Officially back from vacay and steamrolling into my month with Marilyn.
Marilyn plays Ellen Arden, a wife and mother who returns home after being shipwrecked on an island for five years. However, her husband Nick Arden (Dean Martin) has had her declared legally dead so that he could marry Bianca (Cyd Charisse) -- the man had taste. After returning home from their honeymoon --apparently, Nick was unable to rise to the occasion if you catch my drift-- the happy couple find Nick's two children in the company of a new self-hired nanny. Guess who? That's right, Marilyn, who the kids don't even remember. Tragic. How could you forget a face like that? Marilyn as Ellen passes herself off as a Polish nanny and is officially hired. Marilyn begins a campaign to seduce Nick, where she does catch a drift during a nude swim in the pool. Nick is on to her and realizes that it is indeed his wife come back from the dead. He is happy to have her back until he realizes that Marilyn may not have been alone on the island after all...
I think the performers are perfect for their parts. Dean Martin does a decent job portraying a man having to choose between two beautiful women. Though he is not given much to do but look conflicted, he is able to imbue his performance with a sort of Cary Grant-esque charm (think David from Bringing Up Baby but less comical and less Cary Grant). The biggest surprise though for me was Cyd Charisse. I'd only seen her in Singin' In The Rain up till that point, so I only knew her as the silent femme fatale who played Gene Kelly like a boss. But in this film, I think her part rises above Dean's (though that's obviously not the intention) and it seems like she's the one playing second fiddle to Marilyn. Her characters' over-exaggerations and airs are downright hilarious. Bianca's supposed to be the antagonist but, through Charisse's performance, she is made a sympathetic figure. Charisse steals her scenes with Dean, but she is still no match for Marilyn.
The film does not open up with Marilyn. Rather, it opens up to a quite funny scene in the courtroom where Dean is trying to declare his wife legally dead. And then near the 10-minute mark, boom! Marilyn! But it's not the explosive screen presence of Marilyn that we are presented to. This is an unexpectedly subdued and luminous Marilyn Monroe, appearing in what I consider to be no doubt one of the best "silent" performances of all time. She arrives home and looks around at what she's been missing for five years, not saying a word, just letting her eyes do all the talking. And gosh, I wish everybody who said Marilyn could not act would just watch those five intense minutes where she's exploring her home and then her eyes lock on her children. That scene was moving. A wave of emotions wash over that face of hers. She seems like an angel come to say goodbye one last time. Over the course of her career, Marilyn's played psychotic, cunning, ingenue, charming, sexy, and sad; but she's never looked or played more radiant(ly). She truly shines.
The lush cinematography of the film does help in making Marilyn appear even more other-worldly. The colors truly pop. Marilyn's wardrobe has never looked so sophisticated and her hair so purely white. She is literally radiant in every single scene. In a brief scene between just her and Cyd, she outshines the latter not only in the looks department (her wardrobe is far better than Cyd's) but also due to the ingenuity in her acting. This film was tailored for Monroe; the colors, the costumes, everything seems to revolve around her. She has her own orbit. Not even George Cukor's douche-baggery manages to affect her performance and all the things that come together to infuse it. No seriously, Cukor was a dick. Read this fantastic post by Meredith Grau to read on some of the set troubles for Somethings' Got To Give and the many reasons behind them.
Were it not for the caliber of its talents Something's Got To Give would have been a disaster. As it stands, they managed to get a crop of great and competent actors that saved the film. Marilyn makes the film. I think this film would have helped her transition into the more mature roles that she craved. This was, I believe, her first time playing a mother. Those scenes of her playing with the kids are especially poignant because everybody knows how badly Marilyn desired children. Something's Got To Give appears to be her most self-reflexive work, not in regards to her public image but to who she really was behind the facade of the Hollywood sexy goddess. I wished this film could have been completed not only because of the opportunities it would have afforded Marilyn, but also because it would have turned out to be a nice and pleasantly entertaining film.