52 Before 62 — #46 Let’s Make Love (1960)

Lets make love.jpegDirected by George Cukor

Written by Norman Krasna, with additional material by Hal Kanter

Starring Marilyn Monroe, Yves Montand, Tony Randall, Frankie Vaughan, and Wilfrid Hyde-White

Several entries ago we tackled what was probably the first big hit of Marilyn Monroe’s career – Niagara.  Or, at least the first hit of her career that was attributable to her.  She’d been in other films before – All About Eve, especially – but the success there was not her’s.  She was merely incidental.  Niagara, though, was the first that succeeds off of her and part of the reason for that is because Monroe is so desperately beautiful and magnetic you can’t help but want to see her.  It would’ve been insane if it failed to make money.

Against this backdrop, Let’s Make Love seems an interesting bookend. Just as Niagara wasn’t her first, it does feel like the first where we get the first real taste of the Marilyn Monroe we know and love fully formed, Let’s Make Love isn’t her last, though it does feel like the last where we see what we know as Marilyn Monroe.[1]  After all, here she plays the same sexy and attractive screen persona she always did, which is lovely, vulnerable and eager.  And knowing.  But unlike her earlier roles, this character feels more like what the real Marilyn Monroe might’ve been by 1960 if she’d never made it as a movie star.  That being a sex striver still trying her hardest to make it, even in her mid-30s, when women just weren’t breaking through and becoming stars.  In other words, it feels like what Marilyn Monroe might’ve been if she’d missed her opportunities.  And in a strange way, the reality of Marilyn Monroe’s life, and the stress of being a movie star, inform the character she plays because she very often she looks disheveled, and tired, and struggling with something.  From some shots to others there is such a clear difference to her body that you can’t not see the personal roller coaster playing out on film.  In some ways it’s almost not surprising that she’d be dead in just two years, but for this role the reality plays it well.  It reads as just another facet of her struggle to break through.

Yet, it’s good that The Misfits is her last movie, and not this one.  After all, there she gives such a lovely performance, all wistfulness and subtle, while here she just looks…not right.  Much of the classic Marilyn Monroe is here, but there is something missing in it.  Plus, where that movie is good, this one is just…okay.  I suppose it’s something to be thankful for that she died after the The Misfits, not before.

Image result for Marilyn monroe let's make loveWhat’s It About?

Jean-Marc (Yves Montand) is a French billionaire known for his inveterate skirt-chasing, which has made him a tabloid joke.  When he gets wind of an off-Broadway musical revue getting ready to lampoon him in song, he goes down to stop it.  Only, he’s instantly smitten with the star of the show, Amanda (Marilyn Monroe), and stops himself revealing who he is.  Indeed, if he can get close to her, he’s happy to pretend being somebody else.  Of course, hijinks have to ensue and somehow he winds up cast in the show, as himself – they don’t know he’s cast as himself, but he does – and goes through with it so he can woo Amanda under an assumed name and without all the billionaire baggage.  Of course, she does falla in love with him, as was always fated to happen.

Image result for Marilyn monroe let's make love

Monroe and Montand

Any Good?

On the whole Let’s Make Love is a dull film.  There’s undeniable chemistry between Montand and Monroe – it’s no surprise they were said to have had an affair during filming – but good chemistry cannot overcome that the musical numbers feel pedestrian and the film around them being half-baked.

Yves Montand may have been a star in France at the time, and you can see screen authority in his every move, but there’s nothing about his performance, or this film, that demands the film had to feature him.  Or why the character had to be French.  Sure, Montand is not terrible, and he’s certainly game, but he’s also not special.  Plus, the language barrier clearly keeps him from lifting the film above what it ultimately is.  In the end, Montand feels like an affect the film could have done without.

But even then, I’m not sure replacing Montand with an English speaker makes it any better.  After all, putting a Laurence Harvey in the flick – or somebody of his ilk, but with better comic timing – still wouldn’t change that the underlying script is not all that funny.  Which is a problem because this movie desperately wants to be funny.  The best it achieves, though, is a light chuckle now and then, which makes it feel so…tepid.

Image result for Marilyn monroe let's make loveTo be fair, some of the failure as a comedy in surely a function of the film also trying to be a musical vehicle for Monroe.  Now, making the movie a musical around Monroe is a good instinct because Monroe is game and pretty good in the musical numbers she has, if you’re into the sort of musical numbers that feature slinking and breathy singing.  Which I do.  And her entrance into the film is pretty fantastic, coming during one of the numbers is pretty great.  In it she comes sliding down a stripper pole in only a chunky sweater and stockings.  She’s ripe and luscious and the entrance almost feels post-coital, but while she’s certainly voluptuous, there isn’t much to this moment beyond her.[2]  Just as the movie is a comedy that’s not all that funny, it’s not a musical that’s all that musical.  The musical scenes are indifferently directed and, try as Monroe might to liven them up, the film is never more than just fine.  A jack-of-all-trades as it were, but master of none.

Image result for bing crosby let's make love

Montand and Bing Crosby

What Are You Doing Here?

One of the wings of the film’s plot is that in order to make himself more appealing to Monroe, Montand determines to make himself a better performer in the show-within-a0show aesthetic.  To that end he hires a series of tutors.  First among them is the very real Milton Berle cast as himself, who does his best to teach Montand to be funny, all the while mugging around the film himself.  Next is Bing Crosby, also as himself, teaching Montand how to sing better.  Naturally Crosby demonstrates his vocal and comic skills and easily steals this whole section of the film.  Last is Gene Kelly, also as himself, who does what he can to teach Montand to dance.

In other films, the sudden imposition of three very-real performers as themselves into the plot would distract, but here it simply feels of a piece with everything around it.  Because Montand is playing a billionaire it’s completely feasible to think he’d be able to splash some cash for lessons from the best that money can buy.  One just wonders why and the hell these three thought it was necessary to be in the film?

I’ll Give It This

Despite not being all that funny, there are a couple good lines in the film, the best of them being when one of the characters says to another, “You don’t hold your liquor very well,” to which the reply is, “It’s not leaking out anywhere.”  No, it didn’t make me guffaw, but it did give me a good chuckle.

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[1] Her actual final film – or final completed film – would be The Misfits a year later, where she plays the beautiful woman who never made it, but one that’s genuinely worn down and showing her age.

[2] It’s worth noting that she also seems heavier in this section of the film than in others, hinting at the health problems she was certainly dealing with offscreen

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