ever made, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. I’ve been writing about it for The Herald and, re-watching it for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the fact that not only does it boast Marilyn Monroe’s greatest comic performance (and she really was a genius at comedy), but it also highlights what a talented singer she was.

Monroe may have sung in more than a quarter of her films – including some of her best-loved ones – but her singing is rarely mentioned in any of the potted biogs written about her. And yet, her sultry, soulful and sumptuous vocals contributed enormously to her overall sex appeal (witness the fact that songs were shoehorned even into the western River of No Return) – it’s just that everyone has been distracted by her visual voluptuousness..

Nevertheless, her singing abilities were recognised by her employers almost from the word go. She sang various numbers in her first notable role – in Ladies of the Chorus, in 1949, and memorably crooned along to a record of Kiss in the thriller Niagara (1953).

Thereafter, Monroe gave a string of iconic musical performances. As Lorelei Lee, the archetypal gold-digging blonde, in the sparkling Howard Hawks comedy-musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), she guaranteed herself a place in the pantheon of great Hollywood musical moments when she sang Diamonds Are  Girl’s Best Friend.

While Marilyn got to prance around in Schiaparelli-pink satin as debonair dancers draped diamonds on her, poor old Jane Russell (as her best pal, Dorothy) had as her featured number Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love. The song was okay, though hardly Hoagy Carmichael’s finest, but Russell had to perform it with a particularly camp-looking crew of scrawny, knobbly-kneed dancers who did not look in the slightest bit interested in her or her impressively upholstered chest.

Monroe and Russell actually made a pretty good team, both comically and musically: they duetted memorably on Hoagy Carmichael’s When Love Goes Wrong (Nothing Goes Right), and Jule Styne and Leo Robin’s Bye Bye Baby and A Little Girl From Little Rock.

There’s No Business Like Showbusiness (1954) also made good use of Monroe’s singing skills – notably on the sizzling Heat Wave. But easily the most sexually charged of her musical performances were to be found in Some Like It Hot.

As Sugar Kane, the emotionally fragile yet effervescent singer with Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters, Monroe only sang a trio of songs (Runnin’ Wild, I Wanna Be Loved By You and I’m Through With Love) but they make an indelible impression: indeed, she pretty much ruined them for anyone else. Even those who had sung them first..

I Wanna Be Loved By You may have been associated with another Kane – Helen, the original boop-boop-a-doop girl from the 1920s (and many a Betty Boop cartoon), but from 1959 onwards, it was Marilyn’s grown-up, sensual version that first sprang to minds, and poor old Helen’s girlish boop-boop-a-doops were forgotten.

The piece de la resistance was Monroe’s I’m Through With Love, the perfect song choice for a character who’s been bruised by bad love affairs before (and now thinks she’s in love with an impotent and somewhat camp millionaire with a Cary Grant voice). It’s difficult to conceive of a more exquisite reading of that song (though Goldie Hawn’s in Everyone Says I Love You comes a very close second): Monroe was never more vulnerable or more exposed. And I’m not just talking about the fact that she’s dressed and lit so that she looks naked.

Only one more musical outing remained for the doomed star: the pretty awful Let’s Make Love (1960) which has as its redeeming factor Monroe’s often-forgotten, but utterly fab, version of Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs to Daddy.

Sadly, there’s not a lot of Marilyn Monroe on compact disc  – just the afore-mentioned songs, plus a few other goodies (including a dreamy take on the Gershwins’ Do It Again which seems to have been recorded independently of any film), which are available on any number of cheap compilations. Still, they’re cheap compilations worth having.

* Some Like It Hot is showing at the GFT, Glasgow from June 19-21; my piece on the film runs in Saturday’s Herald (May 23).

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