I don’t usually watch movies on AMC (commercials, you know), but Tuesday night Let’s Make Love was on & as I haven’t seen it in quite awhile…
Let’s Make Love (1960) is one film that has greatly mixed reviews — even from big fans of Marilyn Monroe. As a big fan of Marilyn’s, as well as of George Cukor films, I’ve even had varied responses to the movie.
My first viewing, when I was maybe 14 years old or so, I was very uncomfortable with the film. Marilyn’s big body & blatant sexuality were uncomfortable issues for me which I’ve only quite recently begun to understand. In this film, after some comical “history” of Yves Montand’s character (billionaire Jean-Marc Clement), we meet a scantily clad Marilyn in nothing but a black nylon catsuit and a large lavender cable knit sweater, cooing My Heart Belongs To Daddy as she gyrates & thrusts about a stage.
Such displays of ample charms in a teenage girl’s blushing face are rather easy to understand. Obviously, being confronted with such female eye candy made me subconsciously question my own sexuality — or, perhaps more accurately, question how I was perceived sexually.
But beyond that, was Marilyn’s appearance.
A bulky sweater over such an hourglass figure (set atop nothing but black pantyhose covered legs yet), gives the impression of an apple on a stick. (Ladies with big bosoms know this; more on that later.) It didn’t get any better when she shed her sweater.
Since I was watching Let’s Make Love decades later, times had changed and I’d already been taught “thin was in!” so the risqué display of her voluptuous figure wasn’t just a matter of shameful sexuality, but inappropriate as well. The lesson 14 year old me already knew was that only thin girls had the right to flaunt it (even if what “it” they had was in much smaller amounts — or maybe it was because they had less of “it” they could flaunt it?). And at 14, with more than budding breasts but a B-cup “rack” that men were already leering at me for, I felt far more like “lumpy” & “obvious” Marilyn than the properly svelte & sexy supermodel who was supposed to let it all hang-out (in one long lanky line, resembling a 13 year old boy’s body). It was embarrassing.
Years later, I’d developed even more — and not just in bust & hips, but intellectually & emotionally. But this only posed a new set of issues with regards to watching Let’s Make Love.
At some point (probably about the time I began to accept my own “points” — my big breasts), I became rather obsesses with Marilyn Monroe. I can’t claim to have read every biography because Marilyn’s the most biography-ed entertainer; but I read as many as I could get my hands on. Like many fans (or obsessives) of Monroe’s, I spent as much time turning her into my own individual legend (icon of our culture’s sexuality, and, in a perverse way, a role model for my brand of feminism) as I did learning about her. But I did learn about her.
And so when I saw Let’s Make Love a few years later, I knew of the troubles that she struggled with in her personal life and career during the making of the film… Doomed marriage to Arthur Miller, the icky affair with Montand, and Cukor’s horrid treatment of the star. And so once again, my personal reactions to the film were coloring my view of it. Sure, she wasn’t at her best or brightest in this film, but poor Marilyn was now a martyr to her struggles with men. It was a wonder she was there at all, even bothering to fulfill her contractual obligation to the hated Fox studio!
Now, years later, on a cool May evening I watched Let’s Make Love again. I tried to strip away the personal reactions, the knee-jerk response to defend Marilyn, and just watch the film.
In many ways it is better than I remembered. While she’s mainly in the movie to exist as eye candy, Marilyn’s work with The Actors Studio is noticeable when she’s given the opportunity to do something other than be lovely. And she is lovely — even if my knowing eye can see strain & yes, the dreaded “age” and “weight” which are bad things for any actress, let alone one only allowed to be beautiful & sexy. And call me crazy, but I love her singing voice (I own several Marilyn CDs) and there’s lots of it in this movie.
But what really sticks out this go-around is that the movie itself is aged & tired.
No, not just for “today” — it was aged and tired when it was made.
Contextually, the film struggles to balance between the playfulness of the 50’s reserved conservatism (a wiggle in a dress, a wiggle of an eyebrow) and the more frank peek-a-boo sexuality of the 60’s (Marilyn’s black catsuit). Audiences were changing; but Hollywood wasn’t quite ready to pander to Beatniks — not at the expense of the establishment’s rich wallets.
So, Fox puts Marilyn, the classic sex pot, together with Montand, the rising French star, for some generational shared “mmms” (even adding a bit British teen idol effervescence with Frankie Vaughn) hoping to tease both the establishment and the hep cats & kittens into movie tickets. It gives Marilyn a risqué dress & career, but makes it clear that she’s a good girl — with a preacher for a daddy — and marries her off to the wealthy guy who can take care of her. (Note at the end of the film, when she surrenders to love, that she mentions night school, but not the theatre.)
Basically, the film tries to say, “Yes!” to the spicy 60’s Bohemian artistic lifestyle — but in the end, it’s stuffed in rather flavorless 50’s ring bologna.