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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fox Finishing The Unfinished

Just a few notes about Something’s Got To Give before I leave poor Marilyn alone. This may be the most famous unfinished movie ever not quite made, with public awareness going all the back to when Fox cobbled a feature tribute called Marilyn in 1962, hosted by Rock Hudson, which included pieces of SGTG. There was hunger for Monroe footage right from her death. A lot of odd stuff was preserved that would have otherwise gone into dumpsters. A DVD documentary produced by 20th shows a vault bulging with hours of Something’s Got To Give. They’d kept this even as three-strip negatives from the studio’s Technicolor inventory were being dumped. Film history would better have been served had it been the other way around. The DVD has a first-ever assembly of those scenes more or less completed in 1962. What survives is tired comedy anticipating a Dark Age of Doris Day vehicles to come. Something’s Got To Give was in fact revisited and ultimately completed with Day in Marilyn’s part. The remnants landed in 1963 and was called Move Over, Darling. Fox would lose $$ on that one after Doris Day’s participation money came off. Some projects are just doomed no matter what. Monroe’s apparent refusal to finish Something’s Got To Give might have been a matter of knowing what a poor specimen it was and misbehaving in hopes Fox would give up and shut down. She always was perceptive enough to know good comedy from bad. Billy Wilder acknowledged Monroe’s instinct for spotting laughs in given scenes and playing to a best realization of them. Based on the forty or so minutes we have of Something’s Got To Give, there was no mirth there to mine. Dean Martin famously refused to complete the shoot after Marilyn dropped out and Fox signed Lee Remick to pinch-hit. He knew that without Monroe, SGTG had no chance.

Of Marilyn’s truancies during production, the worst was cutting out for Washington and Jack Kennedy’s birthday party. She could always manage miraculous recovery for events like this. A surviving kinescope is among the spookiest chunks of film ever recorded, like a warm-up for the Zapruder footage. The ballroom looks stadium sized. What faces we detect are ghostly blurs, and there are oceans of them. Laughter is distant as if summoned from beyond. Host Peter Lawford might be death itself holding a sickle. Marilyn enters (late) in wrath-like white and barely manages her rendition of Happy Birthday. The miserable kine quality makes it seem lots longer ago than forty-seven years. Wasn’t this close around the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis? Watching makes you think a bomb’s already been dropped and these celebrants are what’s left. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that everybody in that room came to bad ends.

Would Monroe have been happier just being a model? According to histories, she came brightest to life when posing for stills. MM may have been the century’s most accomplished exhibitionist. Going into Something’s Got To Give minus added pounds she’d carried during Some Like It Hot, Marilyn flaunted improvements and got huge publicity for a nude swimming scene that was featured on LIFE’s cover. This was hot potatoes for a yet Code-restricted 1962 and set observers were getting word out that she’d really done the scene naked. It’s naturally a focal point when watching Fox’s DVD construction. Lots of still proofs were tucked away from those shooting days and have dribbled out since. You wonder what more might be hidden in drawers and safe deposit boxes. The disc documentary, Marilyn: The Final Days, includes interviews with those few left to be consulted. Funny how doctors on camera are never among those that prescribed hazardous drugs. One with an open collar and skin like a lizard handbag says MM must have gotten all her lethal stuff from somewhere over the border. That’s probably true enough. Or maybe Wally Reid’s primary care still had a shingle out. Monroe supposedly made a deal with Fox to come back and finish Something’s Got To Give just days ahead of fateful 8/5/62, with director Jean Negulesco to replace George Cukor. Negulesco’s results could not have been any more dispirited than what Cukor had been getting. Something’s Got To Give was really better off not finishing. It serves us well enough as a forlorn document of a studio and star breaking last straws together.


Anonymous East Side said...

Your description of JFK's birthday bash is one of the best things you've ever written. The fact that there were plenty of people in the audience who knew of Monroe's affair with him adds to the sickening jest. Jackie refused to attend, you know. Some Camelot, eh?

