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Featured Blu-ray Review: Forever Marilyn

July 30th, 2012

Forever Marilyn - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Forever Marilyn is a seven-disc Blu-ray box set that features seven films from the actress, five of which are making their Blu-ray debut. (The other two, The Misfits and Some Like It Hot, I've previously reviewed.) So there's a little bit of double-dipping happening here, but is it still worth picking up if you own those Blu-rays? Or should you pick and choose from the individual releases? Or are there serious problems here?

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - Buy from Amazon

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell play Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two showgirls. Lorelei is in love with Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) and the pair are planning on getting married. Dorothy isn't convinced. She's been close to marrying before, but the father of the would-be groom always gets in the way. Mr. Esmond Sr. (Taylor Holmes) thinks Lorelei is a gold-digger, who is only interested in Gus for his money. He's not 100% wrong. The two are clearly in love, but Lorelei wants to marry into money.

Lorelei and Gus are are to travel by cruise ship to France to get married there, but his father prevents Gus from going, so Dorothy will go with her, as a chaperone. This seems like a bad choice. (The first thing she does is invite the U.S. Olympic team to their cabin for a big party.) However, Mr. Esmond didn't just prevent his son from going on the cruise to France, he sent along a private eye, Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), to follow Lorelei and get proof that she's no good for his son. He'll have plenty of opportunity, as Lorelei certainly attracts a lot of attention. One of the men who becomes enamored with her is Sir Francis "Piggie" Beekman, who owns a diamond mine, which certainly gets Lorelei's attention. However, Piggie is married and his wife, Lady Beekman, is on the cruise with him. If Lorelei and Piggie were caught together the scandal would ruin his marriage and destroy Lorelei's relationship as well.

Meanwhile, Lorelei is interested in setting up Dorothy with a man, but they have different opinions on what makes someone a good catch. Dorothy is looking for a buff man, but the Olympic team is out of the question, as they have curfews till the games are over. Lorelei wants to set her up with a rich man, because if you don't have to worry about money, you can concentrate on love. While Malone is looking for info on Lorelei, he tries to chat up Dorothy, and the pair do have a spark. But will he get the photo's he's looking for to bust Lorelei? And will Dorothy find out what Malone is up to?

This film is, in a word, iconic. Even if you've never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie, you will instantly recognize her performance in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend". The entire film is excellent with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell leading the way. They both have incredible screen presence, as well as strong chemistry together. There's plenty of humor in the film (Lorelei's initial attempt of finding a man for Dorothy fails in a funny way.) The various romances are also buoyed by good chemistry. And there are some great musical numbers in the film. Also, while Marilyn Monroe is playing a Dumb Blonde, she actually has a lot of smarts, when she needs to. As she says in the movie, "I can be smart when it's important, but most men don't like it."

The Extras

The only extra on the Blu-ray is a Movietone Newsreel of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell putting their hand prints in the cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. There are some trailers. Normally I don't count trailers has special features, but this movie is so old that the trailers are historical, because they don't make them like that anymore.

The colors in this film are amazing and the details are strong, especially for a film that is nearly 60 years old. Obviously it doesn't look as strong as modern movie would, and there are times where there is a lack of details, but I have no significant complaints. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. Most of the audio comes from the front, which is not surprising, since it was originally shot in Mono.

I did have some problems with playback with this disc, but I'm not sure if it is on my end. I can't seem to find my disc cleaner and I gave my old Blu-ray player to my parents when I upgraded and there are almost no other reviews online, so I can't check to see if others are having this problems. I will try and see if the problem is on my end or not. I was able to play it on another player and it skipped there as well. I've seen almost no reviews for this box set online, but none that I did see mentioned a skipping problem.

The Verdict

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a must have if you are a fan of Marilyn Monroe, even though technically Jane Russell is the star here. It's a must have if you are a fan of musicals in general. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, but the movie itself is worth the price.

How to Marry a Millionaire - Buy from Amazon

Marilyn Monroe is joined by Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. The film begins with Lauren Bacall, Schatze Page, leasing an apartment from Freddie Denmark (David Wayne), whose had to leave town, and the country, on account of tax problems. Marilyn Monroe plays Pola Debevoise, a nearsighted model who refuses to wear her glasses when guys are around. The two had a plan to rent a fancy apartment and use it to seduce millionaires into marriage. Pola invites another model, Loco Dempsey, into the plan. At first Schatze is not happy with having someone else there, especially one with a nickname like "Loco". But she proves useful when she gets a gentleman, John Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), who not only buys her groceries for her, but carries them over to the apartment. Schatze quickly chases him away. She thinks he's a gas jockey and he reminds her of her ex-husband, who was poor, abusive, and married. She's interested in landing a millionaire, but to do that, the three of them will have to live like millionaires to meet millionaires. And to do that, they will need money. Fortunately, they can sell off Denmark's furniture. He's not going to need it, because he can't come back to the country without getting tossed in jail.

The plan hits a little snag when they have trouble finding rich gentlemen who are interested in marriage, and who are not already married. Even John Brookman tracks down the number and tries to ask out Schatze. Loco has a bit more luck when she meets J.D. Hanley, an Oilman from Texas. He invites the three of them to an Oil Institute party. Schatze goes with J.D., while at the party, Loco meets Waldo Brewster (Fred Clark) and Palo meets J. Stewart Merrill (Alex D'Arcy). It's not quite love at first sight for any of them. Waldo spends most of the time complaining about everything, including his wife. Mr. Merril is full of himself and a bore, but Palo perks up when he mentions an oil deal worth several hundred million dollars. J.D. and Schatze hit it off more, as he's been a bit lonely since the death of his wife. He's a bit older than Schatze, but she's determined not to let that get in the way of marriage.

So are all three women set to marry themselves a millionaire? Not quite, but the details reach into spoiler territory.

This film is perhaps not quite as strong as the previous one, but still a great film. Lauren Bacall is the main star of the three and her story is compelling. She has real chemistry with both William Powell and Cameron Mitchell, although more so with the former than the latter, so the ending is kind of bittersweet. Betty Grable's story is less impressive, because she spends too much time with Waldo, who was too one-note. Marilyn Monroe is again not the main star, but she's very good here. It's not a huge stretch here from the previous film, but she is again full of charm. She's also less of the dumb blonde, instead being nearsighted was a gag.

The Extras

There's a short Movietone Newsreel of the premiere, plus there are some trailers.

This as the first film shot in CinemaScope, and you can tell right away that the picture quality is an improvement over the previous film. The level of detail is higher, while the colors are incredible. The audio is also more immersive .

River of No Return - Buy from Amazon

This film is a bit of a change of pace. Instead of a romantic comedy, it's a western with thriller elements. Robert Mitchum stars as Matt Calder, who, at the beginning of the film, is just out of jail and goes to a mining town looking for his nine-year old son, Mark (Tommy Rettig). While Matt's been in jail, he had someone take his son to the town in advance and while Mark was there alone, Kay, a saloon girl, was taking care of him. The two formed a friendship, but Kay is not happy with Matt and how he left his son alone. Of course she doesn't know the whole story, but neither does Mark, so he's not about to explain where he was.

Meanwhile, Kay's husband, Harry Weston, found a bit of luck in the poker tables and won a gold claim, right in the heart of the recent gold strike. He just has to get it to Council City to register it. Unfortunately, there's no horses in town for him to buy, so he decides to use Kay's money to buy a raft and ride the river into town. That river takes them past the Calder homestead, which is good news for them, because Matt is able to rescue them when the raft begins to fall apart. He's able to fix it, but the river becomes a lot more dangerous and Matt tells him he wouldn't be able to make it by river. The only path is by land, but he needs a horse to travel that far and a gun to protect himself and Harry has neither. He offers to buy Matt's horse and gun, but if Matt doesn't have his horse, he can't plow his field, and if he doesn't have a gun, he can't protect his homestead from Indians, so there's no deal. So, Harry just steals the horse and the gun and knocks out Matt. Kay stays behind to take care of him. They can't stay for long, because a group of Indians come to burn down their cottage. So Matt, Mark, and Kay have to travel to Council City on the dangerous river. And while the three have an adventure, they begin to bond.

