After two excellent box sets, Fox is dipping into the Marilyn Monroe well once again with four new titles featuring the Hollywood icon. The box sets, released in 2001 and 2002, had five movies apiece, all of which starred Monroe or featured her prominently, and most were filmed in Fox's CinemaScope process and in color by Deluxe. Conversely, the four titles being released this month are all in pre-CinemaScope standard size and black and white. Dating from 1951-52, Monroe's roles are supporting parts at best. Though somewhat deceptively marketed, without Monroe's presence these titles would probably never get a DVD release at all, so one can hardly begrudge Fox's marketing strategy.
The earliest of the four is As Young As You Feel (1951), a very mild but genial satire in which sixth-billed Monroe has an inconsequential part as a secretary. The movie really belongs to Monty Woolley, who became a minor star after playing haughty lecturer Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), and whose well-groomed beard became his trademark. As Young As You Feel was his next-to-last film, and his last starring part.
Woolley plays John Hodges, a printing press worker forced to retire at 65 due to company policy. Unhappy at this, he makes inquiries at the company's personnel department, where he learns Acme Printing is part of a large conglomerate owned by Consolidated Motors, though no one seems to know the name of Consolidated's president. Hodges eventually learns the president is one Harold P. Cleveland, and decides to impersonate him, showing up at the printing plant determined to eliminate its retirement policy and get his old job back. However, Hodges's masquerade is a little too successful. He's compelled to address the local chamber of commerce, and his humanist speech ("fight inflation with human dignity!") receives national coverage and impacts the entire conglomerate. Moreover, when Acme's president, Louis McKinley (Albert Dekker) takes Hodges out to dinner, McKinley's unhappy wife, Lucille (Constance Bennett), falls in love with the bearded beard.
Paddy Chayefsky is credited with the story for the film, which feels as if it had been conceived for the stage or as a live television play. Chayefsky's story was adapted by Lamar Trotti, whose skills were better suited to period dramas like Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) rather than contemporary comedy. The film is a feeble mishmash of characters and ideas, none of which are fleshed out very far.
Its best scenes have Woolley's fake corporate head charming lonely Lucille, whose husband has been carrying on an affair with his blonde bombshell secretary (guess who?). Even after Hodges, a longtime widower, has been exposed as a lowly printing press worker, she's ready to give up everything for this man she's shared but a few precious hours -- their scenes are quite sweet. Good too are Lucille's scenes with her husband, in which she expresses an unhappiness for never living up to her full potential. There's an unusual edginess here, made more so in that the screenplay wobbles uncomfortably between comedy and drama, particularly when Lucille casually tells her son (16-year-old Russ Tamblyn) that she's divorcing his father and walking out of their lives.
The picture is overloaded with terrific actors, but the short (77 minutes) running time just doesn't give anyone, save Woolley and Bennett, time to make much of an impression. Second-billed Thelma Ritter is wasted as Woolley's daughter-in-law, while Jean Peters and David Wayne all but disappear as Woolley's granddaughter and her boyfriend, even though they seem to dominate the first act. Character players Wally Brown (late of Brown & Carney), Clinton Sundberg, and Robert (the "Weinie King") Dudley turn up in supporting and bit parts. Monroe's mistress-secretary is in the background and onscreen less than ten minutes; only briefly does she have anything to do.
Video & Audio
Fox is presenting As Young As You Feel in its original standard aspect ratio. The film elements are a bit grainy at times, but overall the studio is maintaining the same high standard accorded its previous "Diamond Collection" releases. A stereo track is offered alongside the original mono one, but this reviewer didn't notice any discreteness in the film's music, dialogue, or sound effects. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.
As with the other three titles in this package, the DVD includes trailers for the 14 Monroe titles Fox has released thus far. Trailers for the CinemaScope titles are appropriately enhanced for 16:9 TVs. Also included is a generic ad for the Diamond Collection itself.
Kudos to Fox for getting these titles out, even if doing so meant misleadingly billing them as Marilyn Monroe movies. As Young as You Feel hardly lives up to its yuckity trailer: "This is just about the delightfullest family that ever raised the roof of laughter!" Still, for what is essentially a program picture, it's amiable enough and worth a look.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.