Something's Got to Give

1962 (Never Released)

An Incomplete Marilyn

With the blessing of Marilyn’s legal estate, allegedly, Prometheus Entertainment, using state of the art digital technology that was available in 1999 and 2000, restored and remastered the best takes of the many that George Cuckor shot while filming Something’s Got to Give in 1962. American Movie Classics originally aired the thirty-seven minute fragment that follows this brief review on the 1st of June in 2001 as a celebration of what would have been Marilyn’s 75th birthday. The fragment was part of a two-hour documentary entitled Marilyn: The Final Days.

As you might expect, cinema experts, pundits and critics disagree regarding the quality of the editing, the restoration, the sound and even if the best takes of Marilyn’s performance were actually used to create the fragment. I don’t know: I have not seen all the takes exposed on the nearly nine hours of movie film that 20th Century-Fox concealed for almost four decades. I suppose the how and the why of this brief assemblage are significant; but what should not be overlooked in a rush to categorize and criticize is this: it’s a fragment created many years after the fact and it contains Marilyn Monroe’s final performance, her final appearance on celluloid. And for those reasons alone, it is essentially different than any of her other movies or performances. In and of itself, it is important and mesmerizing.

Considering the strange and strained circumstances that existed on the sets during filming, Marilyn’s tragic and untimely death after she was terminated by 20th Century-Fox, then sued by them, the studio with which she had been affiliated for most of her career and for which she had earned many millions of dollars, this movie is both oddly sad and more than eerie. Each time I view the fragment, I find it more and more difficult to understand Fox’s reasoning. Why did they fire Marilyn?

She did not float through her scenes and was not lost in a drug induced haze as Fox claimed after they fired her. Perhaps that is why the studio kept the almost nine hours of exposed film hidden in their vaults for practically forty years. What did they hope to accomplish when they sued Marilyn personally and Marilyn Monroe Productions for $500K initially, and then in a re-filing, raised that amount to $750K. Fox was millions in debt with millions in cost overruns on Cleopatra. How could $750K save them? In reality, the one person who could have saved them was the one person they treated with utter disrespect.

Apparently it is not that difficult to have a missing loved one, a spouse for example, declared legally dead if the evidence indicates said loved one is more than likely not among the living. No actual body required. Most states in the US require seven years to elapse before a petition can be filed and adjudicated in the courts; but that time frame is flexible, depending on the exact circumstances of the person’s disappearance.

Nick Arden’s wife, Ellen, photographer, has been missing for five years, presumed to have drowned in the southern Pacific Ocean during a sailboat regatta that she was photographing. Since Nick wants to marry Bianca Russell, he has filed a petition to have Ellen Wagstaff Arden declared legally dead. As the movie opens, Bianca is in court with Nick. They intend to wed immediately after the judge adjudicating Nick’s petition declares Ellen dead. After a tense but humorous courtroom encounter, the irascible judge does just that and then marries Nick to Bianca.

But all is not well in paradise because Nick has not been able to consummate the marriage due to anxiety over Ellen’s legal death. But Bianca understands and she clearly explains, during the newlywed’s honeymoon flight to Hawaii, that Ellen was actually Nick’s mother surrogate, not a real mate. He’s just afraid, according to Bianca, to have a relationship with a real woman. In the scene following, Ellen Arden, very much alive and well, enters the courtyard of her former home. She glances around, remembering. Then her two children descend a flight of stairs and begin to swim in the central pool. The family Cocker Spaniel recognizes Ellen but her children do not.

When Nick and the new Mrs. Arden return from their honeymoon, the children are building a tree house. Questioned by their father and their new stepmother, they reveal that they are living on a south sea island and must build their shelter before the rainy season begins. Which island are you on, dear? Bianca asks the little girl. Just an island; the one like Mrs. Tic lived on, the little girl replies. Right on cue, Mrs. Ingrid Tic appears, complete with Swedish accent. She’s the new nanny. This confuses the children and the little boy questions why their new friend from the south sea island is talking like that for. His sister quizzically responds with a shoulder shrug: Grown-ups.

What follows is approximately twenty-five minutes of a movie with some touching, humorous scenes. Bianca attempts to seduce Nick, unsuccessfully. An insurance agent arrives and reveals the name of the man with whom Ellen was stranded for five years. When Nick locates him, he does not match Ellen’s description of a meek, harmless man. Deceitful Ellen tries unsuccessfully to pass off a meek shoe salesman as the man she called Adam during their five years together. He called her Eve. No doubt Adam and Eve knew each other Biblically during their island cohabitation. And, of course, the famous nude swimming scene is dutifully included.

Marilyn’s co-stars deliver fine performances. Dean Martin registers as Nick, the poor anxious and unfortunate fellow, a bigamist by circumstance, not by choice; and although the character of Bianca is not really likable, Cyd Charisse creates a relatively sympathetic woman, perplexed by her husband’s refusal to sexually consummate their union. The name of her therapist, Dr. Herman Schlick, is obviously a wry comment on the perceived character of psychiatrists.

Marilyn and Dean are not together on-screen that much but when they are, they generate a certain chemistry; but Marilyn’s scenes with her friend Wally Cox are humorous and they seem to be enjoying themselves. Yet, in a movie career loaded with memorable moments and scenes, Ellen’s entrance into her former home and her interaction with children that no longer remember her as their mother is perhaps one of Marilyn’s most luminous and unforgettable five minutes on screen. As you watch her, it quickly becomes clear and you understand why the term legend applies.

Marilyn reaches into her own lost childhood and perhaps the sorrow of her own failed pregnancies and there finds that mysterious complex of feelings that enable her to infuse a touching scene with magnificent depth and poignancy. Still, when her children ask where she just might sleep if she decides to stay with them, Ellen displays an instantaneous but nonetheless convincing change into a determined woman, a wife, a mother who fully intends to recover her lost husband, her children and her life. Donald Spoto noted in 1993 there is in this incomplete film the relic of an astonishing performance (Spoto 510).

While there are other iterations of Something’s Got to Give, this iteration ends rather abruptly; and rightfully so, perhaps, considering the abrupt end to Marilyn’s troubled life. With the movie’s end, though, I was left with the odd but profound sensation that I had just watched some home movies of a recently departed and dear friend that I am going to miss very much.

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