Posts Tagged ‘Classic Film


The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

Gladys Baker during a visit with her daughter Norma Jeane, the future Marilyn Monroe

J. Randy Taraborrelli’s new biography, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, successfully hits all of the usual milestones in Marilyn Monroe’s life and career. However, unlike other Monroe books, Taraborrelli argues that Monroe’s “secret life” was her (over-) concern with the mental illness that ran through her family, which not only affected her maternal grandmother and her mother but also Monroe herself. A thoroughly researched and well-written book, Secret Life uncovers new evidence of Monroe’s mental instability, her drug dependency, her uncanny ability to manipulate her public persona (even if depressed and/or drugged), her (lack of) relationship with the Kennedy brothers, and her death.

Although I enjoyed reading Secret Life and seeing some of its pictures for the first time, I’m not sure that Monroe’s mental and drug struggles are a secret anymore. Most MM scholars and fans know about her mother’s illness, as well as Monroe’s own fears about her condition and that she might somehow pass it onto any children she might have.  And it seems that Monroe’s difficult childhood and the pressures of celebrity made an immense impact on the development of her condition, a fact that Taraborrelli downplays. He sees plenty of nature but not enough nurture.  However, Monroe’s childhood spent in foster homes and an orphanage, although difficult and sometimes painful, was not as dysfunctional or tragic as many biographers and her own memoir claim it had been.

The book does include some insights that I hadn’t realized before. Monroe’s mother, Gladys, rather than being some off-the-radar presence stashed away in a mental hospital, was actually very present in Monroe’s life. Mother and daughter were in relatively steady contact regardless of their physical locations or mental states. Not all of the contact was pleasant though.  Monroe’s initial signs of paranoia occurred in her early 20’s, a time when most schizophrenic women present their first symptoms. Her psychiatrist from the early 1960’s, Dr. Ralph Greenson, actually diagnosed her as “borderline paranoid schizophrenic,” just like her mother and grandmother. Monroe herself was quite aware of her condition but unfortunately, began to overmedicate herself in an effort to combat it. That being said, some of her delusional paranoia was fueled by actual instances, such as being followed by fans and the FBI.

I always imagined that Monroe accidentally overdosed on the night she died (or maybe that’s what I wishfully thought had happened – “she didn’t mean to”), but this book has caused me to question that perspective for the first time. Maybe it was intentional due to her genetic makeup, hopelessness, drug dependency, and previous suicide attempts. Maybe she changed her mind through, hence the phone in her hand. But this time, no one was on the other end to save her. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure, but now I know it probably wasn’t the Kennedys after all.

Forty-seven years after her death at age 36, Marilyn’s still in the news (and people are still making money off of her), this time with a tape supposedly showing her smoking pot…


St. Ingrid

Ingrid Bergman in "Europa '51"

Ingrid Bergman in "Europa '51"

Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman was Hollywood’s saint in the roles she played and in the naturalistic persona she seemed to inhabit off screen, until scandal hit. When Bergman saw Italian director Roberto Rossellini’s breakthrough neorealist film Rome Open City (1945), she was so moved that she immediately wrote Rossellini, asking to work with him. In 1950, the pair collaborated on Stromboli, which led to an affair between Bergman and Rossellini (both of whom were married to other people at the time) and to an unplanned pregnancy, about which Bergman was unapologetically open. The out-of-wedlock birth led to condemnations of the couple by the Catholic Church and the U.S. Congress, as well as Bergman’s exile from Hollywood for many years.

Europa ’51 (1952) is Bergman and Rossellini’s second film collaboration. By this time, they were married to each other and living in Rome. Bergman plays Irene Gerard, a rich woman exiled from England by World War II and now living in Italy with her husband George and son Michel. Bergman’s films with Rossellini usually emphasize her character’s and her own place as geographical and cultural outsider in a foreign culture. Here, surrounded by poverty, her character’s high social status doubles that status. Irene is a materialistic and selfish woman, as well as a negligent mother, until her son kills himself. In addition to this tragedy, a friend enlightens her about the injustices of the world, especially toward the poor and young, to whom Irene had been blind before. In response, Irene transforms herself into a selfless and loving servant to the downtrodden. Because she carries no religious or political agenda and her husband fears scandal when she aids a juvenile delinquent, Irene is committed to a mental hospital. The film’s plot is almost an allegorical wish to redeem Bergman herself and restore her to her Hollywood image. Bergman would eventually return to Hollywood and win a Best Actress Oscar for Anastasia (1956), a film about an impostor trying to claim a place on the Russian throne.


Vertigo’s Alternate Ending

Vertigo original ending's last shot

Vertigo original ending's last shot

“Vertigo” (1958) is quite possibly Hitchcock’s masterpiece, although my personal favorite is “Notorious” (1946). However, my favorite scene in all of Hitchcock is when Kim Novak (as Judy playing a fake Madeline for the hero’s pleasure, walks out of the bathroom toward Scottie (James Stewart) in that green light. I had always had “Vertigo” on tape, so was not familiar with the DVD version, which includes an alternate ending that Hitchcock supposedly made for European censors. Apparently, the original ending of Scottie looking down from the tower after Judy has just fallen to her death left too much moral ambiguity about the murderer Elster’s whereabouts. Also, censoring for the Europeans seems strange because they’ve always had a better track record for ambiguous and provocative film content than Hollywood ever did.

In the alternate ending, Scottie’s “safe” ex-fiancé Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), whom we haven’t seen since the film’s halfway mark, listens to the radio as an announcer lets us know that the police are close to catching Elster, who has left the country (the villain will be caught, giving us a morally tied-up ending). The announcer then transitions to a story about a frat prank involving a cow (?) when Scottie enters Midge’s dark apartment, and Midge switches off the radio. The announcer’s voice has just spoken the film’s last words. Midge pours Scottie a drink, and the pair stands in silence, never looking at or moving toward each other. The film fades to black after several uncomfortable seconds of this.

Overall, the original ending is much better in its ambiguity toward Scottie’s future and its focus on his character. The alternate ending, although it doesn’t compromise the film with a romantic reunion and/or embrace between Midge and Scottie (Scottie accepting the safe choice: marriage and family with the stable yet boring girl), is awkward in that it brings Midge and Elster back into the picture after a long absence, taking away from the focus on Scottie. It also gives us an ending reminiscent of “Psycho” (everything seems alright, but it’s not really) or “The Graduate” (what have we done? where do we go from here?)



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