Friday, June 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, MM!

Werth: Happy... Birthday... to youuuuuuuuu. Happy... Birthday—

Wise: Normally I wouldn't interrupt your introduction, but your breathy birthday song in a skintight spangled gown is making me feel funny... and not where the bathing suit goes. 

Werth: I just couldn't think of a better way to wish Marilyn Monroe a happy 86th birthday than with her very own iconic 1962 birthday song to President Kennedy.

Wise: Perhaps a greeting card from Maxine would have sufficed.

Werth: I just get so excited about Marilyn. She was my entrée into the wonderful world of classic films and I'll always have a soft spot in my lil' ol' gay heart for her.

Wise: Right next to the soft spots reserved for Joan Crawford and dancing at the Pyramid. 

Werth: I'll start off this double-barrel birthday salute to Marilyn with one of her comedies, Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch (1955). When goofy, dime-store novel editor Richard Sherman's (Tom Ewell) wife and son head to the country to escape the brutal NYC summer heat, Sherman and his fertile imagination are left to run wild. Before long he is opening his soda with the kitchen cabinet handle, smoking cigarettes and fantasizing in Cinemascope about all the women who just can't resist his animal magnetism.

Wise: Sounds like an evening at your house.

Werth: But when a new tenant (Monroe) buzzes his buzzer and gets her fan caught in the door, Sherman is flummoxed by a real-life fantasy that could make his summer even hotter.

Wise: Because nothing is hotter than the fish smell on Canal Street in July. 

Werth: Marilyn is at the peak of her comedic talents here, crafting her dumb blonde character to be more than just a bubble-headed male sex fantasy. She may not know who Rachmaninoff is but she knows it's classical music, "because there's no vocal." 
She brilliantly satirizes the commercial spokesmodel by explaining how she does her Dazzledent toothpaste ad noting, "...every time I show my teeth on television, I'm appearing before more people 
than Sarah Bernhardt appeared before in her whole career. It's something to think about." Monroe even gets to enter Sherman's fantasies as a tricked-out Natahsa Fatale-esque temptress. Her monologue at the end of the film about what makes a man exciting flies in the face of her dumb blonde personaand legend has it, it was done in one take. 
Movie lore abounds about this film with my favorite story being the one about Marilyn's descent down the stairs in a nightie. Wilder ordered her to take her bra off, as it would be ridiculous for a girl to wear a bra under her nightie. Monroe insisted she wasn't wearing a bra, but Wilder refused to believe anyone's breasts could look that good without one. So Monroe grabbed Wilder's hand, put it under her nightie, and settled that argument.

Wise: She should have negotiated for the UN. 

Werth: Marilyn exudes simple, sexual joy in Seven Year Itch, with the famous subway vent scene vaulting her already successful career into the Classic Hollywood stratosphere. It is an iconic scene that exemplifies the sort of sexy wit that makes Seven Year Itch a memorable comedy of the 1950's, and Marilyn the most memorable blonde of the 20th Century.

Wise:  She wasn't quite so blonde—but no less memorable—in Monkey Business (1952), a Howard Hawks screwball comedy about scientist Dr. Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) searching for an elixir of youth and the hijinks that result when Barnaby and his wife (Ginger Rogers) keep getting doped up on the formula after one of the lab chimps dumps it into the water cooler.  

Werth: My chimps pour vodka into the water cooler where I work.  

Wise: Grant and Rogers are obviously having a lot of fun acting like teenagers while under the influence of the cocktail, but it's when they're playing adults that the sparks really fly. Grant does a variation on his befuddled-but-charming scientist routine—something he'd perfected in Bringing Up Baby—; 
Rogers, however, is fuller and more womanly than when she was dancing with Fred Astaire.  She'd always played a gal who could handle herself, but in this movie she acts as though she could handle her partner, too.  

Werth: And a couple monkeys.

Wise: Hawks' pacing seems a bit off.  While there are many delightful moments, the film never fully takes flight.  Perhaps it's because the premise doesn't feel grounded in reality; or perhaps the anxieties of living in the atomic age make the possibility of eternal youth feel terrifyingly close at hand.  

Werth: Don't forget to mention the Birthday Girl.

Wise: Whatever its faults, the film gives a captivating glance at an embryonic stage of the Monroe legend.  Playing Miss Laurel, the knockout secretary to the head of the chemical company where Grant works, she naturally becomes the object of Grant's attention when he succumbs to the formula.  
They go for a joyride in a hot rod, take in the afternoon at the pool, and spin around the roller rink—basically all her role required was a sexy jiggle—but Monroe invests her dumb blonde with a lot of smarts.  Even in scenes where she's not the focus of the action, it's impossible not to watch her every move.  

Werth: And pilfering attention from a charismatic screen legend like Grant is no piece of cake.  

Wise: Speaking of cake, how about we indulge in a piece to celebrate Marilyn's birthday?  

Werth: I'm afraid that might make this dress explode.  

Wise: That's fine as long as we can reassemble all the pieces in time for next week's Film Gab.  


No comments: