Contrary to what some directors might believe, not only do people still watch the films of the Golden Age of Hollywood Marilyn Monroe, but many of them are good. Before she passed away, the actress starred in 29 films between 1946 and 1961 and was in the middle of making her 30th. What she has left behind is still a great highlight of some of the best romantic comedies and a few solid dramas. Here are some of the heavy hitters for those looking to familiarize themselves with Monroe’s oeuvre.
1. Bus Stop (1956)
We are starting with one of Monroe’s dramas. In Bus Stop, directed by Joshua Logan, we see our blonde delight as Chérie, a singer from the Ozarks who has bright-eyed dreams of making it in Hollywood. Her love interest in this movie sucks, but it is a solid film, and it is essential in Monroe’s filmography because it is a role she chose in order to push back against her “vapid” image purposefully. Monroe did that a lot. Logan initially did not want to work with Marilyn and was anxious about her “difficult” reputation, but walked away impressed with her physical comedy skills. In true Hollywood fashion, because Monroe was less “glamorous,” critics could focus more on her acting in this flick.
2. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Directed, produced, and co-written by Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot is often seen on “greatest of all time” lists. Which is why I put it second here. In all seriousness, this is a great movie. It is about two men who witness a mafia hit and go into hiding dressed as women. This film was made without the approval of the puritanical Hayes Code and, therefore, could play with elements of drag and queerness that make the film iconic and quotable today.
Monroe plays Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk, a singer with skills on the uke. Both leads grow attracted to Sugar while in drag, leading to bisexual chaos. The success of this film and the greatness of Monroe in it is slightly dampened by the fact that she was heavily addicted to pills at the time, and it became a significant issue on set. Her husband, Arthur Miller, was also an absolute dick on set. Still, as Sugar, she brings kindness (and queerness) to the gold digger and blonde ditz stereotypes she got stuck with. Her wardrobe in this movie, including that low neckline dress, are some iconic outfits in film history.
3. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
The film that launched a thousand homages, from Madonna music videos to Birds of Prey. Despite being second-billed to the more famous Jane Russell, there is no denying Monroe is the breakout star of this movie. Directed by Howard Hawks, the film is about Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) as two best friends who are also showgirls. Lee is engaged to marry a wealthy man, but his father hates Lee for being a gold digger.
If you’ve seen this quote: “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?” It’s from this movie. In this movie, we get Marilyn’s rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” This is a fun buddy comedy with fun dynamics between the two leads, and it is super quotable. Don’t forget women are made of equal parts of scotch, vodka, brandy, and gin.
4. The Misfits (1961)
The last completed film by both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, The Misfits was written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston. Miller was married to Monroe at the time and wrote this film for her. Their marriage was falling apart at the time due to drugs, addiction, and the general sadness of everything, which makes it even weirder that the film is about a woman, Roslyn Tabor (Monroe), who goes to Reno in order to get a quickie divorce and ends up meeting a lot of personalities there. While it was a box-office flop, the performances were superb. I recommend, for more information of the backstory of the film, checking out this video from BKR. It is truly an undervalued classic.
5. How To Marry A Millionaire (1953)
How To Marry A Millionaire is a classic screwball comedy directed by Jean Negulesco starring Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall as three hot models in Manhattan who are trying to marry some hot rich guys. Monroe plays the ditz again in this film, but she is so good as Pola. The scene on the airplane where she is reading a book upside down is perfect. She’s charming, cute, and funny all at the same time. Also, she makes those cat eyed glasses work. I just think this is a light, fun movie that not only highlights Monroe, but gives you an awesome look at some of the other strudels of the 1950s.
(featured image: United Artists)
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