One of the most tragic examples of a rising Hollywood star who didn’t have the necessary fortitude to handle the pressures and tumult of superstardom, Marilyn Monroe nevertheless turned out a handful of memorable performances in a variety of roles during her relatively brief Hollywood career. Forever Marilyn collects seven of her most fondly remembered films in (mostly) new high definition transfers which fans of the heartbreaking legend will likely be greatly anticipating. These are the definitive home video versions of these seven entertaining movies even if the studio where she called home for most of her career has not elected to provide a lasting tribute to her legendary status.
Forever Marilyn (Blu-ray)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes/How to Marry a Millionaire/River of No Return/There’s No Business Like Show Business/The Seven Year Itch/Some Like It Hot/The Misfits
Directed by Howard Hawks et al
Studio: 20th Century Fox/MGM/UA
Aspect Ratios: 1.33:1/2.55:1/1.66:1
Running Times: 91/96/91/117/104/121/125 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 English; Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish, Italian, many others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, many others
MSRP: $ 99.98
Release Date: July 31, 2012
Review Date: August 1, 2012
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – 4/5
Showgirls Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) have very different tastes when it comes to men. Lorelei wants them as wealthy as Midas; Dorothy wants them tall, dark, and handsome regardless of their income. Lorelei is currently smitten with millionaire Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) who is under his father’s hard-pressing thumb. The girls are booked for a nightclub engagement in Paris, and Esmond (who can’t make the trip) hires a private detective (Elliott Reid) to make sure Lorelei isn’t cheating on him. Dorothy flips for the good looking shamus not knowing what his real motives are, but when she does, their potential romance is thwarted just as quickly as Esmond pulls the monetary plug on Lorelei’s credit leaving the girls stranded in Paris and Lorelei in some hot water over a diamond tiara she persuaded wealthy Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn) to give her.
The movie borrowed some songs from the satirical 1920s-set Broadway musical and also some of the characters and situations but invented much of its own plot for the film set firmly in the 1950s. The film score was abetted with two songs by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson (the Broadway musical had music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin), and the movie’s five real numbers were divided scrupulously between the two leading ladies: three duets and a solo apiece (though Russell also got a quick parody of Marilyn’s “Diamonds” song in the courtroom sequence to balance Marilyn’s several scenes of comic discomfiture with a porthole and some funny business with that tiara), both of which showed the stars to great advantage. Jane Russell’s “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” is something of a camp classic with the Amazonian Russell searching for attention amid a sea of Olympic contenders who have been ordered to ignore her, and she shows off a Big Band-style singing voice that was woefully under appreciated. Marilyn’s highlight, of course, is the elaborate number built around what proved to be one of her most iconic performances: “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Otherwise, the film is light and fluffy fun showing Howard Hawks perfectly at ease with the musical genre (“Bye, Bye Baby” has real zing and is nicely staged throughout), something that can’t be said of a contemporary like John Huston when he tackled a musical. Keep an eye out for George Chakiris in the male ensemble of Marilyn’s solo. It’s not the last time he supported the star.
How to Marry a Millionaire – 3.5/5
Three fashion models, the nearsighted Pola (Marilyn Monroe), the dumb-as-a-post Loco (Betty Grable), and the sophisticated Schatze (Lauren Bacall), decide to pool their meager resources, rent a deluxe apartment, and use it as a lair in which to trap rich men to marry. Schatze has the best luck attracting the older J. D. Hanley (William Powell) and younger tycoon Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) who has somehow escaped her radar and registers only to her as a grease monkey. Meanwhile the other girls get involved with innocent albeit on-the-lam tax dodger Freddie Diamond (David Wayne) and forest ranger Eben (Rory Calhoun), neither ranking high up the money chain.
This was the fourth time around for this hoary story of girls on the lookout for rich men to marry (Three Blind Mice, Moon Over Miami, Three Little Girls in Blue all preceded it), but the female star trio pretty much carries the day. Each of the women’s quirks add to the fun though not one of them is able to steal the movie from the other two. Bacall’s sophisticate gets the most screen time with her two wealthy suitors (and William Powell’s lonely widower deserved better at the hands of the writer Nunnally Johnson who manages to work into the screenplay in-jokes for the three stars who either reference their husbands: Harry James for Grable, Humphrey Bogart for Bacall or the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” for Marilyn), but Monroe and particularly the bubbleheaded Grable make the most of their comic moments. Director Jean Negulesco frequently places characters on opposite ends of the frame to milk the most possible mileage from the (then) new Cinemascope process, and while the mirth sags in the film’s second half, the movie is short enough not to wear out its welcome (and that includes a daydream for each lady and a fashion show sequence).
River of No Return – 4/5
When gambler Harry Weston (Rory Calhoun) steals the family’s horse and gun in order to file a gold mine claim far from his homestead, farmer Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), his young son Mark (Tommy Retting), and Harry’s fiancé Kay (Marilyn Monroe) must risk their lives heading down a treacherous river on a raft in order to escape hostile Indians and get back property that rightfully belongs to the Calders. Along the way, each of the raft’s inhabitants learns something illuminating and upsetting about the other as they battle the hostile elements, the rampaging Indians, and sneaky outlaws.
Filmed partly in the Canadian Rockies, the movie offers Marilyn some solid dramatic scenes and, even though it isn’t a musical, the chance to sing four numbers, all quite tuneful (composed by Lionel Newman with lyrics by Ken Darby) and tinged with a melancholy air that befits this tough and tender story of father and son creating a new family life for themselves after years of separation. Director Otto Preminger manages to combine sleekly shot actual location footage, some studio work, and the three principals in a studio tank with river rapids flashed in rear projection, all accomplished with the (then) new Cinemascope process. The film is filled with incident and once that chase down the river begins, you’ll be reminded of that great rafting movie The River Wild as well as the less impressive river sequence in How the West Was Won.
There’s No Business Like Show Business – 3.5/5
The Five Donahues have risen from the world of vaudeville to become headliners at the better theaters and nightclubs across the country. Mother Molly (Ethel Merman) and son Steve (Johnnie Ray) have the biggest voices in the family; father Terry (Dan Dailey) and son Tim (Donald O’Connor) are peerless song and dance men; daughter Katy (Mitzi Gaynor) is primarily a singing dancer. But both sons have issues: Steve’s heart really isn’t in show business and announces he’s going to seminary to become a priest. Tim has trouble with alcohol and a frustrating relationship with singer Vicky Hoffman/Parker (Marilyn Monroe). The family pulls together as they confront one problem after another.
With six top stars to service and a long period of time to cover (1919-1942), the screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron is merely serviceable with paper-thin characters and melodramatic turns around every corner. But each of the stars gets his moment to shine to the music of Irving Berlin: Ethel Merman in the title number, Donald O’Connor in a clever song and dance with living statuary “A Man Chases a Girl Until She Catches Him,” Johnnie Ray in the revivalistic “If You Believe,” and Marilyn in three numbers expressly tailored to show off her glamour and sex appeal: “After You Get What You Want,” “Heat Wave,” and “Lazy.” Yes, the extended variations on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” are exhausting as we travel through German, Scottish, and French renditions as well as Ray’s soulful ballad/dirge interpretation, and the story is as familiar as can be even if the family’s overreaction and shock over Steve’s wanting to be a priest makes it seem as if he’d confessed to being a serial killer instead of a man of faith (though the Donahue family reunion at the climax does still work its spell despite the corn). Director Walter Lang uses the Cinemascope widescreen to generously spread his stars across it at every opportunity.
The Seven Year Itch – 4.5/5
With his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and son away for a two week summer vacation, Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) indulges in several flights of fancy about his wife’s activities and his own. His daydreams become even more adventuresome with the arrival of a voluptuous but sweet-natured upstairs neighbor (Marilyn Monroe) renting the apartment above for the summer. The two strike up an easy friendship and spend two evenings innocently having cocktails, playing “Chopsticks” on the piano, going to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and generally circumventing any threats of scandal from the nosy, suspicious building janitor (Robert Strauss).
Billy Wilder’s adaptation of George Axelrod’s Broadway hit comedy opens the play up and changes it quite a bit but manages to retain Ewell’s stagy narration of his thoughts and feelings (with occasional segues to Sherman’s Walter Mitty-like fantasies). Ewell won a Tony Award on stage for his performance, and it’s basically repeated here while Marilyn Monroe’s Girl Upstairs steals scenes effortlessly with her open-eyed, dreamy delivery that was uniquely hers. As one of her most famous roles, she was clearly the film’s main attraction even if her role is a major supporting turn and not the lead. Iconic moments like her first mention about her “fan caught in the door” (with Wilder wickedly filming her from behind to emphasize another kind of “fan”) and the subway blast whooshing her skirt above her knees are part of cinema lore and never to be forgotten.
