20th Century Fox presents
Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days (2001)
"I'm sure they'd been through this many, many times with Marilyn. I don't think it was the first time, so they knew what to expect, actually. Like Cukor did. He really knew what to expect."- Cyd Charisse
Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Cyd Charisse, James Coburn
Other Stars: Henry Weinstein, Hyman Engleberg, Phil Silvers, Wally Cox, Steve Allen
Director: Patty Ivins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity)
Run Time: 01:57:10s
Release Date: 2001-05-29
DVD ReviewMarilyn Monroe has been the subject of countless books and programs documenting her life in the most minute detail, leavened with a large dose of speculation and rumor. The mystery surrounding her death perhaps ranks only just behind the Kennedy assassination for the breadth of coverage and the depth of speculation involved.
Part of the Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Last Days covers very familiar ground but, since it is more sympathetic to the actress, avoids some of the more sordid aspects of the affair. The documentary itself focuses most closely on the ill-fated production of Something's Got To Give, the film that was never completed with Monroe because 20th Century Fox executives fired her from the picture. Usually, there are a few clips from this film included in documentaries (featuring a breathtakingly lovely Marilyn) just before moving on to the recounting of her death (with attending mysteries).
Here, there is a fairly standard biography of Monroe as she transformed herself from the lovely Norma Jean Baker to starlet, then sex goddess and ultimately, a popular culture icon. Her marriages are recounted along with her struggle for success and to be accepted as a serious actress. Interestingly, very little attention is paid to the movies that she made away from Fox—the ones that are perhaps her greatest films.
The course of making Something's Got to Give is followed day-by-day and features reminiscences from cast and crew from the production (most prominently producer Henry Weinstein and actress Cyd Charisse), as well as her friends and acquaintances (actress Susan Strasberg and Dr. Hyman Engleberg). The Last Days is a fascinating bit of cinema memorabilia. There are many out-takes and bits of film that include director George Cukor. Any student of film will be fascinated by the scenes of Cukor working with the child actors; of Marilyn attempting to complete a scene with an uncooperative canine actor and other tidbits of what it was like actually making the film.
The jewel of The Last Days is the restoration and editing of the footage that was completed for Something's Got To Give. If completed, this would have been a fairly minor film in the Monroe canon; a lightweight bedroom farce, based on an earlier film, My Favorite Wife. Marilyn's character returns—after having been declared dead—to find her husband (Dean Martin) has taken a new wife (Cyd Charisse). Populating the cast are some of the top characters actors of that era, including Wally Cox, John MacGiver, Steve Allen and Phil Silvers. The preservation of this incomplete film is outstanding and totally enjoyable; the magical spark that Marilyn Monroe brought to the silver screen is there, making it a must-see for any fan of this movie icon.
Other documentaries have offered that the reason Marilyn was frequently absent from the set stemmed from her attempts to force Fox into a new contract more favorable to her. It would seem odd that she would sabotage a movie being co-produced by her own production company without good reason. This is partly supported by the fact that just prior to her death, Marilyn signed a new, two-picture deal with Fox; the plan was to restart the production of Something's Got To Give. This documentary chooses not explore that aspect.
I always rate a biography/documentary as "good" when it provokes questions in my mind about preconceived notions or causes me to stop and re-evaluate deeply ingrained conceptions about the subject. The Last Days does both, as well as delivering a priceless portrait of Marilyn Monroe as a working actress.
20th Century Fox was in dire straits at this time in its history because of the massive budget overruns of Cleopatra. Monroe, having made millions for company, was Fox's most bankable star, and one just senses that there is more to the financial story behind the scenes. She was certainly one of the most popular movie stars in the world. When the studio fired her and signed Lee Remick to replace her, Dean Martin exercised a provision in his contract that he would not work on the film with out Marilyn; this is what actually killed the picture. Ultimately, the entire movie was recast, renamed and released as Move Over, Darling with James Garner and Doris Day. This documentary, plus the back story of Cleopatra, makes for a harrowing description of the death of the studio system in the Hollywood of the early 1960s.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
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Image Transfer Review: The image transfer is a two-fold issue. The documentary is a fairly standard mix of archival footage, film clips, still photos and interview segments. Nothing particularly stands out except that is a solid transfer to a full frame presentation.
The restoration of Something's Got To Give is another story. It is yet another poster child for film restoration and preservation. To take the raw footage from an uncompleted production that sat in a vault for 40 years and create something that is not only watchable, but lovely in its quality, is a triumph. Presented in widescreen with titles and sound, there was a definite feeling of disappointment when it ended prematurely.
Kudos to Fox for this effort and its result.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This disc is available only in English Stereo (as opposed to the rest of the Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection), but it is a very good stereo mix. Particularly in the restoration of Something's Got To Give, we hear nicely conceived sound separations. Both performances of the song Something's Got To Give by Frank Sinatra are outstanding.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cleopatra Promotional Trailer
Extras Review: It is an odd set of extras on this disc.
Cinemascope Inaugurates New Screen Era (03m:53s) is an interesting little Movietone Newsreel that describes the invention of Cinemascope. I can't quite figure out what it has to do with Marilyn Monroe, except remotely as a motion picture actress who performed in Cinemascope movies. I did enjoy a reference to the fact that a pioneering element of movies was "peep shows" and the success of those led to the creation of the "movie palaces of today." Not unlike the Internet as we know it today.
Another odd "extra" is the promotional trailer for Cleopatra. It has a relationship to Monroe in that she and Elizabeth Taylor were rivals and the epic was being made at the same time as Something's Got To Give—and, of course, both contributed to the "downfall" of 20th Century Fox. But it does seem to have been included on a tribute disc to Marilyn by someone with a bit of a macabre sense of humor.
Odd. As I said.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsThe resurrection of Something's Got To Give makes this a must-have for any fan of Marilyn Monroe. Although the biography of Marilyn is quite standard, the focus on the production of her uncompleted final film is fascinating and intriguing, with many outtakes from the completed footage.
Jesse Shanks 2001-05-05