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Spend a Sleepless Night and Day with Marilyn Monroe: A Guide to Her Best Roles

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood August 2, 2012 at 4:25PM

To mark the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death, TCM rolls out a full 24-hour marathon of Monroe films on August 4 as part of the month long "Summer Under the Stars" festival. The lineup reflects Monroe's versatility and depth as an actress, including her trademark naughty-nice comedic turns.

"River of No Return"
"River of No Return"
"One silver dollar/Endlessly rolling/Wasted and stolen/Changing hands/Changing hands," goes Monroe's melancholic croon in Otto Preminger's "River of No Return," a cowboys-and-injuns picture with undertones of menace. Monroe seems in tune with her role of sexy but sad saloon girl, Kay, and her performance numbers are some of the most elegantly mournful sequences of the film. In Monroe's dramatic roles, the prospect of sexually charged violence often simmers under the surface. In "River" this is no different, with rapacious advances made on Kay by frontierman Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum). The film almost goes there, but doesn't.

"Clash by Night"
"Clash by Night"
In Fritz Lang's startling, jaded melodrama "Clash by Night," Monroe hits back in an early role. She plays Barbara Stanwyck's cannery worker sister-in-law, Peggy, and has a combative physical relationship with her hubby that ranges from plucky to alarming. When Monroe admires another man from afar (brooding masochist Robert Ryan), she gets a towel wrapped around her neck. She returns the favor with a right hook to hubby's jaw.

"Niagara" shot Monroe to superstardom as psych-ward outpatient Joseph Cotten's unlucky wife. The majestic, cataclysmic waterfalls, which are given plenty of satisfying closeups in the film and beg interpretation as one big, bawdy sexual innuendo, seem like an apt co-star for Monroe. Producer Nunnally Johnson thought the same thing, as he quipped that the actress was "a force of nature, like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon." Monroe wears a famous, curve-hugging pink dress in a key sequence of the film, and Jean Peters' character notes: "To wear a dress like that, you've gotta start laying plans at about 13."

The full TCM Marilyn Monroe programming, complete with air times, is here, with the complete schedule for "Summer Under the Stars" here.

Not included in the TCM lineup but certainly worth a look: Roy Ward Baker's "Don't Bother to Knock," a good atmospheric noir featuring one of Monroe's best performances, as a psychologically damaged babysitter who should not be left alone with children; John Huston's bizarre Western drama "The Misfits," which is both Monroe and Clark Gable's final film, co-stars Montgomery Clift after his near-fatal 1956 car accident, and was reportedly one long bender for Huston; and Joseph L. Mankiewicz' "All About Eve" -- one small role for Monroe, one great film for acerbic showbiz enthusiasts everywhere.

More upcoming Monroe 50th anniversary memorial events and programming:

  • The Hollywood Museum's "Marilyn Monroe: The Exhibit" / An Intimate Look At The Legend (1926 –1962), the largest exhibit of authentic Marilyn items spanning Monroe’s illustrious life. The exhibit includes a special exhibition of items from Scott Fortner The Marilyn Monroe Collection and The Greg Schreiner Marilyn Monroe Collection as well as an exclusive George Barris Photography collection.
  • publishes a series of black-and-white photos of Monroe.
  • Strand bookstore in New York hosts writer-director-photojournalist Laurence Schiller on August 2 as he talks about his new book, "Marilyn & Me."
  • Liz Garbus' documentary "Love, Marilyn" will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
  • The American Cinematheque in Los Angeles screens "River of No Return," along with a book signing by Lois Banner of "Marilyn: The Paradox and the Passion," on August 5.
  • PBS airs the award-winning 2006 American Masters documentary "Marilyn Monroe: Still Life" on August 5.
  • Palm Springs displays the controversial "Forever Marilyn" 34,000-pound, 26-foot statue of Monroe from "The Seven Year Itch"
  • Barnes & Noble online offers 50% off Susan Bernard's "Marilyn: Intimate Exposures."

This article is related to: Marilyn Monroe, TCM, Classics

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.