By the way, I believe the party was held not just at an ordianry ballroom, but Madison Square Garden

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are at least 6 hours of raw footage floating around of Somethings Got to Give. It shows a very coherent Monroe dealing with a director George Cukor who wouldn't make the most of the time he had with his star. He keeps doing retakes of reaction scenes with her and the dog (who keeps messing up and needs retakes- not Monroe) and the child actors playing her characters children (they mess their takes as well) Cukor has no patience with either the dog or the kids yet Monroe is wasted on most of her days at work. She keeps a level head and follows thru her paces. She knew the film was a dog but she wanted it finished so she could renegotiate her Fox contract. In the end, Fox offered her a pay raise and a new contract if she would finish the film. Sadly she died before the film could be completed.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

East Side is right, the party was at Madison Square Garden. He's right about another thing too: "sickening" was exactly the word I was thinking of even before I read his comment. Rest assured, that bathetic performance was no less cringe-inducing when the kinescope was fresh and Marilyn's sexual servitude to the Kennedy White House wasn't general knowledge -- though that has certainly added to the tawdry squalor of it as the decades wear on.

While this was the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis, it wasn't exactly "close on." JFK's birthday was May 29 (two days before Marilyn's); by the time of the crisis, Marilyn had been dead for two months.

7:14 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

What I never understood is why they even bothered to remake MY FAVORITE WIFE, which is not exactly a good comedy.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

Thanks for the MM fest, altho it gets more depressing until the end, and there's no changing that for the poor thing. I prefer to remember her in "The Asphalt Jungle", calling a cop a "big bananahead" when she wasn't anyone to write home about...yet; and of course for SLIH, where she both inhabited and parodied herself in the same role. "Yipe!" said Angela.

12:49 AM  
Anonymous East Side said...

One more thing I forgot to mention in my previous post... Peter Lawford's introduction of MM plays on her well-known habit of tardiness on the set. He calls out her name, the orchestra plays a fanfare -- and she doesn't appear. A second time -- nothing. Finally, the third time she sashays out as Lawford presents, in his words, "The late Marilyn Monroe." The hideous condition of the kinescope makes it all seem like a very bad, yet very scary, horror movie.

7:20 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Almost forgot about Lawford's intro of "the late Marilyn Monroe." That really puts a finishing touch on the chilling effect ...

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golly, good reading but, I must confess, I simply do not get the continued admiration, appreciation and high estimation of Monroe's, ahem, "talent." I'm delighted that some (many?) enjoy her work but she's always been a chubby, untalented slob to me. I've seen everything Monroe was ever in, and it never got any better than "Clash by Night" in '52 (which wasn't much, by the way).

To each his own… but, jeepers, Monroe just wasn't particularly interesting, and certainly never an even passable actress (just ask Howard Hawks [if you can find him!]). If she hadn't died they way she had, I doubt anyone would be discussing her "work" today.

Just my two shiny cents…

2:22 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received the following very interesting observations from a GB reader:

I always thought Seven Year Itch was the one film where Monroe was actually sexy -- again, because they presented her as attainable and guilt-free. In other films she was comic, or dangerous, or kicked-puppy pathetic, or just too much of an icon.

It's like when John Wayne turns up in The Longest Day. You accept the other stars playing historical figures, but he's John Wayne, and there's nothing he can do to convince you he's anybody or anything else.

But back to sex appeal (every now and then I fixate). How many of the certified sex symbols were actually have-impure-thoughts-about-during-math-class sexy? As you noted, even the Army seemed to gravitate to Jean Peters instead of Marilyn.

Jayne Mansfield? Not really. She was an artificial composite of all the sure-fire elements, although her cheerfully brazen self-promotion gave her a personality. Sophia Loren? Oddly enough, she was more sexy when the movie wasn't about sexy. Mae West? Hardly a dream girl, but you believed what she kept implying. Jane Russell? The roller coaster you looked at but were afraid to get on.

When you think about it, the sexiest film characters -- the genuine fantasy figures -- were almost always played by actresses who didn't make it their primary stock in trade. Barbara Stanwyck, of course. Shirley Jones, in Elmer Gantry AND Music Man. Pre-code Jeanette MacDonald and Ginger Rogers. Early Angela Lansbury. A surprising number of the female leads in horror movies (If she's good enough for Frankenstein's Monster, she's good enough for me).

Recently saw The Swan, and Lillian Gish of all people generated some heat as a virginal princess in a creaky, talky play. One never knows, do one?

