Marilyn Monroe is many things to many people: An iconic movie star. An under-appreciated acting talent. A blonde bombshell. A cautionary tale. Now 60 years after her tragic death, she remains as enigmatic as ever.
Two Netflix releases will shine a light on Monroe's life from very different angles: The documentary The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes delves into her life and untimely death, utilizing previously unheard interviews with those who knew her best; later this year, Ana de Armas stars as Monroe in director Andrew Dominik's rated-NC-17 biopic, Blonde, which promises to be a no holds barred — and likely controversial— look at the star's private and professional lives.
To appreciate what made Monroe a star, A.frame has compiled this guide to her best and biggest performances.
Even with a powerhouse cast of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and Celeste Holm, Monroe leaves an impression in her small early role in All About Eve. She appears as Miss Claudia Casswell, the up-and-coming arm candy of George Sanders' acerbic Addison DeWitt. Addison thinks he’s schooling her the entire time, but there are a few glimmers that Miss Casswell, and by extension Monroe, has more brains and talent than most would give her credit for.
Another early role for Monroe, in The Asphalt Jungle she plays a mistress to one of the men involved in a complicated crime in this John Huston noir. Referred to as a "sweet kid" by the much older man she's seeing, Monroe livens up her side character with her undeniable charisma. When it comes to Monroe, there’s no dulling her shine no matter the size of the part.
Don't Bother To Knock features Monroe as the deeply disturbed Nell, a far cry from her more well-known bubbly persona. Monroe nails Nell's traumatized character, a woman with questionable impulses and grip on reality, who becomes dangerous the further her delusions go. Monroe's dramatic work is often underrated, and this tense thriller is worth watching to see some of her best dramatic work.
The platinum blonde hair. The red lipstick. The pink dress. The diamonds. When you picture Marilyn Monroe, seeing her singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is easily one of the top images that leap to mind. Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes features Monroe and Jane Russell as showgirls looking for love and money in this musical romantic comedy, but it's Monroe who shines as the funny, sexy, and sneakily clever Lorelei Lee. Monroe takes a character most would consider a gold digger, and gives her a heart of gold.
Monroe joins two other glamorous silver screen icons, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable in this romantic comedy. The ladies star as a trio of models on the lookout to marry rich men, but all three end up falling for guys with (seemingly) less than stellar prospects. How To Marry A Millionaire features Monroe playing possibly her ditziest character, the glasses-hating Pola Debevoise.
In one of the busiest years of her career, Monroe stars as femme fatale Rose in Henry Hathaway's noir thriller Niagara. Rose is looking to get rid of her husband George so that she can be with her lover. Unexpectedly interrupting her plans are young newlyweds The Cutlers, who become entangled with Rose and George while both couples are visiting Niagara Falls. Monroe is once again excellent in this darker turn, imbuing the character with passion and intrigue.
There's No Business Like Show Business is primarily a showbiz musical about the vaudeville based Donahue family, led by Ethel Merman. But Monroe shines as hat-check girl Vicky, who kind of breaks up the family — but is never painted as any kind of villain. The musical is full of memorable numbers, not only the big finale of the titular song, but Monroe's show-stopping and seductive "Heat Wave." There’s also the charming "Lazy" number, which showcases Donald O’Connor and Mitzi Gaynor’s incredible dancing skills.
The Seven Year Itch gives us perhaps the most defining image of Monroe's career and life (pulling just ahead of "Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend" Marilyn). The actual plot of the film also delves into male fantasies versus reality, both of which Monroe often found herself caught between. Richard (Tom Ewell) thinks he is feeling the titular "itch" — the idea that all men are driven to have an affair after seven years of marriage — when he meets and becomes infatuated with Monroe's character, The Girl. Monroe is as beautiful and charming as ever in her first outing in a Billy Wilder film.
Bus Stop has a slightly darker edge under its romantic comedy leanings, with a man so enamored of Monroe that he basically kidnaps her. Bo (Don Murray) is a naive but aggressive young cowboy who meets Cherie (Monroe), on the road to a rodeo. He decides that she’s the woman he’s going to marry – no matter how she feels about it. When trapped in a snowstorm at a bus stop, they finally come to an understanding, with Bo eventually respecting Cherie, but it’s a rough road to that happy ending.
The Prince and the Showgirl is a frothy, fun little fairy tale of a story. It’s yet another instance of Monroe subtly subverting her public persona as the titular showgirl, Elsie, who is not simply won over by Laurence Olivier simply because he is a prince and it is expected. And, while Olivier may have served as both director and producer, this is actually the first film from Monroe’s own production company Pacific Standard.
Monroe again proves she’s a brilliant comedic talent, holding her own against Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon's shenanigans in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot. Monroe plays Sugar, the appropriately sweet but easily duped ukulele player in an all-girl band, who forms a genuine friendship with the new "gals," while falling for Curtis' other disguise as a millionaire. Monroe is firing on all cylinders here, utilizing all her talents to create a lovable character and delivering an iconic performance.
The Misfits is Monroe’s final completed film, and a final glimpse at her dramatic chops. Monroe plays recent divorcée Roslyn, who finds herself involved with Clark Gable’s aging cowboy. The John Huston romantic western co-stars Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach. They make a melancholic family of sorts, with Monroe at the center of wanted and unwanted affection, looking for something real.