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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Backstage Musical > Romance > Drama > Western > Sex > Camp > Forever Marilyn Blu-ray Collection (Fox w/Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How To Marry A Millionaire, River Of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Seven Year Itch, (plus MGM/UA) Some Like It

Forever Marilyn Blu-ray Collection (Fox w/Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How To Marry A Millionaire, River Of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Seven Year Itch, (plus MGM/UA) Some Like It Hot, The Misfits


Picture: B (Hot and Misfits: B-)    Sound: B- (Hot: C+, Misfits: C)     Extras: B- (Misfits: C-)     Films: B- (River: C+)



Marilyn Monroe still manages to remain one of the biggest cultural, sexual and cinematic icons of all time, only aided by endless imitators (Madonna especially) and mysteries surrounding her life and death.  However, many have not seen her films and that includes some of her best work.  She actually was much more than just a pretty face and that is a real shame.  Fortunately, Fox restored her films photochemically many years ago for preservation purposes and had then soon issued all of them on DVD.  Now, the new Forever Marilyn Blu-ray set offers five of her classics in further upgrades that totally annihilate their DVD counterparts and they have thrown in two of her last films thanks to handling MGM Home Entertainment distribution.


The resulting seven-film set is one of the year’s strongest offerings and are all really good films that hold up very well.



Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was the second time Monroe worked with the legendary director (following the mixed Monkey Business) with better results as she teams with Jane Russell in a backstage musical where they are sexy showgals looking for a good man, but even their feminine wiles will take a backseat to the unexpected.  This is a really funny film with some campy moments, some great songs, solid comic performances from all (it also stars Charles Colburn and Tommy Noonan) and Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend (originally performed on stage by Carol Channing) was legendary before Madonna ever sent it up (on a budget) with her Material Girl video.  Following Niagara, this film put Monroe over the top as a major movie star and it is almost 60 years old, yet seems otherworldly and not merely a musical set in the past.



Fox then decided to put her in their second-ever CinemaScope film, Jean Negulesco’s much beloved How To Marry A Millionaire (also 1953) having her in a triad with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall as three gold diggers who want a good-enough man and the good life, though Pola (Monroe) is a sexy model who also happens to be near-sighted.  This has some still-really big laughs and the trio has some fine chemistry together in a high-class sophisticated comedy that was not available outside of film prints for years in a widescreen format of any kind.  Now, you can see how great a production this really is.  Rory Calhoun, David Wayne, Cameron Mitchell and William Powell deliver great supporting work and this is one of Monroe’s best films.



Having done so much comedy, Fox next paired Monroe up with Otto Preminger and male lead Robert Mitchum in River Of No Return (1954), another big CinemaScope production that is enough of a Western to qualify for the genre and had lounge singer Monroe meeting landowner Mitchum when their raft falls apart.  However, that is just the beginning as she deals with her goofy gambler boyfriend (Rory Calhoun again) and they all have “Indians” out to eventually kill them.  The film has very dated stereotypes and some obvious visual effects, but it is a unique Monroe entry and the pairing of her with Mitchum is still classic enough to get a good look at the film.  It is my least favorite here, but I found new things to enjoy about it in this upgraded Blu-ray transfer.



Monroe was back to solid backstage musical ground with Walter Lang’s big budget spectacular There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954) built on music by the legendary Irving Berlin.  This time she shares the screen with no less than Monroe involved with the singing/dancing/acting Donahue family (played by Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray and Mitzi Gaynor) in a film that tends to deconstruct the Film Musical somewhat like the 1954 Cukor A Star Is born with Judy Garland and Stanley Donen’s Singing In The Rain (1953) in the way it shows what it is playing straight.


It is not as dark a film, though it has a few dark moments for the sake of melodrama, but it is also a salute to show business and that business’ past as new entertainment media (film and the then-new TV medium) were arriving, so it goes out of its way to celebrate many aspects of the traditional while still showing it in a knowing way as something from the past that might not always be that of the future.


The result is a film with some corny moments, but some great dance and song moments by some of the greatest such talents in the industry’s history and it meshes very well thanks in part to Lang’s directing.  This is yet another film that further benefits form the upgrade to Blu-ray.



Fox followed that hit up with another great comedy by Billy Wilder, The Seven Year Itch (1955) which Wilder made from his own hit stage play.  Tom Ewell played Richard Sherman on stage and does in this film which includes Monroe’s classic wind-up-her-skirt moment and is the most challenging of her comedy works.  Sherman has sent his son and wife off on vacation, but a sexy woman (Monroe) lives up stairs, causing him to have a major interest in her and revived interest in seeing any other woman besides his wife.

The film is then a series of incidents of her interrupting him and him spying on her, which also leads to outdoor antics, but it has been argued that maybe he is imagining her to some extent.  Is she really there at all?  Is she there, but he is imagining most of the encounters to satisfy his own needs and dreams unfulfilled?  There is much sexual innuendo defying the last years of the Hays Code and Monroe is very effective as the mystery woman and neighbor so many men wish would move into their building.  It is also one of Wilder’s best comedies, even rivaling Some Like It Hot (1959) also included in this set.


