Yves Montand suggests to Marilyn Monroe... Let's Make Love (1960)
When I first became enamored of classic Hollywood, there were a handful of actors who were responsible for introducing me to this new wonderful world. At the time, the one who shone the brightest was Marilyn Monroe. My sister first discovered her for a school project and soon both of us were fascinated by this incredible woman. I'll never forget when my sister received a box set of Marilyn's films for her birthday; we devoured those films as quickly as we could and to this day I cherish them. To celebrate Ms. Monroe's June 1st birthday, I thought I'd host my own three-day tribute by looking at three of those films that were so pivotal for me. Forget the tragedies, the romances, and the what-might-have-beens. What I want to focus on is the work, the iconic performances that Marilyn left behind. Previously, I wrote about the iconic comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch. Today, I conclude my ode to Marilyn with George Cukor's underseen gem Let's Make Love.
We begin with a narrator giving us the financial and romantic history of the family of Jean-Marc Clement (Yves Montand in his American film debut), a famous entrepreneur who resides in New York. Quick side note: I've always hated this part -- it's superfluous and boring, which means it might scare away first-time viewers, but just fast-forward through it and you'll get to the good stuff. Okay, end of side note.
Coffman and Clement head to the Theater in the Round in Greenwich Village. As they quietly take their seats, colored lights flash on the stage as leading lady Amanda Dell (Monroe) descends from the darkness wearing
here, here, and here. Just beware that for some reason their beginnings and endings are blacked out for a few seconds.
he talks to Amanda and learns that she isn't a bit impressed by Clement. She wants to know why he doesn't do some good with his money and why he thinks every woman should faint upon hearing his name. Clement becomes more fascinated as Amanda tells him about attending night
Clement jealously watches as Tony gets on the stage and sings "Give Me a Song That Sells," a tune that the show is thinking about buying. It becomes clear to Clement that Amanda and Tony adore one another, so after everyone applauds Tony's impromptu performance, Clement tries to steal the spotlight by getting onstage and telling a dull joke that we previously saw him tell to a group of businessmen with great success. He is embarrassed, though, when everyone stares in stony silence. Amanda assures him not to worry about it before dashing off for dinner with Tony.
Wishing to get closer to Amanda, Clement reveals to Coffman that he is going to attend the next rehearsal as Alex Dumas, just for a few hours until he can sufficiently hook Amanda. He then gives Coffman $1,000 to buy him a brand-new joke from a writer Coffman knows named Charlie Lamont. Without wasting any time, Clement has a private eye look into Amanda and learns that although she is often seen with Tony, she also meets up with a mysterious, married man every day at a church. Smelling a scandal, George begs with Clement to drop the whole thing, but he goes ignored as Clement orders for his yacht to be prepared and asks his secretary to find him the appropriate attire for his role as Dumas.
"Hey You, with the Crazy Eyes" to a giggling Amanda. Frankie Vaughn makes this such an infectiously fun number, and Monroe's elated reactions to him are lovely. It isn't hard to see why Clement would be envious of Tony. After the song, Clement is once again struggling to get Amanda to go to dinner with him when the show's producer, Mr.
forcing a freaked out Lily to throw the bracelet back at him.
In a moment of self-awareness, Clement explains to Coffman that he knows how privileged he is and how his money warps the way people interact with him -- that's why Amanda is so special. "Only that girl has ever spoken to me. Not to my money, not to my name, but to me," he confides. "And I do not intend to lose her." Realizing that Clement has become serious about Amanda and wants to marry her, Coffman vows to help him any way he can.
To give George a glimpse of what he has invested in, Burton has the company run through a dress rehearsal of "Specialization." Sung by Tony and Amanda, the number is interspersed with wordless impersonations of opera singer Maria Callas, classical pianist Van Cliburn, Elvis Presley, and Clement. Playing himself, Clement's role is pretty simple: he just has to wear a top hat and tails and suavely stand arm-in-arm with Amanda. At the last minute, though, Burton decides to have "Alex" crow like a rooster, which refers to the lyric "You'll rule the barnyard if you specialize." George and Coffman visibly cringe when Clement is forced to crow, and he isn't happy about it, either.
At his office later, he tells the men how ridiculous he feels and how fed up he is with Tony having all of the jokes and songs in the show (ignoring the fact that Tony has much more talent and experience than Clement). George advises him to just admit to Amanda who he really is, promising that she'd be impressed with his wealth and business acuity because that is what makes him who he is. "No, George, that is my power," Clement replies. "That is five generations of money. That is a billionaire. But it is not me, and this girl I want to fall in love with me." Believing that Tony's talent stems from the things that are bought for him, Clement decides he can beat Tony by getting the best teachers for himself. Remembering that they own stock in NBC, George calls the network and hires...
Burton is so impressed with "Alex" that he offers him a run-of-the-play contract and a $10 raise. Clement, however, firmly demands $50, even though it is incredibly questionable whether "Alex," an inexperienced bit player, would deserve such a high raise. Burton blows his top and fires Clement, but George insists he stays, reminding Burton that he has controlling interest. George then takes Clement aside and is told he must give Clement and Amanda $50 raises. This scene used to puzzle me somewhat because I couldn't understand why Clement would ask for such a bold raise when he definitely doesn't need the money, but in watching it this time, it hit me that perhaps he was taking George's advice and was trying to show Amanda, who witnesses the whole fight, his business skill. While she does seem a little impressed by how it all turns out, I think she feels more bewildered than anything.
the show's title song, a suggestive little ditty that finds Amanda chasing after and seducing Tony in a minimalist bedroom set. Sitting in the darkened audience, Clement imagines a different version of the number, one where he dances on a glitter-covered boardroom table while Amanda happily knits a sparkling sweater until it all ends in a passionate
At his office that night, Clement commiserates with George, Coffman, and Berle that Amanda still hasn't fallen for him. Maybe he needs to work on his singing next? Berle has a great teacher in mind: Bing Crosby! Using the exquisite tune "Incurably Romantic," Bing croons each line and explains his choices while Clement repeats his phrasing. The irony here is that Yves Montand was a singing star over in Europe and was very capable of keeping up with the likes of Crosby. He does a great job, though, of purposely hitting the wrong notes and phrasing lyrics awkwardly to demonstrate Clement's ineptitude.
Worried that his pupil's singing won't be good enough, Bing advises Clement that it'd be better if he could dance as well. Luckily, the legend knows just who to call -- Gene Kelly! Like Bing and Milton Berle, Kelly isn't too jazzed about Clement's, shall we say, lack of ability, but he does his best. According to Kelly's widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, the icon thought Monroe "was very well-suited for musicals. I wish I could say that I thought up the idea of her doing a musical first, but I didn't." He thought it was a shame she didn't do more in the genre, saying, "She wasn't a dancer in the grand style of Cyd Charisse or Leslie Caron, but she moved very well..." Although Gene only appeared with Montand in the film, he posed with Monroe for some delightful publicity shots, recalling that "there are a lot of photographs of her being on the set and so forth, but that's because she felt good and we were friends and she just came out to keep us company." Here are some of those adorable shots:
On her way to her dressing room, Amanda overhears Burton chastising Tony after finding a bottle of booze in his room, making us realize that Tony is a recovering alcoholic. Amanda immediately rushes in to hold Tony back as Burton pours the liquor down the sink. After seeing "Alex" get more material, Tony is feeling pretty hopeless, telling Amanda that his career just keeps stalling and his shows keep closing early, despite his performances consistently receiving great reviews. He knows he can do "Incurably Romantic" better than Clement, but he isn't being given the chance. Amanda decides she can help by going out to dinner with Clement and keeping him away long enough so Tony can perform the number for George. You can watch the scene here.
That evening, Clement takes Amanda to a fancy Chinese restaurant, where he impresses her with a toast he gives in Chinese. After a while, though, Amanda starts to feel guilty for deceiving him and blurts out the truth, explaining that she did it because show business is Tony's life, not a side job like it is for "Alex." Her admission just endears her more to Clement, who confesses his feelings for her and proposes. When she becomes hesitant, he decides to reveal his true identity. Thinking it's a joke, Amanda laughs, but the more he insists it is real, the more worried she gets that he has become delusional.
She bolts to the theater with Clement right behind her. In her dressing room, she sits him down and gently tells him that he took her earlier advice about getting into character too seriously. He doesn't have to pretend to be Clement for her sake -- after all, money means nothing to her! Happy to hear this, Clement kisses Amanda. Their sweet moment is ruined, though, when he continues to claim he is Clement. Now feeling angry, Amanda accuses him of making fun of her and storms out to help Tony perform for George.
"Incurably Romantic" into a full production number. He serenades Amanda with the song as she stands next to him, a wind machine causing her dress to cling to her. I must say that it occurred to me during my latest viewing that despite his vocal talent, Montand kind of got the shaft in this film. His singing is kept brief, and when he does get
When the company learns the news the next day, Amanda is livid and wants to fight back. "Alex" suggests that because of Jean-Marc Clement's notorious weakness for beautiful women, they should send Amanda to explain the show to him. Everyone agrees, and they head over to the Clement
Amanda's amazement quickly turns to anger, prompting Clement to blame his wealth and her feelings toward it for why he had to lie to her. Unwilling to hear anymore, she runs away and gets into his private elevator. He comes on the intercom, though, and begs her to come back. When that doesn't work, he overrides the elevator and has it come back up. He steps inside and starts seductively reprising "Let's Make Love." Amanda's protests fade away as she slowly gives in, and they finally embrace.
After witnessing Burt Lancaster dance and earn rapturous applause at a Writers Guild Award ceremony, Oscar-winning screenwriter Norman Krasna was inspired to pen The Billionaire, a musical comedy about a wealthy playboy who joins an off-Broadway show upon learning that it plans on lampooning his image. For the playboy, Krasna envisioned Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Yul Brynner, and Gregory Peck, believing that since they didn't typically perform in musicals, it would add to the humor of the film. Peck signed on and was soon joined by Marilyn Monroe, whose success with Some Like It Hot encouraged her studio 20th Century Fox to hold her to the previously neglected terms of her contract.
The addition of Monroe ended up being the subtraction of Peck, though, when she and her husband Arthur Miller had her role expanded with Miller himself providing uncredited rewrites. With Peck gone, Monroe lobbied for her leading man to be Rock Hudson (which would have been fabulous), but the role ultimately went to Yves Montand, a French actor and singer who slowly found stardom after being discovered by the legendary Edith Piaf in 1944. Having starred in the French version of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Montand was approved by both the playwright and Monroe. There was just one little problem: he didn't speak English. This made production extremely stressful for the actor, and it led to many critics complaining that Montand was difficult to understand in the finished film.
Their marriage already shaky when filming started, Let's Make Love put even more strain on the Monroe-Miller relationship. Miller felt his work on the script was beneath him and distracted him from doing more important things. More significant, though, was the affair that happened between Monroe and Montand. At first, the Millers, Montand, and his wife, acclaimed French actress Simone Signoret, became great friends and even had adjoining bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They would eat dinner together every night while they chatted about the script and Montand practiced his English.
One of Monroe's biggest difficulties was her inability to complete a scene. According to Cukor, "She'd do three lines and then forget everything again. You had to shoot it piecemeal. But curiously enough, when you strung everything together, it was complete." Years later in an interview with David Letterman, Yves Montand would recall how incredibly frightened Monroe was about being in front of the camera. Although her methods seemed irrational, the actress possessed a kind of spark that made
While Let's Make Love contains one of my favorite Monroe performances, Norman Krasna thought Cyd Charisse was better suited for the role. Monroe herself believed that Amanda Dell was the worst role of her career, remarking that "there was nothing there with the writing" and she only did it because of her contract. I wonder if it was really the circumstances around the film that soured her on the character. Personally, I've always been thoroughly charmed by Amanda and Monroe's portrayal. The character has clear ambitions and desires, none of which are tied to a love interest. On the stage, she is a mixture of sweetness and carnality, but this persona isn't all there is to her. She is very much her own woman, unfailingly generous and honest.
In my pieces about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch, I noted Monroe's "comedic brilliance," a facet of her talent that perhaps gets buried because it doesn't jive with the tragic tale that is so often weaved out of her life. Monroe could be a joyous, playful person, though, and you can see that emanating from her in her work. "She had this absolute, unerring touch with comedy," Cukor told author Gavin Lambert. "In real life, she didn't seem funny, but she had this touch. She acted as if she didn't quite understand why it was funny, which is what made it so funny."
Although I adore Let's Make Love primarily because of Marilyn, I can't ignore the other actors who make the film so enjoyable. Tony Randall and Wilfrid Hyde-White are both superb; some of their line readings are just impeccable. As Tony, Frankie Vaughan makes me question with every viewing whether or not he really should've been Amanda's choice and not Clement. He and Marilyn have an easy chemistry, especially when they perform a number together. A well-known pop singer from Britain, Vaughan didn't find the same level of success in the U.S. that he found at home, which feels wrong considering he's so great in this film.
The aspect that conflicts me the most in Let's Make Love is Yves Montand. Don't get me wrong, I like him a lot. He was a fine actor and a marvelous singer, but there are moments in the movie where I just want to shake him to loosen him up. Clement is certainly a reserved, quiet character, but the lead in a romantic comedy shouldn't be too serious or else you risk losing the inherent fun of the genre. I also struggle with Clement in general. The script smartly shows us that he is self-aware enough to realize how his privileged position affects his relationships, and Montand ably conveys how starved Clement is for love that isn't based on his wealth, but his jealousy toward Tony is an issue. He doesn't try to get to know the man, making him oblivious to how his attempts to win Amanda steal the spotlight from Tony, whose livelihood (and sobriety) depends on that spotlight.
While flawed, Let's Make Love has endured as one of my favorite films, a sentiment that hasn't wavered ever since I first saw it over ten years ago. Cukor's assured direction, Krasna's pleasant script, and Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen's score ensure that it is well-crafted, and the cast is terrific. Even if you don't know Milton Berle, Gene Kelly, or Bing Crosby (which I didn't when I initially saw the film), their cameos are fantastic. But really, Marilyn's sensitive, vivacious performance is worth the price of admission alone, so do yourself a favor and give Let's Make Love a chance.