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Image Entertainment presents
Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess (1996)

"All the guys had an eye for Marilyn. And she liked the guys."
- Eli Wallach

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: May 31, 2004

Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Eli Wallach, Susan Strasberg, Sheree North
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nude photography)
Run Time: 01h:30m:02s
Release Date: June 01, 2004
UPC: 014381067125
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's been almost 42 years since Marilyn Monroe died, yet the world's fascination with the iconic actress hasn't diminished. Why do we still love Marilyn? Maybe it's the unique way she combines sexuality and vulnerability; maybe it's her childlike innocence, her coquettish nature, or her honesty in an industry notorious for telling lies. A jumble of contradictions, Marilyn is both a fantasy girl and a very real woman; a tragic figure and a gritty survivor; a trusting soul and a shrewd manipulator. Because she died young, she remains ageless, frozen in a bygone era. Yet she's still amazingly contemporary and accessible, eager to bewitch and enthrall fresh generations of potential fans. Simply said, it's impossible to imagine Marilyn Monroe ever becoming passé.

This week, Marilyn would have turned 78 years old, and Image Entertainment marks the occasion with the release of Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess, a slickly produced, cohesive, and objective documentary narrated by Peter Graves. Although it doesn't say so on the packaging, the program is actually an installment from the popular Biography series on the A&E network, and offers a comprehensive overview of Marilyn's tumultuous life, while making some insightful observations about the actress's character and day-to-day struggles. The profile celebrates Monroe without gushing, and addresses her faults and weaknesses in a non-judgmental tone that allows viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Produced with the cooperation of 20th Century Fox, Marilyn's home studio for most of her career, The Mortal Goddess benefits from a wealth of film clips, newsreel footage, and interviews with friends, colleagues, and biographers. Eli Wallach, Susan Strasberg, Sheree North, and Gloria Steinem are among those who provide comments and analysis on various aspects of Monroe's life. But some of the most interesting and poignant memories come from James Dougherty, Marilyn's first husband, who married Norma Jean Baker at the tender age of 16, years before she became a Hollywood phenomenon.

The documentary addresses Monroe's tortured childhood, follows her career as a model and pageant contestant (she was once crowned Miss Flamethrower), and covers the explosive nude calendar scandal that a clever Marilyn twisted to her advantage. Her marriages to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller are chronicled in detail, as well as her USO tour of Korea and year-long stint at New York's Actor's Studio. Of course, Marilyn's most passionate and enduring love affair was with the camera, and The Mortal Goddess examines all her films—the classics and the duds—as well as Monroe's well-documented and frequent disputes with 20th Century Fox management.

Over the course of this absorbing profile we gain renewed appreciation and respect for Monroe's underrated talent, and especially her versatility. Not many actresses in Hollywood could tackle comedy, drama, and musicals with equal aplomb, but Marilyn was one of the few who could do it all. We also walk away admiring her creative integrity and willingness to learn her craft. Above all, Marilyn yearned to be regarded as a serious actress, and she toiled tirelessly to achieve that goal, all the while battling crippling insecurities and a dependence on prescription medication, both of which took a tremendous toll on her stamina and reputation. Considering the depth of her afflictions, it's a wonder Monroe made as many films as she did, and contributed such a fine body of work.

Unfortunately, The Mortal Goddess glosses over the lurid final chapter of Marilyn's life, so those seeking an in-depth examination of Monroe's relationship with Jack and Bobby Kennedy or probes into the questionable circumstances surrounding Marilyn's death will have to look elsewhere. Biography doesn't dabble in conspiracy theories, but its solid reporting and involving presentation make The Mortal Goddess one of the best Marilyn Monroe documentaries ever made.

Norma Jean would be pleased.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Mortal Goddess employs media from a wide variety of sources, but the transfer remains solid and balanced throughout. The contemporary interview sequences are all crisp and clean, and only high quality film clips are used. Even the vintage TV snippets and newsreel footage are nicely preserved, and seamlessly integrated into the program.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The stereo soundtrack possesses nice presence and depth, and although some of the antiquated source material is a bit ragged, none of the imperfections are very serious. The interviews are clear and easy to understand, while the film clips possess good fidelity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
20 Other Trailer(s) featuring A Ticket to Tomahawk, All About Eve, As Young As You Feel, Love Nest, Let's Make It Legal, We're Not Married, O. Henry's Full House, Monkey Business, Don't Bother to Knock, Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry A Millionaire, River of No Return, There's No Business Like Show Business, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like It Hot, Let's Make Love, The Misfits
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: A whopping 20 trailers for almost all of Marilyn's noteworthy films comprise the supplemental offerings.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Combining film clips, interviews, and rare newsreel footage, Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess presents an involving, full-bodied portrait of one of Hollywood's most fascinating and tragic figures. This high quality program will appeal to both new fans and the diehard Monroe faithful, and make a handsome addition to any movie-lover's library. Recommended.


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