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Four More Releases of Marilyn Monroe Films; Hackman and Hopper on View in 'Hoosiers'

September 18, 1987|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

We remember Marilyn Monroe, one of the big movie stars of the '50s, both as the quintessential buxom, dumb blonde and as a tragic figure--one of those performers supposedly used and abused by Hollywood. But what about her acting? Thanks to CBS-Fox, there's plenty on home video to allow you to judge for yourself.

The company just released four of her old movies and dropped the price on six others. All are $19.98.

The debuts are "Monkey Business," "River of No Return," "Let's Make Love" and "Niagara": In the wacky "Monkey Business," (1952) Monroe plays a brainless secretary who has a crush on a stuffy, married chemist (Cary Grant). It's a supporting role but a vivid one, showing off her flair for light comedy. The movie is about the search for a youth serum, which is discovered accidentally by a chimp. The chemist, his wife (Ginger Rogers) and staff of the chemical company take the drug, with often funny but mostly silly results. Seeing dapper Grant do some of the dumb things he does in this movie is more unsettling than amusing.

Monroe has to do some serious dramatic acting in "River of No Return" (1954) and is often unconvincing. It's the story of a tough saloon singer (Monroe) braving Indian attacks, crooks and rapids as she sails down a treacherous river searching for her crooked husband (Rory Calhoun), accompanied by a farmer (Robert Mitchum) and his son (Tommy Rettig). Some tense river-rafting sequences are interspersed with some tacky scenes obviously photographed on a set against back projections. Still, it's a fairly satisfying Western.

In "Niagara," (1953) a fairly riveting thriller, Monroe delivers one of her best dramatic performances as a conniving woman out to kill her husband (Joseph Cotten). Though it's obvious in some scenes that she's stretching her limited acting range, she's still effective as this sexy, sinister character.

"Let's Make Love" (1960) is a low-energy comedy featuring Monroe as a singer-actress romancing a billionaire (Yves Montand). Once again, in this relatively undemanding role, she demonstrates her talent for light comedy. There's great chemistry between Monroe and Montand but director George Cukor, hampered by a weak script, can't take full advantage of it.

Her comedy talents are best showcased in three previously released but repriced movies: "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953) and "Some Like it Hot" (1959), possibly the funniest movie of the '50s.

NEW RELEASES: HBO's "Hoosiers," directed by David Anspaugh, is "Rocky" and "David and Goliath" on a basketball court. Set in the early '50s and based on the legendary 1954 Milan High School team, it's about a squad from tiny Hickory, Ind. that's whipped into championship shape by a coach (Gene Hackman) with a shady past. Like the team, which is more scrappy than talented, he's battling for respectability while battling local leaders who disprove of his unorthodox methods. Meanwhile, he's romancing a prissy teacher (Barbara Hershey) and trying to keep his aide Shooter (Dennis Hopper) sober.

Critics liked "Hoosiers"--arguably the best sports movie of the decade--lauding the cast, especially Hopper, who received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. But Hackman, in a role requiring him to totter between toughness and sensitivity, really carries the movie. This performance ranks with his best--in "Bonnie and Clyde" and "I Never Sang For My Father." If you're in the mood for suspense (those final games are tension-filled) or plain old uplift, this movie is laced with both.

Critics were mixed about RCA/Columbia's "Blind Date," which stars Bruce Willis of TV's "Moonlighting" and Kim Basinger. The slapstick farce, directed by Blake Edwards, isn't always on target, but it does have a high-spirited silliness and is sprinkled with some hilariously goofy humor. Willis plays a junior executive who gets a blind date (Basinger) to accompany him to a business dinner. But he doesn't realize until too late that alcohol makes her surly and uninhibited. She wrecks a restaurant and a wedding while he, trying to one-up her, is a drunken terror at a ritzy party. Of course, love blooms amid the chaos.

Usually playing the silent, sexy tart, Basinger shows a previously untapped talent for screwball comedy. Willis' role is a variation of his live-wire, smart-aleck TV character. But strangely, the best bits in the movie belong to John Larroquette, who plays the heroine's persistent suitor, and William Daniels--the suitor's wealthy father. A box-office hit, grossing $40 million, this should be one of the fall's most popular rentals.

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