Some Like It Hot – 5/5
When two Chicago musicians accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago in 1929, their only chance at staying alive is to get out of town. Convinced they’ll be recognized trying to escape from the city, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) don female attire and get themselves hired as Josephine and Daphne in an all girls’ band booked for a gig in Miami. Foremost among the band members is Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the band’s singer and ukulele player who’s constantly having her heart broken by insincere men. Joe flips for Sugar, and Jerry, who’s also knocked out by her looks, has to fend off the advances of the wealthy Osgood Fielding (Joe E. Brown) who sends Daphne flowers and diamonds. But as the boys wrestle with their romantic dilemmas, mobsters from all over the country are planning a convention, and Miami is the site of their meeting.
Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s cross-dressing farce is among the greatest comedies ever made and one which never grows stale thanks to the pitch perfect playing of its trio of stars. While it had the bad luck to be released during the same year that Ben-Hur and The Diary of Anne Frank carried off the majority of the color and black and white awards for films of 1959, it did manage to win Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), and Best Actress at the Golden Globes, and Wilder and Diamond won the Writers’ Guild Award as Best Comedy for their peerless script. Lemmon’s slow transformation from hating the drag to loving what it can bring him (“Security!”) is one of the movie’s great comic performances, and however torturous it was to elicit a performance from Marilyn during a very difficult time in her life, the result is comic gold. Though not a musical, the movie also offers her three chances to bring down the house with her musical abilities, and her renditions of the alluring “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” the broken hearted “I’m Through with Love,” and the zesty “Running Wild” are iconic moments for her. Rightly voted by the AFI as the greatest comedy ever made, Some Like It Hot has no equal.
The Misfits – 3.5/5
After her quickie Reno divorce, Roslyn Tabor (Marilyn Monroe) makes the acquaintance of three different and damaged men: Gay Langland (Clark Gable) who’s terrified of losing his independence to the ever-expanding world of commerce, Guido (Eli Wallach) who’s still mourning the death of his wife in childbirth, and Perce (Montgomery Clift), a worn out rodeo cowboy with mommy issues, all of whom find themselves irristibly drawn to her. Roslyn’s sensitive, caring nature can’t bear to think of any harm coming to innocent creatures (one reason why she befriends each of these broken men), and she becomes disillusioned with all three when they head out to rustle up a herd of wild mustangs in the desert.
Playwright Arthur Miller’s (Marilyn’s husband at the time) love letter to his wife, The Misfits is a tortured psychological drama that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Directed with care and tenacity by John Huston, the character of Roslyn is too simplistically innocent to make much sense in the modern world, and the personalities of each of the men are so fascinating that even the two hour-plus film can’t really do them justice. But the mustang roundup is beautifully and hauntingly shot, and Huston uses both aerial photography and lots of tracking shots to maximize the tension of the sequence. The performances are all simply wonderful (Thelma Ritter as a crony of Marilyn’s is memorable in the early stages of the movie but fades away in later reels), and as the last full performances of both Monroe and Gable, the film shows both stars to good advantage even if the script is flawed.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – 4.5/5
The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio and is offered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Color is deeply saturated and is often just this side of blooming without ever quite crossing the line (the red costumes and fingernails in the opening number are eye-searing), but your display will be working overtime to support all those various shades of crimson and pink that swirl around in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Contrast is turned up a few notches from previous DVD releases of this movie also causing some color saturation variations occasionally. But sharpness is admirable, and black levels are superb. The film has been divided into 30 chapters.
How to Marry a Millionaire – 4/5
While the 2.55:1 aspect ratio of the original film is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec, the movie’s sharpness and clarity seem a little flat at the beginning but quickly pick up and win the day. Color is not as riotous as in Blondes, and skin tones are sometimes a bit on the inconsistent side. A white winter sky blooms a bit in the distance fairly early in the movie, but otherwise color is well managed and under control. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
River of No Return – 4/5
The 2.55:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film has always been problematic on home video with softness, variable grain, and wan color, so this is perhaps the most startling upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray in the set. Color is much lusher and more deeply saturated now, and contrast is truer and the picture notably sharper than before. The rear projection screens have never seemed more obvious than they do here, and there is a bit of false contouring on them in one particular shot. Flesh tones all look quite good. Black levels are only average. The movie has been divided into 32 chapters.
There’s No Business Like Show Business – 4/5
The 2.55:1 theatrical aspect ratio transfer (1080p resolution, AVC codec) appears to be a trifle dark compared to previous releases. The Deluxe color is very rich and always under control, and flesh tones are consistent throughout the presentation. Black levels are solid, but the darker image means there’s occasional crushing in the shadows. Sharpness is very good. The movie has been divided into 28 chapters.
