This latest wave of Marilyn Monroe feature films is really a collection of her early bit parts, as she's pretty much an incidental character in these films, enjoying just a handful of actual screen time. (The remaining Monroe Fox flicks - "Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!" (1948), "Fireball" (1950), "O. Henry's Full House" (1952), and the Rock Hudson-narrated tribute, "Marilyn" (1963) - are at the time of this writing still unreleased on DVD.) In this case, Monroe's association - here playing a gold-digging babe ready to burst from a shiny bathing suit - rescues a lesser film co-written by I.A.L. Diamond who was Billy Wilder's mid-career writing partner.
A compact piece of romantic fluff for the still-elegant Claudette Colbert, "Let's Make It Legal" is rather fun nonsense, with Robert Wagner playing a frequently churlish son-in-low to slick n' suave Macdonald Carey and mother-in-law Colbert.
Wagner, recruited for a solo commentary track, does an excellent job recalling his youth as a 19 year-old contract star who tested with Monroe, acted with the screen greats, and maintained lifelong friendships with many of the film's talent.
A natural conversationalist, Wagner's commentary (which oddly contains a verbal deletion sixteen minutes into the track) is more like cyclical bursts of warm memories. Not having seen the film for many years, Wagner dips into his bottomless well of anecdotes, and offers some fresh portraits of a fist-wielding John Ford, being part of the 'bobby-sox idols of the Fifties,' caddying for Clark Gable, and promoting "Legal" with Carey and Barbara Bates at local song & dance Q&A shows.
Part of an elite group of stars who literally grew up on-screen, Wagner proclaims "20th Century-Fox was my college," and he maintains a rare and thoroughly positive view of the old studio system, adding, "I was blessed." Indeed, his generation probably had it the best of all. Rather than reaching a glass ceiling and arguing for fresh material with autocratic studio bosses, the idols of the Fifties were the last to enjoy the full resources and grooming centers of still-wealthy studios, while an emerging freelance system offered them another alternative when the standard seven year contract had run its course.
This final wave of Fox' Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection includes "As Young as You Feel," "Let's Make It Legal," "Love Nest," and "Were Not Married."
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan