By Mark Harris
June 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

No great movie star made fewer great movies than Marilyn Monroe. Revisit her films and you’ll discover sparkling moments, sublime scenes, unforgettable gestures, but barely a masterpiece among them. So, while the five movies Fox has collected to celebrate Monroe’s 75th birthday may seem random and uneven, they’re actually reasonably representative. All were released between 1953 and 1956, and to view them chronologically is to witness Monroe’s lightning-fast ascent from starlet to icon. You’ll see the guileless mantraps she played in the sorta funny, deeply retro How to Marry a Millionaire and Howard Hawks’ still-dazzling Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; the ambitious starlet in the Irving Berlin musical There’s No Business Like Show Business (a flat-out dud — the thriller Niagara, or even her short, hilarious turn in All About Eve would both have been better choices); the white-skirted girl next door in the creaky sex comedy The Seven Year Itch; and, finally, the small-town dreamer of Bus Stop, a badly dated, howlingly overacted William Inge adaptation that nonetheless showcases some of her subtlest work. (Most of these movies were shot in CinemaScope, a perfect technology for a nation that wanted to see Monroe as horizontal as possible as often as possible.) Don’t look for commentary tracks or extensive extras here: The package’s biggest bonus is the two-hour documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days (also airing on AMC June 1), a compellingly detailed account of her never-completed work on Something’s Got to Give that includes the first-ever edited presentation of her scenes.

Still searching for that masterpiece? There’s only one. A distracted and troubled Monroe may have barely been able to remember her lines in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, but her lighter-than-air work remains a divine enhancement to one of the funniest movies ever. MGM’s not-so-special edition includes little more than a 30-minute interview with Tony Curtis, but, as the saying goes, nobody’s perfect! Both releases Grade: B+