The Seven Year Itch – 4/5
Once again, the film’s original 2.55:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is mostly very good, and color is true if occasionally drab, flesh tones are for the most part realistic, and saturation levels are more than adequate. Segues into and out of Sherman’s fantasies are sometimes softer and less consistent with what comes before and after, but otherwise the transfer seems solid if a bit lackluster. The movie has been divided into 22 chapters.
Some Like It Hot – 4.5/5
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Yes, this is the identical disc to the previous Blu-ray release, and it’s a beautiful transfer of a striking looking black and white film. Sharpness is excellent, and the grayscale is astutely handled. If the blacks are a shade or two less than their deepest and the contrast might have been upped just a smidgen more, what’s here is still strikingly handsome and fully worthy of the film. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Misfits – 3.5/5
While much of the 1.66:1 (1080p, AVC codec) transfer is striking in its grayscale accuracy (perfect contrast in most scenes, crisp whites and excellent black levels), the slightly diffused photography for Marilyn’s close-ups is noticeably inconsistent with the rest of the very sharp and detailed photography which surrounds it, and the constant switching in scenes back and forth between sharp and soft becomes distracting on a home monitor. A couple of shots in low light also finds the density of the photography suffering from increased graininess, but that’s a minor problem. The movie has been divided into 16 chapters.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a reasonably admirable remix of the stereo elements in Fox’s possession (there is a Dolby Digital 1.0 track also available). There isn’t much low end to the music, but sound engineers have spread the music through the soundstage and added an occasional ambient sound to the rears, too (ocean waves, courtroom hubbub). Dialogue is always easy to hear and understand and has been placed in the center channel.
How to Marry a Millionaire – 4/5
The DTS-Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a reimagining of the original 4.0 soundtrack (which is also offered in Dolby Digital 4.0 on the disc), and there is nice depth and immersive spread to the symphonic “Street Scene” orchestral piece conducted by its composer Alfred Newman which opens the movie before the main title music. Elsewhere there isn’t much use of ambient sound in the available surround channels, but directionalized dialogue is used to great effect throughout.
River of No Return – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 redo from the original 4.0 sound mix (a Dolby Digital 4.0 option on the disc includes the original sound design) sounds quite good for its age (deep bass can still be lacking somewhat). Sounds of the rushing waters have been sent to the rear channels when appropriate though music is usually the component which receives the most surround attention. Dialogue is always easily discernible even with the multiple instances of directionalized dialogue found in this mix.
There’s No Business Like Show Business – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is taken from the original 4.0 sound materials (a Dolby Digital 4.0 track is also present), and the soundtrack’s most impressive surround presence comes from the music which at its best fills the soundstage with impressive results. The chorus in the open credit sequence is more present and grander sounding than in any prior release, and the expansive Fox orchestra sounds simply wonderful throughout the movie. Though there is some occasional directionalized dialogue, most of the nicely recorded dialogue is front and center. Very little if any ambient sound finds its way from the front soundstage to the rear.
The Seven Year Itch – 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is once again fashioned from the original sound stems (there is a Dolby Digital 3.0 soundtrack available). The most prominent and richest use of the entire soundfield comes in Rachmaninoff’s “2nd Piano Concerto” which forms the basis of a couple of Sherman’s fantasies. Alfred Newman’s treatment is impressively vital on the track (one wishes we could hear more of it), but it’s the only serious surround activity. Most of the rest of the film is focused on the front soundstage only. Dialogue, a major component of this movie, has been well recorded and resides in the center channel.
Some Like It Hot – 4/5
The only English soundtrack is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 redo of the original sound stems. Dialogue in the center channel sounds excellent, and the music, while a bit pinched on the high end, sounds very good, especially Marilyn’s three vocals. The only surround activity is the music which rather timidly spreads itself into the fronts and a bit in the rears, but it’s primarily a mono audio experience with some slight surround extension.
The Misfits – 3.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track accurately conveys the limited fidelity (weak bass, nothing much on the upper end) of the original recording. There isn’t much expanse to Alex North’s haunting score, but the dialogue has been well recorded and comes through with precision.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – 1.5/5
A Movietone newsreel captures Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell planting their hand and footprints in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. This runs ¾ of a minute in 480i.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes in 480i.
There are also 480i trailers for How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, River of No Return, and There’s No Business Like Show Business. These same trailers can be found on the other Fox-produced film discs in this set.
How to Marry a Millionaire – 1.5/5
A Movietone newsreel celebrates the premiere of How to Marry a Millionaire as the first romantic comedy in Cinemascope in Hollywood with stars from the movie and other industry names attending. This runs 1 ¼ minutes in 480i.
There are three trailers for the film: the American one (2 ½ minutes) and German and Italian variations, all in 480i.
River of No Return – 1/5
The theatrical trailer runs 3 minutes in 480i.
There’s No Business Like Show Business – 1/5
There are three trailers available for the movie: two English language ones and a Portuguese trailer which together run 9 ½ minutes. They’re all in 480i.
The Seven Year Itch – 4.5/5
The audio commentary is provided by Billy Wilder biographer Kevin Lally who does a fine job providing insight and anecdotes during the film’s first half. His information and commentary becomes spottier the longer the film plays and he runs out of things to say, but it’s a nice bonus to have on the disc.
The film’s music score is offered on an isolated DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track.
A PiP innuendo meter for The Hays Code can be selected to show when suggestive visual or auditory cues violate some facet of the legendary Production Code precepts.
There is an interactive Marilyn Monroe timeline which the viewer can step through pulling up significant movies from her filmography which are explained by either text pages or 63 minutes of commentary and film clips by Monroe expert Lois Banner.
“Monroe and Wilder” is a 26-minute discussion of the star and director’s two professional interactions on The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot (with a concentration on the former). Among the talking heads offering commentary are Glenn Hopp, Kevin Lally, Hugh Hefner, and Lois Banner.
A Fox Legacy introduction and follow-up to The Seven Year Itch is presented by host Tom Rothman in 480i and runs for a total of 17 ¼ minutes.
There are two deleted scenes (both of which are also covered in other documentaries on the disc) which can be viewed separately or together in one 3 ½-minute group.
The wonderful AMC Backstory: The Seven Year Itch offers a succinct 24 ½-minute summary of much of the information contained in the commentary and featurettes elsewhere on the disc. It’s in 480i.
A Movietone newsreel on the film’s premiere runs ½ minute.
Three trailers (two American, one Spanish) are presented either separately or together in one 2 ½-minute bunch.
A montage of poster and promotional art runs 1 minute. A montage of behind-the-scenes photos runs 2 ¾ minutes.
Some Like It Hot – 4/5
The audio commentary is by I.A.L. Diamond’s son Paul along with screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel with occasional inserted comments from vintage interviews with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. The trio have great admiration for the movie but do a bit too much psychological analysis as to characters’ motivations instead of providing listeners with learned commentary on the film and its makers. The comments by Curtis and Lemmon can be heard elsewhere on the disc, so this feature is really not an especially worthy supplement to the film.
Apart from the trailer, the featurettes are in 480i.
“The Making of Some Like It Hot” is a 25 ¾-minute look at the film’s production featuring vintage interviews with Wilder, Diamond, Curtis, and Lemmon along with producer Walter Mirisch, Diamond’s widow, and others. The stories by now are well known but always worth hearing.
“The Legacy of Some Like It Hot” is a 20 ¼-minute follow-up to the previous featurette featuring interviews with Hugh Hefner and Curtis Hanson (among others) as to the film’s lasting impact on the careers of its makers and the film world. There are errors which slip through (saying the film won no Oscars; it was honored for the Orry-Kelly costumes for the three stars), and again there is little here that hasn’t been said before.
Tony Curtis and Leonard Maltin take a look back at the making of the movie in a 31 ¼-minute conversation. Maltin tries to approach telling the story of the film’s making systematically, but Curtis continually thwarts him by jumping ahead to anecdotes as they occur to him.
“Memories of the Sweet Sues” introduces us to four of the actresses who played band members in the movie. One of them, Sandra Warner, served as the body double for Marilyn in all of the publicity shots for the movie (with Monroe’s head attached to her body). The photographs of Warner in Monroe’s wardrobe are the most interesting part of this 12-minute reminiscence.
A Virtual Hall of Memories offers up montages of Monroe, Curtis, Lemmon, Wilder, and behind-the-scenes shots in a 21-minute piece.
The theatrical trailer in 1080p runs 2 ¼ minutes.
The Misfits – 1/5
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 3 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Marilyn Monroe was and is one of the legendary stars of American movies. Her home studio Fox has not given her the kind of memorable Blu-ray tribute an iconic personality of their history deserves with nondescript, desaturated box art (if ever a star cried out for dazzling color box art, it’s Marilyn Monroe) holding two paper cases into which seven movies have been crammed and many discs which are strangely devoid of interesting and illuminating bonus features. The movies themselves mostly look wonderful and are very welcome indeed, but a star of this magnitude deserves a more fitting tribute from the studio for whom she earned millions of dollars.