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Marilyn Monroe"Marilyn Monroe The Diamond Collection" on DVD

A Guy's Best Friend?

20th Century Fox has assembled a lovely six disc set with this Diamond Collection. All the movies, for the most part, look and sound great and the documentary that's included gives remarkable insight into this Hollywood icon's last days.

The five movies here may not all be her most famous - nor are they necessarily all star vehicles for Monroe. They are, especially when coupled with the documentary - a good chronology of her career as well as a great look at how she grew as a performer and actor.

But it's the movies that are the most important, and they're all well worth seeing.

There's No Business Like Show Business

A Wonderful old style Hollywood musical, this flick follows the fortunes of the Vaudeville and post-Vaudeville Donahue family. Mom and Pop Donahue (Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey) are a song and dance team and every time they have another kid the act gets bigger.

Eventually they're the Five Donahues as the kids, played by Johnny Ray, Mitzi Gaynor, and Donald O'Connor learn to sing and dance as well.

The family becomes huge stars, though their lives aren't without the usual family trials and tribulations. Eldest son Steve (Ray) decides to leave the act and become a priest, while a bit later Katy and Tim (Gaynor and O'Connor) are offered gigs in a new Broadway vehicle being staged as a showcase for the blonde bombshell Vicky Parker (Marilyn Monroe). Fortunately, they find love interests there as well.

Through it all, mom and dad smile and love, until Tim - facing inner demons - disappears.

This is a marvelous song and dance movie, with music and lyrics by the great Irving Berlin and incredible production numbers staged by Robert Alton. The old fashioned De Luxe color and Cinemascope picture looks terrific in this DVD transfer, and the 4.0 surround sound is about as good as you could want from a 1954-vintage film.

The performances are all first rate, except that despite her obvious charms and talents, Monroe is really out of her league among the song and dance types of Merman, Dailey, and particularly Gaynor and O'Connor (who positively light up the screen).

The anamorphic widescreen picture, 16x9 TV compatible, is wonderful and so is the Dolby Digital audio. Extras are confined to a couple of trailers.

There's No Business Like Show Business, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
Starring Ethel Merman, Dan Dailey, Mitzi Gaynor, Donald O'Connor, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Ray
Produced by Sol. C. Siegel
Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, directed by Walter Lang

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Howard Hawks' movie of the hit Broadway musical isn't nearly as good as "There's No Business Like Show Business," but it's still a pretty good showcase for the various talents of Monroe and others.

In this flick, Monroe and Jane Russell play showgirls Lorelei and Dorothy, respectively, a song and dance team who are both looking to find good men. The difference is that Lorelei wants a rich guy, while Dorothy has a penchant for pretty faces.

Lorelei has gotten herself engaged, at least unofficially, to the rich guy of her dreams, but his family thinks she's a gold digger and is against the relationship. Nevertheless, the guy wants to marry Marilyn, er, Lorelei, and sends her and Dorothy to Paris to await their nuptials.

Unbeknownst to him, however, his father has also dispatched a private detective named Malone (Elliott Reid) to dig up any potential dirt on Lorelei, to prove his case that she's no good for his son (Tommy Noonan). Malone, meanwhile, falls for Jane Russell but the situation gets complicated when she witnesses him taking surreptitious pictures of Lorelei and an elderly roue in an innocent, but compromising-looking, pose.

Well, doesn't all hell break loose then!

The movie is light and upbeat, and the musical and production numbers are good. The performances are also good, though Monroe and Russell, at least at this point in their careers, aren't as good at singing and dancing as they should be. That isn't why they're there, of course, but they fill their costumes very well and that's apparently what it's all about.

The DVD is in the old style aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which  means it's full frame and therefore best suited to conventional, non widescreen, TV's. Picture quality is very good, however; the Technicolor images are bright and colorful and the film looks great. The audio tracks feature a newly-mixed stereo soundtrack and the original mono. We listened to the original mono, and while there was some distortion, on the whole it sounded just fine for a 1953-vintage movie.

Extras include the trailer, a Movietone newsreel of the female stars being immortalized in concrete in front of Mann's Chinese Theater, and an essay on the restoration of the film.

Not the best disc, or musical, then, but well worth catching - especially if you grew up in the era of Madonna's  "Material Girl" video, which was inspired (some might say ripped off from, but we won't) by Monroe's "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" production number.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
91 min, full screen (1.33:1), non-anamorphic 16x9 compatible, Dolby Digital stereo/mono
Starring Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn
Produced by Sol C. Siegel,
Written by Charles Lederer, directed by Howard Hawks.

How to Marry a Millionaire

Marilyn teams up with Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable in this comedy from director Jean Negulesco.
They're models renting a high-priced Manhattan apartment so they can appear appropriately well to do for the rich guys each is trying to snag.

Each of them pairs up with a man they think will do the trick; Bacall finds a rich widower, Gable finds a rich - but married - oilman, and Monroe snags a one-eyed adventurer. But will the girls find happiness with these three, or are they merely stepping stones to their one true love - and are they even who they say they are?

The film is very lighthearted and has plenty of laughs. Monroe's comedic performance is noteworthy: she's virtually blind without her glasses but won't wear them because "men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses," and this causes her to walk into wall and otherwise get confused. In one scene she asks her girlfriends to tell her what her man looks like because she can't see him well enough!

In the end they all find happiness, though not necessarily in the way you might think.

There are plenty of good lines, too, including Lauren Bacall expressing an attraction for the actor who was in "The African Queen," who was, of course, her real life husband of the time, Humphrey Bogart.

Bacall, as the brains of the all-girl operation, and Grable, the trusting airhead, are both very good in their roles as well.

