Time For a Fresh, Second Look At Marilyn Monroe

Having watched and reviewed the movie BLONDE, a very distorted, negative portrayal of the film star Marilyn Monroe, I find myself experiencing a re-awakened interest in her, namely to give this cultural icon a fresh, second look. I intend to watch more of her movies, discerningly read about her, and find any well-balanced documentary on her (if one exists). It’s time to view Ms. Monroe as the fascinating, full person that she was.

I was enamored with Marilyn as a young child, starting at about age six years old. But, by age ten or eleven, I began to think of her as a sad, tragic figure, more a victim of circumstances than anything else. She was not at all “cool” to think much of in my 1970s and ’80s West Coast feminist-oriented household and social circles my folks ran in. She was someone to pity and avoid thinking much about at all, in order to not participate in perpetuating negative, oppressive stereotyping of women. Okay, fair enough, but yet limited and, ultimately, also unfair for Marilyn and, by extension, perhaps even, for women.

The truth is, Marilyn Monroe was not just a victim but many other things as a human being. She was a successful, assertive businesswoman, a singer, a natural comedian, a generous soul, a progressive thinker, and, undoubtedly much more. A few examples of her progressiveness: She was a staunch advocate in making sure the Black singer Ella Fitzgerald got a big break; she was a nudist; she was a supporter of “free love,” which has culturally since evolved into the furthering of polyamory as a way of structuring intimate adult relationships for some people who this is more natural feeling to do (this being just one among other freedoms of sexual and relational expression differing from hetero-normative, patriarchal norms centering on monogamy and heterosexuality). As dear Ella herself once said of Marilyn, she was “ahead of her time.”

The more I’ve learned about this historical figure, the more I realize I don’t know about her and got lulled for decades into holding a skewed, unexamined viewpoint of Marilyn. This has been lazy thinking on my part. Regardless of what one may feel and think about Ms. Monroe, in her own right, she was a dynamic, complex human being overcoming great odds for a while before her tragic end. I no longer wish to participate in relegating this woman and her legacy into a box that I and many others then inaccurately see her as pitifully stuck within.

(Photo of Marilyn Monroe taken in 1953.)

Movie Review: THIS ISLAND EARTH (from 1955)

While recently ill with Covid-19, I finally watched the 1955 science fiction movie classic THIS ISLAND EARTH, starring the interestingly beautiful, unusually sloe-eyed Faith Domergue. Probably almost thirty years ago, I had seen some parts of it, but not the entire film, until just the other day. For those, like myself, who enjoy the small amount of well-made, extant 1950s movies in the sci-fi genre, THIS ISLAND EARTH is impressive. Its then state-of-the-art special effects and, towards the end of the movie’s well-paced eighty-six minutes, beautiful animation, matte background set, and artistic large-brained, insectoid alien costume all render this production aesthetically on par with THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). The acting quality is sufficient, conventionally emphatic (verging on over-acting in places) for the time, so not particularly remarkable. I generally do not watch this category of movies for their cast’s acting abilities.

The plot is straightforward and intriguing. A pair of male humanoid aliens from the far away planet Metaluna have come to earth to recruit a select group of top notch nuclear scientists from around the world. We viewers eventually find out that this advanced civilization is at war with a neighboring one and desperately needs help from intelligent earthlings to save their dying world. Enter the tall, baritone-voiced Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason). Upon his arrival at a secret Metalunan research site, he meets up with a colleague and romantic interest from his recent past, Dr. Ruth Adams (Domergue). They are not long at this facility before getting whisked off by a flying saucer bound for Metaluna. The journey there and back is a mix of the scientifically credible and inaccurate, but visually colorful and entertaining nonetheless. Jeff Morrow plays Exeter, a sympathetic alien scientist who leads this plan to involve human beings in saving his planet of origin.

In addition to the aforementioned impressive technical aspects of this movie, what I also found noteworthy is how the leading female character, Dr. Adams, is portrayed. She is single and a highly respected scientist, along with at least one other female scientist within a small, elite group. There are eventually a few requisite moments of her being put in danger and screaming. Hence, due to this movie and others she starred in, Ms. Domergue became known as a “scream queen,” like many other actresses of her time, before, and later. However, her overall competence in the role of independent, unmarried professional scientist in both this film and the far inferior, yet also entertaining, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (also released in 1955), come through as primary, intact identities. The fact that Faith Domergue played this type of central, on-screen persona twice in one year impresses me. Her portrayal of Professor Lesley Joyce is actually more active and crucial in IT CAME… than in THIS ISLAND EARTH. But, in both productions, her identity remains that of a single professional at the end, albeit more explicitly so in IT CAME…. I found this pleasantly surprising and encouraging, given how so many movies from this era tended to relegate women into playing less competent and empowered roles. I am glad for Ms. Domergue and the exposure of audiences to these two characters of hers back in the 1950s.

What I did find irritating yet not at all surprising is how the leading men in both of these screenplays are presented. They are positioned as the necessary physical strength and stoic presence to both protect and “complete” Ms. Domergue’s “weaker” feminine vulnerability. Ridiculous. A well-educated, competent, single woman can draw from her own inner strength to get through life as a complete feeling person. Indeed, these two movies are conventional products of their times, albeit with some semi-feminist overtures.

Ultimately, THIS ISLAND EARTH is a visually entertaining movie that lightly explores a deep ethical dilemma: the ongoing cost of war on civilizations. Other than these positives, the script adheres to the ancient assumption that women– even intelligent, resourceful ones– are the “weaker” sex. Additionally, the movie is a product of the early years of the nuclear age, when splitting the atom was marketed as healthy for society, a major solution to many of humankind’s problems. Admittedly, the film is quite dated. But, the lovely Faith Domergue and all the colorful spectacle, such as (to name just a few images) many explosions and a giant flying saucer that produces a glowing green tractor beam, make it a joy to watch.