Marilyn Monroe called this film her worst movie. I don't know if that's true, but I think it is the weakest in this set. Marilyn was stretching herself as an actress compared to the first two movies, and she shows she had more talent that her limited roles would otherwise indicate. Robert Mitchum is, well, Robert Mitchum. He could play a role like this in his sleep. However, neither actor have a lot to do in the movie. The pair have solid chemistry, although the script tries to kill that in a few scenes. The script it little more than a few Western clichés tossed around. Thanks to the two leads, and the gorgeous scenery, the film is good, but not great. Nearly all of the rest of the films in this box set are great, so it sticks out.

The Extras

Just the trailer.

The Blu-ray is mostly really good, with the usual caveats. It's an old movie and the level of detail is sharp in some scenes, but quite soft in others. The colors are good, sometimes great, but don't truly pop. The audio is good, but again, it is not great. Given the age of the film, it could not be great without some serious, and potentially disastrous re-engineering.

The Verdict

River of No Return is a good movie, but not a great movie. There are no extras on the Blu-ray and it costs $20 by itself. That's a lot. Unless you are a more hardcore fan of the actors or the genre, it might be too much to ask.

There's No Business Like Show Business - Buy from Amazon

This film is about The Donahues, a husband-wife Vaudeville team led by Terry and Molly. As their family grew, so did their act, eventually becoming The Five Donahues. However, Molly is worried that the life on the road is no way to raise a family, so the kids go to a boarding school and The Five Donahues become The Donahues and Company. However, the kids keep trying to escape to join their parents on the road. Eventually the pair settle down in a house in Jersey and try to limit their travels. It was a bad time to buy a house, as the Depression hits and the pair have trouble finding work. But as the kids grow up, they join the act. Steve (Johnnie Ray) becomes a singer; Katy becomes a dancer; while Tim is a more jack-of-all trades like his dad. The Five Donahues become huge hits. They seem to be at the top of the world.

That's when the actual plot kicks in. One night after a performance, Terry and Molly are set to take the kids out for dinner; however, all three of them pass. Steve wants to go for a walk, to think about things. Katy has a date and didn't even tell her parents. Meanwhile, Tim has a date with an older chorus girl. By coincidence, both Katy and Tim end up at the same nightclub, where Tim pokes fun at the hat check girl, Vicky Hoffman, for the way she speaks. (On a side note, I was starting to think Marilyn Monroe wasn't in this movie.) Vicky's manager has arranged for a producer to be in the crowd, while Vicky has arranged to sing with the band. She wows the crowd, and the producer, and especially Tim. However, she shoots down Tim's advances, which leads him to get really drunk. Meanwhile, Katy's date tries to get her drunk, so she'll loosen up. She gets him back with an old bar trick before going home. Finally, Steve comes home from his walk and he's made a huge decision. He's decided to become a priest and his training begins next week.

The Four Donahues continues its run and are successful enough to bring the show to Florida. There, Tim runs into Vicky, who is now going by the name Vicky Parker. Tim's still smitten with Vicky. On the other hand, Molly is not happy with her for two reasons. Firstly, Vicky 'steals' their big number, "Heat Wave" to use in her set. However, to be fair to Vicky, she didn't know The Four Donahues were going to perform that song and Tim does give her permission, without asking the rest of the family. Secondly, Molly is not happy, because Vicky steals Tim and Katy, asking them to perform with her in a Broadway revue.

This is probably a good place to end the plot synopsis, as we are getting into the meat of the story here. This is a film about Molly dealing with her kids growing up and moving out, set within a show biz family.

There's an unwritten rule in movies that you should show, not tell. In the beginning, this film has too much of the latter and not enough of the former. For the first half an hour or so, there's almost no character interactions. We hear Terry and Molly narrate their early life in show business, punctuated with musical numbers. Sure, if you love "Alexander's Ragtime Band", you might like hearing an eight-and-a-half minute-long version of it, but I was growing impatient for the plot to start. That said, once the plot does get going, it is a lot better movie. It's not groundbreaking in any regard with a simple plot and plenty of clichés, but the music is great and there are plenty of strong performances.