Mention should be made of the interesting overture that opens the film. Rather than merely hearing the music behind a dark screen or a still image, they've actually shot the orchestra as it performs the overture, and that's kind of neat.

The DVD is in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the audio is in offered in Dolby Surround 4.0. Picture and sound quality are very good, especially the crisp and colorful picture, though the audio can be a tad confusing since there's no center channel and therefore the voices come from off screen even when the actor is on screen. This isn't a big deal, however.

Extras include the trailer (including the Italian and German language trailers) and a Fox Movietone newsreel promoting the Cinemascope film.

Good flick!

How to Marry a Millionaire, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
105 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 4.0
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, David Wayne, Rory Calhoun, Cameron Mitchell
Written by Nunnally Johnson
Produced by Nunnally Johnson, Directed by Jean Negulesco

The Seven Year Itch

Billy Wilder's sex comedy was ground breaking in its day, pushing the censorship envelope as it had never been pushed before.

Today, it seems gentle and tame, and that actually works to the film's benefit.

Tommy Ewell is Richard Sherman, a married man who, like so many other married men in New York City at the time were said to do, puts his wife and kid on a train to spend the summer in Maine. While many men use this "virtual bachelorhood" to sow a few wild oats, Sherman fully intends to be faithful to his wife.

His big problem is his overactive imagination, which makes mountains out of the most innocent situations. This is made worse when he meets and befriends "the Girl" (Monroe), a sexy model who's living in the apartment upstairs for the summer.

While their relationship is platonic and bound to stay that way, Richard imagines much more - while also imagining the trouble he could get into if his imaginary relationship were to become known.

In all, it's a case of one man's silly obsession with "the Seven Year Itch" (he's been married for seven years) and how it messes up his head.

This classic comedy is very funny; Ewell is perfect as "everyman" and Monroe plays the innocent blonde bombshell to perfection.

The DVD is in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, with Dolby Digital 3.0 audio. The picture and sound quality are excellent.

Extras include a very interesting "AMC Backstory" documentary on how the film had to be toned down to meet the day's censors, a Movietone News feature on the film, a couple of deleted scenes (which are pretty funny), and trailers.

The Seven Year Itch, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
110 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 3.0
Starring Tommy Ewell and Marilyn Monroe
Written by Billy Wilder and George Axelrod
Produced by Charles K. Feldman, directed by Billy Wilder

Bus Stop

William Inge's play gets the Josh Logan/George Axelrod treatment in this CinemaScope production from 1956.

Don Murray is Beau Decker, a cowboy who's about as wet behind the ears as anyone could imagine. He and his bud Virg (Arthur O'Connell) head for Colorado so Beau can compete in the big rodeo there - and so he can also get a taste of the big wide world around him.

Beau's big problem is that he's not only the ultimate rube, but he's also particularly headstrong - which means you can't tell him anything. So when he meets Ozark belle Cherie (Marilyn Monroe) and falls head over heels for her, he decides he's a-gonna marry her and take her back to his Montana ranch.

The fact that Cherie doesn't want to have anything to do with his plan is irrelevant.

Needless to say, their relationship gets off to a rocky start, as he ends up abducting her and taking her on the bus for Montana.

Marilyn is a true victim in this, a worldly woman who just doesn't understand this wide eyed innocent. You really root for her and hope she gets away from this whacko - and in the end he gets his comeuppance and "sets her free."

That's when the film gets truly bizarre. Needless to say, not everyone that got on the bus for Montana actually gets there, but it may not be who you think.

The movie's actually pretty good, but the ending is nothing if not extremely schmaltzy.

Mention should be made of Murray and, especially, Monroe. Murray's Beau is perfectly played - and Marilyn also does an excellent job as the Southern belle who suddenly finds herself a fish out of water.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the audio is Dolby Digital 4.0. Picture and sound quality are both very good - though in honesty we have to mention a flaw in the disc about a half hour into the film. There's about a ten minute section that's littered with digital dropouts and hangups and they really get annoying. Fortunately, they go away fairly quickly (though not quickly enough) and the rest of the disc is fine.

Extras include the theatrical trailer, and lobby cards.

Possibly the least entertaining of this boxed set, but a must see nonetheless if you want to see Monroe at her best.

Bus Stop, from 20th Century Fox Home Video
105 min, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 4.0
Starring Don Murray, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field, Eileen Heckart
Produced by Buddy Adler
Written by George Axelrod, Directed by Joshua Logan

Marilyn Monroe, the Final Days

This full length documentary accompanies the Diamond Collection boxed set. It follows Marilyn through the aborted filming of her last film "Something's Got to Give," offering us a fascinating insight into Monroe and her mystique.

This was a doomed production from the start, thanks mostly to Monroe's cavalier attitude toward showing up for work. Now, to be fair, the documentary shows that some of her absences from the set were due to illness, but it becomes clear that Marilyn was in big trouble with her life and that eventually Something Had To Give - and in this case it was Monroe herself.

There's lots of footage shot for the film by director George Cukor, and in fact they've assembled the finished scenes into a short approximation of the film at the end of the documentary. Most of this footage has already been seen in the documentary, so assembling the film (which is obviously full of holes) is rather anticlimactic.

Still, you get fascinating insights into - and great footage of - Monroe, as well as some very interesting tidbits on movie making in the 1950's.

The DVD is full frame, not enhanced for widescreen TV's, with Dolby Digital stereo audio. Picture and sound quality are first rate.

This is an entertaining and interesting look at Marilyn, and a fairly honest one at that: they don't sugar coat Marilyn and make her out to be a victim; it's even made clear that her firing from the film wasn't undeserved.


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Updated May 13, 2006