The undercover comedian
On the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death, a new Blu-ray set proves the vamp was also a top-notch comic actress
How do you separate the woman from the myth? In the case of the 20th century’s most iconic blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe, you have to ignore everything you know about her complicated life and tragic death at age 36 — 50 years ago this month — and dive into her films. Thanks to the new Blu-ray set Forever Marilyn (1953-61, Not Rated), you’ll discover not just a celluloid siren but also a brilliant comedian. The seven films in this collection aren’t all classics, but let’s focus on the four best, starting with 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Monroe and Jane Russell play gold-digging showgirls who head to Paris on a ship loaded with men. The film is best known for Monroe’s purring rendition of ”Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (later aped in Madonna’s ”Material Girl” video), but she really shows her crack comic timing in the scene where she gets stuck wiggling her va-va-voom figure through a porthole. Later that year Monroe played another dizzy fortune hunter (along with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable) in How to Marry a Millionaire. Only this time it isn’t her curves that trip her up; it’s her bad eyesight, as she ditches her glasses to better woo drooling suitors. Bumping into walls, she’s as adorable as a baby deer learning to walk. The Seven Year Itch (1955) is a racy, if slightly broad, farce about a family man (Tom Ewell) who’s hot for his knockout neighbor (Monroe at her most guileless and naive). If you’ve never watched the famous moment when Marilyn’s white dress is blown up while she stands on a subway grating, you won’t be disappointed. Finally there’s 1959’s Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s screwball gem about a pair of cross-dressing jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) on the run from the Mob. Monroe is perfection as the doomed romantic Sugar Kane. And while it’s the boys who supply the laughs, it’s the gal who gives the movie its heart.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: B+
How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch: B
Some Like It Hot: A