The Extras

Just the trailer.

It's another CinemaScope production and the colors are amazing and the level of detail strong for this era. The same can be said of the audio. Essentially, it is as good as the previous film.

The Verdict

If you are a fan of Irving Berlin's music, then There's No Business Like Show Business is worth picking up on Blu-ray. There are no extras and the Blu-ray costs $20, so keep that in mind.

The Seven Year Itch - Buy from Amazon

In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Richard Sherman (Tommy Ewell), a husband and father. He is sending his wife, Helen, and his son, Ricky (Butch Bernard), to Maine for the summer where it will be cooler. He's staying behind because of his job. (He works in a publishing house.) It's apparently a common practice for the husbands to stay in Manhattan while the wives and kids are away somewhere cooler for the summer. A lot of men use this time to get wild, but not Richard. He's going to work hard, eat right, and not smoke or drink like his doctors have ordered. However, his resolve changes when he meets his new neighbor, The Girl. She's sublet his upstairs neighbor's apartment for the summer while they are away on vacation. He's instantly smitten. Worse still, while reading a book written by a psychiatrist, Dr. Ludwig Brubaker (Oskar Homolka), he learns that a lot of men cheat during their seventh year of marriage. Wait a minute... He's been married seven years. While he hasn't cheated yet, he has an active imagination and imagines every woman around him throwing themselves at him. And that was before he read about the Seven Year Itch and saw The Girl. Now things are much worse.

That's pretty much it for the plot. It's more a series of vignettes with Richard Sherman getting more and more flustered with the temptation of The Girl than it is a complex narrative. What the film lacks in twists in turns it more than makes up for with with humor. He becomes so wrapped up in his fantasy that he misses reality. Although, more than once I worried about his mental health. He talks to himself constantly and carries on conversations with an hallucination of his wife and negotiates with his two doctors for an occasional smoke or drink. On the downside, Marilyn Monroe doesn't have a whole lot to do in the movie. She doesn't play a real character, but an embodiment of temptation. She does it well and this film includes one of the most iconic movie scenes of all times.

The Extras

Finally, we have a disc that is loaded with extras. Things begin with an audio commentary track with film historian, Kevin Lally. There is also an isolated score track. Next up is a Picture-in-Picture track about the Hays Code and the troubles the filmmakers had to go through to get around the draconian censorship rules. It is very fascinating. Up next is an interactive Marilyn Monroe, which looks at all of the films she appeared in from an uncredited bit part to roles that mostly ended up on the cutting room floor, to starring roles, to the films that made her a superstar to the film she was working on when she died. There is a 26-minute long featurette on Marilyn Monroe's work with Billy Wilder on the film. Fox Legacy is a 17-minute featurette on how the Hays Code messed with the movie, but how Billy Wilder turned it into an asset. There are two deleted scenes, each about two minutes long. Hollywood Backstory is a 24-minute featurette on behind-the-scenes of the making of the movie. There is also a publicity gallery and a still gallery.

The technical presentation is as strong as the previous films with excellent colors high levels of details and rich soundtrack.

Also, it only costs $10 on

The Verdict

For $10, The Seven Year Itch is a must have on Blu-ray.

As I said, I've already previously reviewed The Misfits and Some Like It Hot, so there's little reason to go into those films here, other than to say they are both worth owning.

The Final Verdict

Of the seven films on the Forever Marilyn Blu-ray Box Set, two are double-dips, three are classics, and two are good, but not great. If you don't have any of them, then the price is just over $10 each, which is an excellent deal and it is a Pick of the Week contender. If you have the two previously released Blu-rays and are not interested in the two weaker installments, then sticking to the individual is probably the better deal, even though paying $20 more to get two additional movies is a good deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, Some Like it Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Misfits, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, There's No Business Like Show Business, River of No Return