Although it's been 50 years since Marilyn Monroe's untimely and mysteriously-rumored passing on August, 5th, 1962, her iconic image has not faded. In fact, arguably, one could illicit a spirited colloquy about whether Monroe (real name: Norma Jean Baker), as an iconic image of popular American culture, is more recognizable today than 50 years ago when she was at the peak of her sexually-supercharged persona. "Men wanted her, and women wanted to be her"--or so someone once said a long ago about Marilyn Monroe.
Whereas, back in the early/late 1950s Monroe was huge box office in Hollywood, although she was never truly taken serious as an actress--something that pained her until her end. Yet as if in the heat of a sinister fate, Monroe, in the end, gave the world her greatest and most serious dramatic performance--in John Huston's incredible The Misfits (1961) in her final completed film. Today, Monroe, is still in our line of sight. Where in the past she was the definition of the Hollywood mythos, and a actress that was titillating to many, today, like her long-gone contemporaries of the time, James Dean, and Elvis Presley--she, like them, has become a commodity. A product. A piece of commerce, that has given her infamy in the guises of her image appearing on t-shirts, coffee cups, Halloween costumes, dolls, poster art, and an image in advertising campaigns. Perhaps, Monroe, was never meant to live long in the first place? Maybe, she was supposed to fade away when she did? Stars can't burn bright the entire time they fly across the sky, and the filament in a light bulb explodes after so much use. Regardless, of whether you've seen any of these Monroe films, at the very least, you know who she is/was, what her face looks like, and that she's an important icon of the 20th Century.
Here are our Top 5 Favorite Marilyn Monroe Movies (In no particular order):
Bus Stop (1956)
Directed by Josh Logan and featuring Monroe, Bus Stop was based on a play by William Inge of the same name. Produced and released by 20th Century Fox, whom Monroe was under contract with during her acting career, Bus Stop, while a successful stage play in it because of how the studio felt about her in that time Monroe's character, that she plays in the film, "Cherie", was a singer that had little talent but huge ambition. Perhaps, the studio heads at Fox saw Monroe in this same way as an actress? A cowboy (Don Murray) comes to town for a rodeo and falls in love with Cherie after seeing her perform "That Old Black Magic" at the Blue Dragon Cafe. Cherie falls for the cowboy as well, but not wanting to give up her pursuit of a career she refuses him opportunity as she's not interested in being a wife stuck on a ranch. Bus Stop gave Monroe a path on which to travel toward more serious dramatic work as an actress, although, she would be lumped into the dizzy blond roles that most would remember her for like in Billy Wilder's 1959 screwball musical Some Like It Hot in the aftermath.
The Misfits (1961)
Written by Monroe's husband at the time, Arthur Miller, and directed by the great John Huston--The Misfits is a masterpiece. With a cast that was primarily made up of the New York Actors Studio elite, and the great Clark Gable, The Misfits centers around a newly-divorced Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) and her budding friendship with two local cowboys, Gay (Clark Gable) and Perce (Montgomery Clift). Eli Wallach is also a major player in The Misfits as "Guido"--an Italian immigrant who helps the two cowboys wrangle up wild horses out in the desert for dollars. While not a box office success, the film received high praise from the critics of the era, and spurned interest in Monroe as a serious actress of the future.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Written and Directed by Billy Wilder, Some Like it Hot is the story of two down-on-their-luck musicians who dress up like women to get gigs at a ritzy hotel in an all women's band. Shot in black and white, in order to distort the grotesqueness of actors Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag, Monroe plays "Sugar," a dizzy blonde ukulele musician along for the ride. Curtis's character, Joe/Josephine, smitten with Monroe, doubles up becoming her best girlfriend while at the same time pretending to be "Shell Oil Junior," a thick-glasses wearing millionaire who seduces Sugar. What follows are funny moments between the three and George Raft, who plays a mobster on the lookout for the two musicians. Some Like it Hot is an American Classic, and Monroe is, of course, very memorable in the film as the big-busted Sugar.
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Seven Year Itch is perhaps, the film that broke Marilyn Monroe out of bit-player work and into true leading lady status, where now she had the weight of the film on her shoulders, and wasn't part of a ensemble like in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for example. Based on a hit play, and directed by Billy Wilder, the film, if not, that great of a film as far as films go, is memorably mostly for the now iconic moment where Monroe walks across a subway grate on a New York City street, and the wind from the train below blows her famous white dress up revealing her underwear. Monroe is pegged as a dizzy blonde again here, in the role, but with a curiosity. And while the film afforded her a forever sexual symbol status in Hollywood mythology, it did little, if nothing at all, at moving her into serious dramatic work--which was what she wanted from the start of her acting life.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Adapted from a stage musical for 20th Century Fox, and directed by the great Howard Hawks, the film stars Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. At times, overshadowed in the film by Russell, Monroe's "Lorelei Lee" is most remembered today, not as a memorable film character, but as a symbol of beauty and sex. Monroe sings "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" in the film, and some thirty years later, Madonna would pay tribute to the scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with her music video for "Material Girl,"a staple in rotation at MTV in the early 1980s.