Friday, August 5, 2022

Some of Marilyn Monroe's Best Performances

It seems to me that it is a sad fact that while one hears a lot about Marilyn Monroe, one actually hears very little about Marilyn Monroe as an actress. Her acting talent seems to have been overshadowed largely by her tragic life and death, not to mention her status as an icon.When many people think of Marilyn Monroe what really comes to mind is a caricature of the actual Marilyn Monroe. When they think of Marilyn, they think of a blonde bombshell in a skintight dress singing, "Happy birthday, Mr. President," in a soft, breathy voice. There was much more to Marilyn Monroe than her sad life and certainly more to Marilyn Monroe than the image the average person might carry in their mind. As many classic film fans know, she was an immensely talented actress who gave some great performances. Today, on the 60th anniversary of her death, I want to take the time to remember some of Marilyn Monroe's best performances.

Indeed, some of Miss Monroe's best performances came early in her career. She isn't on screen for very long in All About Eve (1950), but she leaves a lasting impression in the film. Marilyn Monroe plays Claudia Casswell, an actress and the date of of an important film critic at a party. Claudia is hardly respected as an actress, as her performances are generally considered terrible. Even so, at the party Claudia displays a deadpan wit and has no difficulty charming most everyone in the room.

Another one of Marilyn Monroe's early dramatic role is also one of her most disturbing. In Don't Bother to Knock, she plays Nell, a young woman with suicidal and even homicidal impulses, who exhibits some definitely disturbing behaviour. When the audience learns of Nell's past, they probably aren't surprised. Marilyn Monroe gives a bravura performance as Nell, one that makes the character sympathetic even as her she is going through a psychotic break.

Another great early performance by Marilyn Monroe is perhaps better known than playing Nell in Don't Bother to Knock. In Niagara (1953) Marilyn Monroe plays Rose Loomis, a woman married to an older man who also happens to be unhappy and very, very jealous. As it turns out, Rose begins an affair with another man and the two plot her husband's death. The femme fatale may not be the first sort of role that comes to mind when one thinks of Marilyn Monroe, but she does very well playing Rose Loomis. Quite simply, Rose is about as far from Sugar Kane as one can get.

Although she seems to be best known for comedies and musicals, Marilyn Monroe was particularly adept at drama. This is demonstrated by one of the films made midway through her career. In Bus Stop (1956), Miss Monroe plays Chérie, a singer at the Blue Dragon Cafe in Phoenix. Chérie  is a singer from the Ozarks with aspirations of Hollywood stardom. Unfortunately, she seems trapped in her current position, no matter how much she wants to get out of it. As Chérie, Marilyn Monroe is at her most vulnerable, and she portrays the character's sadness very well.

Of course, Marilyn Monroe was adept at comedy and it is perhaps for that reason her best known roles tend to be in comedies and musicals. A prime example of Miss Monroe's talent for comedy is in the movie Monkey Business (1952). In the film she plays Lois Laurel, the secretary of Oliver Oxley (Charles Coburn) of the Oxley chemical company. Lois is generally clueless and not particularly bright, leading to much of the humour in the movie. Marilyn Monroe (who in reality was very intelligent), plays the role perfectly, without going over the top and playing the character with perfect innocence.

Naturally, when it comes to comedy one cannot discuss Marilyn Monroe without mentioning How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Some Like It Hot (1959). In How to Marry a Millionaire she played the extremely myopic Pola, who refuses to wear her glasses when around men because she fully believes "men aren't attentive to girls who wear glasses." In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes showgirl Lorelei Lee who prefers men with money, regardless of their looks. In Some Like It Hot, Miss Monroe plays Sugar Kane, the singer and a ukulele player in Sweet Sue and the Society Syncopators. I won't go in depth on these three roles as much has been written about them already, but Marilyn plays each role with a subtlety that makes them all the more funny than if she had been over the top.

Marilyn Monroe's final performance would also be one of her best. In The Misfits (1961) she played Roslyn Taylor, a vulnerable, sensitive, and ultimately very sad divorcee who become involved with three cowboys. Miss Monroe plays Roslyn Taylor with a melancholy that few other actresses could pull off. Roslyn Taylor is a woman who has been defeated by life, but nonetheless survives. Given its stars (Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe) would die not long after the film's completion, The Misfits can be uncomfortable viewing.

Marilyn Monroe was much more than her tragic life and death. She was also much more than the image the general public seems to have of her. She was an immensely talented actress who was capable of playing a wide variety of roles with both subtlety and vulnerability. Sugar Kane may be her best known role with good reason, but over the years she played many roles that equally memorable.

1 comment:

Evil Woman Blues said...

Couple of points here. First, an editing mistake. Here is the sentence. "As it turns out, Rose begins an affair with another man and the two plot her husband's marriage." I think you mean "death." And what about her appearance in The Asphalt Jungle, a double crossing vixen holed up with a married, crooked lawyer, who rats him out to the cops.