How to Marry a Millionaire 1953 Comedy based on the plays The Greeks Had a Word for It by Zoe Akins and Loco by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall. With William Powell (older and still attractive), Rory Calhoun, Cameron Mitchell, David Wayne.
Three twenty-something women pool resources to sublet an extravagant Sutton Place penthouse while its owner hides from the IRS. In order to hook millionaire husbands, they must look like they don’t need the money. All seem to fall in love with men who don’t fit the bill – except that one secretly does. Absolutely charming despite predictability. A must-see for single women. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 1953 Comedy based on the stage musical. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell play va va voom Lorelei Lee (Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Russell), best friend showgirls with a successful act. Lorelei, an enchanting gold digger, is engaged to Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan), a sweet, innocuous millionaire she can control – when apart from his conservative father. The ladies sail for France where Gus will meet and wed his fiancé. Private detective Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid) shadows, to be sure she stays in line.
On the ship, Lorelei is dazzled by diamonds owned by the wife of Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman (Charles Coburn). She easily charms him, hoping for a gift. Meanwhile, Ernie cozies up to Dorothy. A seemingly compromising photo is shot, a tiara goes missing, Ernie is unmasked, Gus and his father arrive, a courtroom is filled with shouting suspects. There are good songs and a happy ending. The film didn’t fare well when compared to its source, but unto itself is great fun. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Niagara 1953 Thriller. Directed by Henry Hathaway. Marilyn Monroe (her first top billing) and Joseph Cotton. Having been released from an army hospital, veteran George Loomis and his wife Rose are vacationing at a cabin near Niagara Falls where they meet and befriend Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters), characters who offer a sense of normalcy and additional eyes to that of the audience.
George is jealous and unstable, but not without reason. Rose and her lover, Patrick (Richard Allan), plan her husband’s murder. Things don’t go down as orchestrated, however. There are two murders and one attempt-to-escape death. For noir fans. Amazon Prime
The Seven Year Itch 1955 Comedy based on the George Axelrod play. Directed by Billy Wilder. With Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. This film generated the iconic image of Monroe’s dress blowing up from a subway grate. Richard Sherman, a dull, mild mannered publishing executive, has just seen his wife and kids off to Maine for the summer. That night, reading the manuscript of a psychiatrist who proclaims all men are prone to mid-life crises replete with extramarital affairs, his underemployed imagination kicks in with fantasies about the juicy actress subletting upstairs.
Sherman invites her in for a drink. Cue Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. He pretends to be single, but falls off the piano bench in a clumsy attempt at passion. She laughs it off; he’s sweet, harmless, and has much appreciated air conditioning. Increasingly wild dreams, including some involving his wife having an affair, eventually drive Sherman to join his family. The Hays office (nickname for the Motion Picture Production Code which set moral guidelines for films) apparently cut out considerable dialogue. Very light entertainment. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Bus Stop 1956 Drama based on the play by William Inge. Directed by Joshua Logan, at first skeptical of Monroe, and then a respectful fan. Beauregard Decker (Don Murray) and father figure Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) arrive in Phoenix, Arizona so the young man can take part in a rodeo. Virgil encourages his extremely naïve, socially clumsy friend to find a girl and settle down. Beau is holding out for “an angel.”
When he sees dive café singer, Chérie (Monroe), Beau is sure she’s the one. In no time he takes out a marriage license and begins to stalk her. Chérie tries to get away again and again, but convinced she’ll come around, the cowboy bullies her onto a bus bound for his ranch. Snowed in at a bus stop, Virgil and the driver fight him for her release. Beau is humiliated, apologizes, and backs off. His changed behavior elicits a different response from the kidnapped woman. Great dialogue. A good, solid film from a substantial play. Amazon Prime
The Prince and The Showgirl 1957 Comedy based on Terrance Rattigan’s play, The Sleeping Prince – its rights purchased by Monroe. Produced and directed by Laurence Olivier. Charles, the pompous Prince Regent (stiff-backed Laurence Olivier in a monocle) and Nicholas VIII, teenage king of a fictional Balkan country, arrive in London to attend the coronation of George V. Charles attends a performance of The Coconut Girl and greets its cast backstage. Enamored of chorus girl Elsie Marina (Monroe), he invites her to supper at the embassy residence.
The young woman expects a party, but is instead ushered to a private table for two. She’s talked into staying by a British attaché. A pass is rebuffed. Charles exits. Elsie is approached by the young king for whom she quickly develops great sympathy. Overhearing a phone conversation, the chorine surreptitiously manages a detente between old and new guard on secret verge of war. Both men are grateful. Charles plans to take her home with him, but Elsie has more sense.
To say filming was fraught, Monroe undependable, and the cast at odds vastly understates recollections of participants. Still, the final product appeals. The 2011 film My Week with Marilyn is based on two memoirs by Colin Clark, a dogsbody on Showgirl. Apart from Clark’s association with the star, it will give you a pretty good idea of goings on. Directed by Simon Curtis with Michelle Williams as Monroe. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Some Like It Hot 1959 Comedy based on the French film, Fanfare of Love. Produced, directed, and co/written by Billy Wilder. Accidentally witnessing a prohibition gangland murder, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemon) hightail it out of Chicago dressed in drag. On the train, they attach themselves to Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators, an all female band headed for Miami. Both men are besotted with Sugar Kane (Monroe), the group’s vocalist and ukulele player.
Joe pursues Sugar by pretending to be an oil heir with an ersatz Cary Grant accent and sexual problems. Jerry’s female persona is pricelessly courted by Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). When a mafia contingent descends on the hotel, Joe and Jerry unwittingly observe yet another murder and must flee again. Sugar discovers Joe’s dual identity and decides to go with him. Jerry convinces Osgood to spirit them all away on his yacht at last revealing he’s a man…which makes no difference at all to his suitor. A classic.
The studio hired female impersonator Barbette to coach Lemon and Curtis on gender illusion. It was not approved by The Motion Picture Code. Amazon Prime
My favorite Monroe film, 1961’s terrific Drama The Misfits,written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston. Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Eli Walach, Montgomery Clift. Amazon Prime
Top Bigstock Photo: Palais des Festivals facade shown and the official poster 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 17, 2012 in Cannes, France.