Blu-ray Review: The FOREVER MARILYN COLLECTION Honors and Lays Bare the Starlet

Less than a week before the anniversary of her death, Twentieth Century Fox has released the Forever Marilyn Collection, seven films featuring the actress (note, I didn't say "starring") at the height of her popularity.

And it's an interesting exercise to watch the most prominent films in her body of work to see an actress typecast so thoroughly as a bombshell with hidden depths (to paraphrase her gold digger character in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Lorelei, she's smart when she needs to be). Behind the breathless affectation is either a sweet girl or a maneater, and with the exception of 1961's The Misfits, she's always some variety of social climber from the wrong side of the tracks. This isn't a knock against the late Ms. Monroe, mind you, it's just the most prominent feature of her roles here.

The films included in the set are:

Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953)

Monroe and Jane Russell are showgirls on a trans-Atlantic voyage, with the former looking for a new sugar daddy to keep her in diamonds. You've seen Marilyn perform "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend"--well, this is the movie where that happens. Ostensibly Russell's love story (she's not looking to get rich, she just wants to find a nice man), the actress is mostly overshadowed by Monroe's burlesque, breathless performance.

By the way, colors on this one are high and bright, with maybe a little too much processing (on occasion the image looks, for lack of a better phrase, flattened out) and with our next film are the only two titles in the set with noticeable picture quality issues).

How To Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Ah, now this is great--Monroe joins Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall as three models with a plan to snag a rich man to set them up for life. I'm still not sure how their scheme was supposed to work out if only one of them found a guy, but it's great fun watching the three of them attempt to work some wealthy eligible bachelors in New York (and some that aren't so eligible).

The issue here involving occasional image blurriness mostly owes to the Cinemascope presentation where foreground images that are in focus come off as smeary. It's not ruinous to the film, but it's also hard not to notice when it occurs.

River of No Return (1954)

This is an odd pairing: Monroe in a gritty Western with Robert Mitchum as they chase her ne'er-do-well cardsharp boyfriend down a perilous river. Marilyn has a couple of songs accompanied by guitar here that feel out of place mixed in with the cougar attacks and Indian raids. There's also a pretty brutal attempted rape that unhinges the film near the back half of the film and I'm not sure it or the characters ever really recover.

There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)

If you like big, showy song and dance numbers then this one is for you, telling the tale of the Donahue vaudeville clan and its gradual disintegration once they come into contact with Monroe's solo act.

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Monroe was cast by director Billy Wilder as the object of lust for a New York editor (Tom Ewell) whose wife and son are out of town for the summer. So much of what we think of the actress is bundled up in this film, as she's sweet, tempting, dangerous, and unattainable all at once in this fairly raucous sex farce.

Some Like it Hot (1959)

One of the greatest comedies of all time, full stop. Marilyn is just one piece of the perfect comic machine and I wish she, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and director Billy Wilder had gotten another chance to do something like this again. Simply a beautiful, perfect film.

The Misfits (1961)

We have one drama in River and The Misfits gives us Marilyn in a drama and her last role. Notable for casting her opposite Clark Gable, it's worth a watch to see the actress strain against the breathless vamp role that marked most of her career.

Special Features

Every disc in the set includes a trailer for its respective film as well as trailers for the Forever Marilyn Collection. Beyond that, three of the discs--There's No Business Like Show Business, How to Marry a Millionaire, and The Misfits--include Movietone reels showing the stars of their respective films on the red carpet.

The disc for Some Like it Hot has all of the special features from its 2011 Blu-ray, so some of you might find yourself accidentally doubled up in your collections.

The Forever Marilyn Collection is available on Blu-ray now from Twentieth Century Fox.

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