Playing Fri Aug 24 at 9:00 & Sun Aug 26 at 4:15 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]
The Film Society of Lincoln Center treats audiences to a weekend of Ocean Liner-set adventures, a jaunty little series featuring lots of fun titles: the Marx Brothers’ madcap variety show, A Night at The Opera; Leo McCarey’s misty-eyed (and truly great) romantic melodrama Love Affair; Preston Sturges’ irresistably witty conmen caper The Lady Eve (which boasts an unbeatable performance by Barbara Stanwyck). Oh, and James Cameron’s blockbusting Titanic, which, if you’re going to watch, you should watch on the big screen.
The canonical must-see is Howard Hawks’ musical adaptation of Anita Loos’ novel and stageplay, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Here’s hoping FSLC screens the recently restored print in all its 50s-Technicolor glory, as reports from its Film Forum debut last year were glowing.
The opening shot—Russell and Monroe in sequins standing against a screaming red drape—is enough to knock you out of your seat, and the audacity barely lets up from there, as Russell romances the entire U.S. Olympic team to the tune of “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” and Hawks keeps topping perversity with perversity. A landmark encounter in the battle of the sexes.
Playing Sunday July 17 at 2:00, 4:30, 7:00, and 9:30 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]
BAM’s “Marilyn!” series wraps up with a doozy: John Huston’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s paean to Monroe’s life-giving force. A poignantly odd, intense film heightened by Death’s shadow all around – it was the final completed film by Clark Gable (who died 10 days after shooting from a heart attack) and Monroe (who died a year later) and one of the last great performances by Montgomery Clift,, who passed away equally prematurely in 1966. The Misfits was a box office in disaster in its day and endured great criticism for Miller’s serious-minded, moralistic, almost baroque script, but remains a fascinating, affecting relic of Hollywood Babylon.
Dan Callahan provides a not entirely flattering, but gripping take on Monroe’s performance in the film, in his essay for Alt Screen:
Increasingly dependent on liquor and pills, Monroe made her final stab at being taken seriously in the difficult-to-watch The Misfits (1961), scripted by Miller, directed by John Huston and co-starring her one-time fantasy Daddy, Clark Gable. As Roslyn, a sad-eyed divorcee, an exhausted Monroe is lost in internal traumas that we cannot share with her (always the downside of Strasberg’s dig-up-your-own-pain acting theories). With this movie, Monroe seems to want to show us just what a total wreck she is, and she looks totally exposed, not in the unformed way of Don’t Bother to Knock but in a much more liquid style that might have something to do with the drugs she was taking. She’s trying so hard to communicate with us in The Misfits, and even when she fails, mainly due to the script’s repetitions, her attempts are often touching. Huston includes some random close shots of her behind as if he wants to throw a bone to the paying customers, and he keeps her explosion of anger toward the end in extreme long shot, which limits its impact. In the last scene, she drives away with Gable toward a star on the horizon, looking bone-white and spectral, as if she were fading away.
Dan’s description of Marilyn as a full-blooded femme fatale is mighty enticing:
Niagara is maybe Monroe’s most underrated picture, the only one where she gets to play a femme fatale, a meanie, a temptress; this is her Gilda (1946), and director Henry Hathaway films her in chiaroscuro Technicolor with tactful respect and a great feel for her incandescent, almost otherworldly sex appeal. Monroe’s Rose is first seen naked in bed, covered by crumpled bed-sheets, puffing on a cigarette through obscenely glistening, lipstick-red lips and looking at her husband (Joseph Cotton) with contempt. She puts on her nylons in shadow, and when she goes outside and walks away from the camera in a tight-fitting suit, Hathaway knows that just the sight of Monroe walking across the screen is An Event on par with the natural wonders of the picture’s Niagara Falls backdrop.
A few scenes later, Rose appears in a hot pink, low cut, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination dress that might well cause puberty on sight. “She’d like to wear that dress where everybody could see her,” cries Cotton, “right in the middle of Yankee stadium!” Truer words were never spoken, and since Monroe is always being cast as a martyr, it’s worth stating that the sheer exhibitionistic triumph of looking like and being Marilyn Monroe in 1953 must have given her at least fleeting moments of joy and power. Certainly she’s at her best on screen when she’s enjoying that power (especially when she sings) and worst when she’s encouraged to feel sorry for herself. It’s no mistake that she comes fully alive not playing a needy, abused victim, as she does in Don’t Bother to Knock, but as a call-the-cops vixen who loves being looked at and doesn’t feel too many qualms about bumping off a troublesome spouse. The spare, atmospheric Niagara is smart about how to handle Monroe, and she is able to play several different levels of this character at once. We see Rose planning her husband’s murder and then we see her laughing in bed with this same husband after a night obviously spent screwing his brains out. What’s shocking here is that Monroe is able to suggest that Rose enjoys the sex but this enjoyment is kept on a totally separate level from her murder plans.
It is part romp, part druggie-surrealist masterpiece, and a complete joy. Monkey Business is undervalued by some, on account of its alleged inferiority to the master’s 30s pictures, and the accident of sharing a title with a film by the Marx Brothers. I can only say that this film whizzes joyfully along with touches of pure genius: at once sublimely innocent and entirely worldly. Cary Grant plays Dr Barnaby Fulton, a mild-mannered, bespectacled industrial scientist working on a “rejuvenation” elixir for his tetchy boss Mr Oxley (Charles Coburn). One of Dr Fulton’s test chimps escapes and mixes up the lab chemicals in a random way so as to create the perfect “eternal youth” recipe – somewhere between Viagra and LSD – and dumps it in the water supply.
Dr Fulton drinks it; his short sight is cured and he instantly gets a new youthful haircut, jacket, and snazzy roadster, in which he takes smitten secretary Lois (Marilyn Monroe) for a day’s adventures. (The memory of Grant with his Coke-bottle glasses exchanging dialogue with the entranced Marilyn was revived eight years later by Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot.) His wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) and Mr Oxley drink it too, with anarchic results. I think the role of Edwina in this film has been misread by some critics. It isn’t simply that she becomes a wacky, carefree schoolgirl under the influence. She takes her husband to a hotel and is chemically compelled to recreate her wedding night, becoming the terrified young woman she was on that occasion: frightened of seeing her groom’s naked body, overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of leaving her mother, querulous at the thought of Barnaby’s ex-girlfriends. It is a brilliant and subtle invention – and like everything else packed with gags.