Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Something's Got To Give (George Cukor, 1962)

Officially back from vacay and steamrolling into my month with Marilyn.

    It's not hard to see what sort of a film Something's Got To Give would have turned out to be. Judging from the 30-something minutes of incomplete footage, this would have been a nice and worthy addition to Marilyn's catalogue. Now infamous for being Marilyn's last (albeit uncompleted) film and for the many behind-the-scene troubles incurred during its production, Something's Got To Give carries with it a strange aura and combination of sadness and charming nonchalance that cannot solely be attributed to modern nostalgia in light of Marilyn's untimely death shortly before filming was complete. No, the story is itself a sad one, but the performances by the actors, the soundtrack and the cinematography fill the screen with plenty of charm and cuteness.

   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.

    I know Marilyn wasn't the easiest actress to get along with and I rarely justify --although I do defend-- her lateness. But I have to put my foot down for Something's Got To Give because at this point in her life she was trying to change and to be better. Marilyn was trying. Nonetheless, she was still castigated for some of the faux-pas of her own studio and other factors far out of her control. So what does the studio do to "correct" their star? Ignore doctors' orders that she should rest and dope her up on drugs so she could perform. Just at a time in her life when she was trying to wean herself off barbiturates and the other drugs she'd become a slave to. Smart thinking, studio assholes. And Cukor just seemed to have it out for her. The behind-the-scene footage reveal just how nasty Cukor was towards Marilyn, having her repeat scenes after scenes even when her performance is top notch. His antagonistic behavior even extended to other people onset, such as the two young actors playing Marilyn's children. Projection much? The video below shows Marilyn muttering under her breath that she should not be here because of her chronic sickness, but Cukor appears to again simply mock her.


  It's also obvious that Cukor does not know what direction to go with the film. Just what you need from your director. The script already suffered from several cliches and dry jokes (the studio fired Marilyn's chosen screenwriter), so to have a man with a lack of a vision makes for a film that ultimately falls flat. No wonder he got fired when Marilyn (who actually had a vision for the film and her career at that point) was re-hired to start shooting.

    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.

Ludovico Rating


  1. Nice post here Teddy. I have never seen any of this footage, but would like to get around to at some point. I didn't know the plot of this film either, and find it funny that you compare Dean Martin's role to Cary Grant, as this is obviously a remake of "My Favorite Wife" with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. It's funny because I have always felt that something was missing from this classic film, and that 60's feel, and upfront sexual addition could have added the perfect touch. I would love to have seen this film, and will forever be sorry she didn't get to finish this film. Thanks Teddy!

  2. Aaah, I totally forgot Cary Grant performed in the original. It's a sad film to check out if only because it could have been good.

  3. I still haven't seen this one, despite being a big Monroe fan! Really need to get onto that. Great post!