Whatever makes a movie star shine, Marilyn Monroe had it. Take "There's No Business Like Show Business" (one of seven movies buffed up for the Blu-ray disc compilation "Forever Marilyn"): Ethel Merman, who could whip up a frenzy on the stage, comes across as stiff and old-fashioned performing some of Irving Berlin's most popular songs--but when Monroe pops up to sing the little-known number "After You Get What You Want You Don't Want It," she lights up the screen. Monroe has something that always feels modern and immediate, which may be why she feels out of place in "River of No Return", a humdrum Western with some snappy dialogue but sluggish pacing and clumsy river-rafting effects. (She looks great in those dance-hall-girl outfits, though.) Fortunately, the other five movies in "Forever Marilyn" are all winners. Monroe plays a gold digger with a heart of gold in both "How to Marry a Millionaire" (costarring Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall) and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (costarring Jane Russell), a pair of fizzy comedies. In "Blondes", Monroe's performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in a snug pink dress became one of those career-defining moments, demonstrating the charisma that transcends simple beauty.
But even that image got topped by the moment in "The Seven Year Itch" when Monroe's white dress gets blown up by a breeze from a subway grate. Monroe's pleasure in the moment fuses innocence and sensuality, cementing her lasting star persona. This was her first movie with the great writer-director Billy Wilder; the second, "Some Like It Hot", is ranked by many critics as the greatest comedy ever made. Monroe enters "like Jell-O on springs," marvels Jack Lemmon. Lemmon and Tony Curtis drive the plot as a pair of musicians in drag who are hiding from the mob, but it all revolves around Monroe. Her boozy jazz singer is an adorable mix of sweetness and cynicism and delivers yet another iconic singing performance: her dreamy "boop-boop-be-doop" in "I Want to Be Loved by You" drips with sensuality. Sadly, her character's drinking reflected Monroe's own crumbling personal life. Her final completed film, "The Misfits", the last in this set, captures Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift as an adrift divorcée and a couple of down-on-their-luck cowboys struggling to rebuild their lives. The performances, the compelling script by Arthur Miller, and John Huston's powerful direction are potent as it is; knowing about the actors' personal lives gives "The Misfits" an extra layer of sadness. But even as she's falling apart--or perhaps especially when she's falling apart--Marilyn Monroe is never less than magnetic. "--Bret Fetzer"