Multiple times on YouTube, I have watched and re-watched the documentary Marilyn: The Finals Days. It focused on the final days in the life of iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe, and they were as tumultuous as many of the other moments in her life.
Monroe signed on the do the film Something’s Got to Give for 20th Century Fox. It was directed by George Cukor, and it co-starred Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. The plot of the film was as follows: Ellen Arden has been lost as sea for five years. Her husband, Nick Arden, has her declared legally dead, and he marries his second wife Bianca Steele Arden. The same day, Ellen is rescued and returns home. This leads to complications as Nick must tell Bianca the truth of Ellen’s rescue, but he becomes jealous when he learns that Ellen was stranded on an island with a man.
The production of the film was very troubled. Cukor was reluctant to work with Monroe after her unreliable behavior on the set of Let’s Make Love. In fact, Monroe was very difficult to work with. Nearly every film she did was over budget and behind schedule. She often was absent and late on the set due to mental conditions, physical aliments, emotional issues, among other struggles. And Fox had even bigger worries, their film Cleopatra was even more behind schedule and even more over budget. Something’s Got to Give was intended to be released by October 1962 so as to help raise desperately needed money for the studio.
In addition to the the studio’s financial woes and Monroe’s reputation for unreliability, the film had no finished script, and constant re-writes put the film over budget before any footage had been shot.
Filming was scheduled to begin on April 16, 1962, but Cukor chose to delay filming by a week to April 23, 1926, and Monroe traveled from Los Angeles to New York City, to go over her role with the help of acting coaches Lee and Paula Strasberg at The Actors Studio; Monroe had been studying there and with the Strasbergs for several years in order to improve her acting skills, so that she could show the world that she is more than just a dumb blonde sex object. When she returned, Monroe became ill; she had caught a cold from Paula, which developed into something far worse.
On the day filming was to begin, Monroe called in sick, and the studio doctor said that she has sinusitis; it was recommended that filming be delayed by one month so that Monroe could fully recover, but the studio refused. Cukor re-organized the schedule to shoot scenes without Monroe.
Monroe reported for work for the first time on April 30, 1962.
Monroe was frequently absent from work because of her illnesses which included sinusitis, bronchitis, fevers, and headaches. This pushed the film behind scheduled and even more over budget. but soon, the cast and crew were getting tired of her. Many felt that she was not really sick at all. They so no evidence of her being unwell. The film fell ten days behind schedule. When time came for her to sing at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala in New York, the studio did not want her to go although she had been given permission to attend before filming started.
Monroe went anyway, and this was an iconic moment in her life, when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
Fox was furious. But Monroe attended work regularly during the next several days. And she filmed her iconic nude scene which helped give the film more publicity, and it put the her back in the studio’s good graces.
On June 1, 1962, Monroe turned 36. The crew wanted to celebrate as soon as she arrived on set, but Cukor insisted that they wait until the end of the working day. After a simple celebration, Monroe attended a Muscular Dystrophy benefit at Dodger Stadium.
The following Monday, Monroe called in sick yet again. The cold weather on the night of the benefit caused her to get a fever. Fox had enough. They fired her for breach of contract. All of the cast and crew were suspended.
There were plans to replace Monroe, but Martin refused to do the film without Monroe. Monroe and Fox came to a new deal. Monroe would be paid one million dollars to do two films for Fox, and Fox agreed to replace Cukor with Jean Negulesco whom she had worked with on How to Marry a Millionaire Monroe also agreed to not have her acting coach, Paula Strasberg on the set. Strasberg was unpopular because many of Monroe’s directors felt that they had less control over Monroe than Strasberg did. The contract was signed on August 1, 1962. The film was to resume production in October.
On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead of an overdose. The film was shut down.
The documentary then mentioned Monroe’s unforgettable legacy, and the impact she has had on countless people since her death.
What I found fascinating about the documentary was the struggles that were depicted. The struggles that Monroe had personally, and the struggles of the studio were very clear discussed. There were numerous talking head interviews from several people who knew Monroe, such as Cyd Chrassise, producer Henry T. Weinstein, the Strasbergs’ daughter Susan Strasberg, Monroe’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, among others, who gave their own insight about Monroe and the film’s troubled production. And there was plenty of archival footage and photographs
The next part of the documentary is a reconstruction of Something’s Got to Give. Most of the footage was unseen for many decades until for the documentary, it was restored and edited into a 37-minute segment, which served to give people an example of what it may have looked like, had it been released as planned.
It’s hard to review the film. On the one hand, it feels unfair to criticize a movie that was never finished. However, with all things being considered, it was not very bad. With what few scenes were completed and edited together, it seems very interesting. There are funny moments. And despite there being many gaps in the narrative, everything is coherent, and it ends with a resolution of a kind.
The documentary can be seen here, with the film immediately following:
The film can bee seen by itself here:
And you can see some raw-unedited footage here.