Don't Bother to Knock, 1952; directed by Roy Ward Baker
I am a big supporter of the "Marilyn Monroe was a good and potentially great actress" notion that has circled around her myth and legacy in the nearly 50 years since her death. Too often people like to think of her in merely an iconic sense, as a beautiful face to be plastered on people's shirts and walls, quoted on their facebook profiles even if they have never seen a single one of her films. Or they see her as a lightweight actress, who starred in only one or two artistically accomplished pictures (Some Like it Hot and The Misfits) and appeared in a handful of iconic moments in lesser B and C-movies (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch, How to Marry a Millionaire).
But after seeing most of her major films and knowing much about her life and how she struggled so long to be taken seriously as an actress, I've found that despite her sex appeal and the camera's love affair with her curves, she possessed more talent and range than many A-list actresses today. In Some Like it Hot she proved that she could have deft comedic timing on screen, even when her personal life was a shambles, and in The Misfits she used her extreme fragility to the best of her abilities, foreshadowing what could have been in the rest of her career had she not passed away so soon after.
All of that being said, Don't Bother to Knock is probably one of her worst performances, and I don't know if she can be entirely to blame for it. The film itself is pretty lackluster and predictable; it all takes place in a hotel, where Monroe's character Nell is hired by her uncle Eddie, the elevator operator,to babysit for a little girl whose parents are heading to a banquet downstairs. Jed (Richard Widmark) has just been dumped by his girlfriend, hotel lounge singer Lyn (Anne Bancroft) and is trying to win her back. He sees Nell across the courtyard from his room window and, in a move that can only be considered "sexy" in the movies, calls her asking to come over. A lot of the events scream to the audience viewer bad news bears (inviting a stranger over to your room while a child is in your care; said stranger staying in the room to attempt to woo her even after he discovers that a child is right next door; Nell trying on the mother's clothing and jewlery), yet they're all in the script with no clear logic to be found.
What he doesn't realize right off the bat--and I don't really understand how he doesn't--is that Nell is CA-RAZY. The screenplay drops hints about this, but the dead giveaway is that Nell has crazy eyes. It's as if the director told her to interpret what someone who has gone insane would do, and in Monroe's mind, widening her eyes and speaking in a monotone, breathy voice was it. The script is poor, and what is supposed to be a thriller is rather tame and boring. When it is "revealed" that Nell was in a mental institution because her fiance was killed and they released her because they thought she was cured, you saw it coming from a mile away. To sum it up simply, Monroe was playing at "crazy" instead of playing the emotions and fully understanding what her character has gone through. She was obvious and none too good at it.
The only interesting aspect was seeing Bancroft (aka, Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate) in an early film role. I've yet to see The Miracle Worker, so this was a surprising little fact, even if she didn't really have much to do in the film.
Despite this being a horrible performance from Monroe, I will still be a member of the aforementioned support group. Every actor has (at least) that one great dud. This one is definitely hers.