Lately I've been running into Leslie Caron's early films, where she'd always play an achingly cute little pixie "blossoming into womanhood." Sooner or later there's a ballet to highlight her fully-blossomed form and extremely grown-up poise, followed by the clinch with a Worldly Older Man, who happened to be there the moment she hit legal age. And these were family films and chick flicks, not male fantasies -- at least, not marketed as such.

The Glass Slipper must qualify as the strangest. It's Cinderella, but with heavy-handed "worldliness": an obnoxious male narrator dripping with cynicism, a prince who declares flat out that he has a thing for unhappy young girls, a fairy godmother who's also the village bag lady, and a rich old woman who made her fortune by being "ruined". At least some of the cliches are honored: Poor little Ella is mocked and spurned by all because she has tiny smudges of coal on her otherwise perfect features. You'd think the local boys would at least try to be nice -- Ella wears a dress that emphasizes her dancer's legs and adult bust.

Part of me still finds her sexy and charming in these films. Another part, the post-Woody-Allen part, cringes a little.

Okay, that's out of my system. I gotta get out and date more.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Oscar Grillo said...

I had this copy of "Life" magazine. I loved how well they replicated the "Technicolor Effect" on paper (Though I assume this film may have been shot in De Luxe or Eastman color)

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Doris Day film, "Move Over, Darling", must be the first remake where a character in the film(Day, masquerading as the Swedish massseuse)speaks of the earler film(My Favorite Wife-she says she saw it on the Late Show)in the course of the story.Maybe It's the ONLY remake where somebody does this!

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Just so your second Anonymous commenter doesn't feel too lonely, I'll say that I'm happy to put up half of his shiny two cents: Marilyn Monroe has always been my personal nominee for the single most overrated personality in movie history. (Although I would posit Niagara as the one it never got better than.)

I'm not surprised that those soldiers preferred Jean Peters to Marilyn. It's certainly interesting to note that after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, no woman was ever again cast as any kind of competition for her. I mean, who else is there? Ethel Merman in There's No Business Like Show Business? Betty Field in Bus Stop? Thelma Ritter in The Misfits? Don't get me wrong, fine performers all, but only Marilyn was allowed to be "sexy."

Another thing I'm old enough to remember about Some Like It Hot is that -- despite what the retroactive legend-builders might say -- people didn't flock to theaters to see Marilyn vamp Tony Curtis or sing "Runnin' Wild"; they went to see Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag and in danger. Marilyn was just part of the deal, doing her standard schtick -- and already beginning to look a little old-hat.

Marilyn's posthumous legend has, for me, an unsettling air of necrophilia about it. I suspect her untimely death saved her from aging into Jane Russell, the way James Dean's saved him from becoming Tab Hunter.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Erik Weems said...

I liked the "Clash by Night" and "Niagara" era Marilyn Monroe. Seemed like an actress with maybe not the best choices available to her, but at least some choices. In SOME LIKE IT HOT the choices are all about used up. She's a pretty lady in the former films, but Wilder uses her like an upscale Jayne Mansfield (or any of the other 50s blonde amazons) in his film and somehow its creepy. Maybe there's just too much baggage freighted along with her later films.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monroe was fired from Somethings Gotta Give and Dean refused to do the movie unless they rehired her

10:12 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Jim Lane forgets that that cute Mitzi Gaynor was also a presence in 'There's No Business Like Show Business'; but nevertheless his point is well-taken.
Indeed, arguably Monroe herself wasn't permitted to be "sexy" in the movies, either, except as a caricature of "sexiness".
This was mostly an effect of the Production Code then being enforced, I think, but I wonder if there has really has been any change in this after that Code fell away, as caricature - or simplification, if you prefer - is the usual way the movies (and TV/radio, and the theater too) have of depicting or representing all kinds of human traits.
The fact is that subtlety in characterization can often be wasted if an audience isn't up to it, or just plain doesn't want it; and so the crafters of these entertainments usually paint their pictures of people using broad strokes, just to be as safe as they can in making their "plot points" plain enough for their large and diverse audience to follow along.
I can't say they're wrong to do so, even if I find their wares to be personally unsatisfying from time to time.

9:17 PM  

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