Sonny Tuffs, Evelyn Keyes, Oskar Homolka and Carolyn Jones are among the fine supporting cast.



We have previously reviewed the last two films, the only black and white entries and the only titles from MGM, as singles.  Here is that text repeated:


Some Like It Hot is a funny film, though I never thought it was the laugh riot some people did, it is a classic because of its daring dealings with sexual identity and beyond the comedy we see the clashings of various worlds (the arts versus criminals, rich versus poor, male versus female, serious versus funny, progressive versus dead-end, young versus old, happy versus miserable) that find interplay in ways only Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond could.  Monroe gives one of the best performances of her career, Tony Curtis gets one of his most challenging and Jack Lemmon shows what a comic genius he could be.  George Raft, Pat O’Brien and Joe E, Brown also star.  Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer, Virtual Hall Of Memories, Nostalgic Look Back documentary, two featurettes (The Legacy Of Some Like It Hot, Memories From The Sweet Sues) and feature length audio commentary track including a Curtis interview, archival Lemmon interview, Paul Diamond (I.A.L. Diamonds’ son), Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.


The Misfits (1961) was the last film of Clark Gable and Monroe, both of whom were not in their best of health and are joined by Montgomery Cliff, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter in this Arthur Miller (who was married to Monroe at the time) in this contemporary Western about the lives of a group of friends (or something like that) whom all think in the short term and are not as happy as they could be.  It has a narrative, but also wants to be profound, so Miller and Huston are trying to be writerly and readerly at the same time, resulting in a film that can be interesting, but also uneven at times.  After Monroe and Gable were gone, it became a surreal curio as a result, sometimes losing its content for viewers, but it is interesting in the way Hud, Last Picture Show and Brokeback Mountain are, all visiting the West (or the South) now and seeing the tail end of was is promise lost.  A trailer is the only extra.”



The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Gentlemen is a major upgrade from the DVD version with Fox further restoring the original photochemical upgrade.  Though there is some minor noise issues (you can see this on larger screens), the color along with depth and some detail is a giant improvement over the DVD upgraded.  You can see how fine the dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor was really intended to be.

The 1080p 2.55 X 1 (the original wider CinemaScope frame) digital High Definition image transfers on Marry, Return, Business and Itch also roundly surpass their older DVD counterparts with far superior color, plus new detail and depth points you could never imagine seeing on DVD but would see on the best prints of these films.  Fox has gone back to the photochemical restorations and come up with solid HD presentations that will challenge the best HDTVs and HD projectors around with their superior color range and rich color.  Return is a mix of vibrant and dull colors, so it only benefits so much, but it was a dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor release like Gentlemen and Marry, which are demo quality.  By Business and Itch, Fox started their DeLuxe color labs and to be honest, the color is very impressive throughout both of those Blu-rays.


As noted before, “the AVC @ 38 MBPS black and white 1.66 X 1 on Misfits and AVC @ 32 MBPS black and white 1.66 X 1 on Hot are in the same boat, with older HD masters that look good and better than DVD versions, but not as good as 35mm would.”


All the Fox films have been upgraded to DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, even though Gentlemen was originally an optical monophonic release and the four CinemaScope films originally offered 4-track magnetic stereo sound.  You can tell Gentlemen was monophonic, but Fox has upgraded it as well as can be expected.  The rest of the films have been further cleaned up and refined, resulting in sound performance that is far ahead of the lossy Dolby Digital DVD mixes (included here) with traveling dialogue and sound effects where possible.  Otherwise, you’ll find sound more in the center channel than you might expect, but all have the best possible soundfields we can expect from films this age, especially where the sound comes from four speakers originally all behind the screen.  Hot and Misfits were originally optical mono theatrical releases, so their soundtracks upgrades are not as strong.



Extras on Gentlemen, Marry, Return, Business and Itch include terrific isolated music scores in lossless DTS-MA that are a pleasant surprise and trailers for this and other Fox Monroe films in this set.  Gentlemen adds a Movietone Newsreel on the film, Marry also adds a Movietone Newsreel on the film, Return and Business have nothing else to add, and Itch adds Still Galleries, a publicity section with a Fox Movietone Newsreel connected to the film, Deleted Scenes, Fox Legacy piece on the film from the Fox Movie Channel, Hays Code Meter you can use watching the film to see what Wilder and company did to challenge censorship, Monroe Interactive Timeline, new Monroe & Wilder: An Intersection Of Genius featurette and feature length audio commentary track with author and film scholar Kevin Tally.


As noted before, extras on Hot “include an Original Theatrical Trailer, Virtual Hall Of Memories, Nostalgic Look Back documentary, two featurettes (The Legacy Of Some Like It Hot, Memories From The Sweet Sues) and feature length audio commentary track including a Curtis interview, archival Lemmon interview, Paul Diamond (I.A.L. Diamonds’ son), Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.”  Misfits only has a trailer.



Forever Marilyn is a strong Blu-ray collection in a suitable paperboard double case that does not scratch the discs and holds them nicely.  Any serious film fan or home theater owner needs to consider the set as a must-own collection!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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