We gave it a B-
Your typical new movie on the USA Network is a potboiler thriller with faded but familiar stars and a smidgen of sex. That formula may sound trite, but it hasn’t prevented USA’s slate of original and theatrical films from becoming the most-watched prime-time fare on basic cable. This is bad news for the Kennedy family because the network’s latest effort, Marilyn & Bobby: Her Final Affair, is likely to be seen by a lot of people who will accept much of the film as fact. Marilyn & Bobby doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of the late Robert F. Kennedy.
Marilyn & Bobby stars Melody Anderson (All My Children) as Monroe and James F. Kelly as Kennedy. (Kelly is practically an RFK impersonator; he has played Bobby in no less than four other TV movies, including 1981’s Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and 1987’s LBJ: The Early Years.) While the movie’s opening credits carry the careful label ”a fictional account inspired by the public lives of Marilyn Monroe and Robert F. Kennedy,” enough has been written about the pair’s alleged affair that the liaison has taken on an air of popular truth. Indeed, Marilyn & Bobby barrels along presuming you believe that Monroe had a romance with President John F. Kennedy as well. ”Is it really over between you and Jack?” a friend asks Anderson’s Monroe early on here. ”Jack is a big kid in a candy store,” she replies. ”Bobby is more serious — I like that.”
How serious is Bobby? Well, whenever the aggressive attorney general isn’t being shown trying to nail union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Thomas Wagner) for corruption, he’s wooing Monroe with peculiar come-ons like, ”How, as an actor, can you get in someone’s mind? I mean, how can I get inside your mind?” The script, by Gerard Macdonald, practically breaks your ribs as it nudges you to realize that it ain’t Marilyn’s mind that Bobby wants to get into.
In this sense, Marilyn & Bobby is just another smutty little TV movie, the sort of thing that makes Sen. Paul Simon grow faint with shock and reach for his labeling gun. (How about: ”The following movie contains scenes of base-less naughtiness”?) But Marilyn & Bobby is smut with politics on its mind. The movie’s subtitle tilts its balance of interest toward Monroe — it’s her ”final affair,” and the film ends with her death in 1962, not his assassination six years later. Anderson plays the actress sympathetically, as a fragile ditz, though the definitive TV-movie Monroe re-mains Catherine Hicks’ subtle interpretation in ABC’s Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980).
Kennedy, however, is Marilyn & Bobby‘s real obsession. At hearings investigating organized crime, Kelly’s Bobby hammers away at mobster Sam Giancana (Raymond Serra) and he comes off like a junior Joe McCarthy, asking Hoffa whether he’s a Communist. This Bobby plays rough, but so do foes like FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who is shown using his agents to dig up dirt on Kennedy. (Hoover is played by L.A. Law‘s Richard Dysart, and in one scene, he is shown in bed with a man; Senator Simon, avert your eyes!)
The movie does a good job of suggesting that, to many people, politics is better than sex. After a night of wantonness, Bobby gets a phone call from an aide. Marilyn, pulling at the bedsheets, tries to lure Bobby back into bed, but he says he can’t: ”Seems we have a situation — Cuba needs immediate attention.” When Bobby tells Marilyn, ”If Jack and I have our way, there’ll be no Communists in Cuba,” he looks more turned-on than he ever did smooching Monroe.
In a way, Marilyn & Bobby is pushing the same message that came across in last season’s solid but dull PBS series The Kennedys — that this clan was a lot less idealistic and more ruthlessly reactionary than its pop myth. And Marilyn & Bobby — trashy but energetically entertaining — is probably going to be watched by a much bigger audience. B-