Let’s Make Love Still Iffy
By Kristin Battestella
This slightly notorious 1960 Marilyn Monroe musical has plenty of big name star power onscreen and off- not to mention Monroe’s undeniable charisma. Unfortunately, Let’s Make Love is indeed infamous for all the wrong reasons.
International millionaire and playboy Jean Marc Clement (Yves Montand) is displeased to hear from his public relations representative Coffman (Tony Randall) that an upcoming New York play will lampoon his hoity toity image along with other celebrities. When he goes to the theatre in protest, however, Clement is mistaken for an actor auditioning- and gets the job of parodying himself. To make matters worse, Clement is smitten with the show’s lead Amanda Dell (Monroe). He uses Coffman and all his multimillionaire resources to save the struggling show while wooing Amanda- but she’s seeing the play’s male lead, Tony (Frankie Vaughn). Will Clement embrace his loosened up image and win Amanda’s heart?
Well, director George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, A Star is Born) has his hands full with screenwriters Arthur Miller (The Crucible), Norman Krasna (White Christmas), and Hal Kanter (The Rose Tattoo) throwing what seems like a lot of leftovers at the screen. If the talent here came to play, this would be awesome. Instead, we start with an old, stale, and unnecessary opening montage giving the history of the Clement men. They’ve been rich, international playboys for a long time yadda yadda. The back-story could have come in many faster ways, and this off putting start doesn’t hold up for today’s audiences. Actually, the whole opening and battle of the sexes underlining comes off as a poor man’s The Seven Year Itch; the start and stop journey of the characters is akin to The Prince and the Showgirl. Let’s Make Love begins with a fun twist, yes. Unfortunately, the impersonation story is too common, pretentious, and eventually even asinine in some spots. The script and pace are too patchy, and the scenes without Monroe drag completely. It’s ironic that her then husband Miller wrote in more scenes for Monroe, for we don’t really see her that much. The conversations, near slapstick, and misunderstanding circumstances between the stars is pleasing initially, but the over long two hours and increasing focus on Clement’s subterfuge lessens the quality. Is Let’s Make Love meant to be about the struggling show or Clement softening up? Too many mixed signals and confusion muddle the mishmash. This isn’t flashy enough to be a show-stopping musical, but it’s too dry and wannabe melodramatic to be a comedy. If it’s a romance, then the love triangle is way out of whack.
Fortunately, Marilyn Monroe enters Let’s Make Love thirteen minutes in and lightens the air with “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” The breathless delivery and leggy routine sets her apart, both in spite of and perhaps because of that simple baggy sweater and black tights ensemble. It’s flattering yet still cashmere alluring- unlike Ann-Margaret in Viva Las Vegas, which I swear looks like she forgot her pants! Less than two years before Monroe’s death, viewers might think her personal troubles would hurt her performance, but not in the numbers here. Truly, she looks very pretty, kind, and approachable- not an unreachable, dumb goddess. This struggling actress and student just got out of bed un-styled look further helps Monroe make men go down like dominoes. And when she takes that sweater off! What is that- a body stocking? I don’t see the weight talk surrounding Let’s Make Love. She looks classy and most importantly, real. Of course, there is retreading towards Monroe’s usual dumb blonde singing types. However, Mandy is given a bit more intelligence and meaning on a few new topics and is even getting her diploma. We’re treated to a knitting Marilyn Monroe, a genuinely innocent- not kitten- and unashamed of the poor acting life minister’s daughter. Naturally, we are going to like her more than Jean Marc Clement and his deceptions. Granted, Monroe does seem tired or unmotivated in some of the later scenes, and I’m not sure about that green bodysuit. Considering this script though, who knows what’s going on? Mandy begins as a very smart, inspiring girl with talent, plans, and dreams- and then…nothing.
Swanky, swanky, Yves Montand (Wages of Fear) has the chic. He looks good in a real suit, holds a cigarette in that oh so suave way, and generally carries himself with a European grace, pimpity, and class that can’t be matched by today’s surfer boy ‘actors’. Unfortunately, it will be tough for some contemporary audiences to see past his French accent, and he’s simply all wrong for Let’s Make Love. He looks too old and mismatched for Monroe- but she seemed to like that sort of thing, indeed. Even when making a joke or attempting to be casual, Clement feels too pompous and out of touch. It doesn’t feel amusing within the film and to Americans today, this dude still has a lot of loosening up to do! His initial mistaken identity at the theater is funny, but it changes to asinine once Clement claims to be a simple man who happens to be named Alexandre Dumas. His deception is not one of necessity or endearing ala Tootsie- he’s just trying to protect his reputation and manipulate an entire cast of people in his favor. Mandy’s “I’m a louse” mocking of Clement is spot on. Is it the writing or Montand? Clement’s meant to be wooden, but one wonders if the originally planned dashing Mr. Gregory Peck learning the err of his ways wouldn’t have been better. Clement objects to being called a liar, but he clearly is one who literally brings in guest stars Milton Berle, Bing Crosby, and Gene Kelly to help him shape up! It doesn’t create any sympathy when Clement tries to come clean. In fact, the viewer just wants to fast forward to the big numbers. Otherwise, Let’s Make Love is supposed to be two hours of a guy manipulating, deceiving, and cruelly revealing his scheme for a woman? WTF? Frankie Vaughn (The Lady is a Square) fairs little better, with his “Hey You with the Crazy Eyes” Tony Denton spotlight feeling more like a poor, poor man’s Dean Martin. His hanging all over Monroe also ruins “Specialization.” Tony Randall (The Odd Couple, Pillow Talk) as Clement’s everyman press man Coffman is very bemusing and could have been a great sardonic sidekick where we know he is very capable. Unfortunately, he steadily disappears for the supposed revelations of Clement and the purported heart of Let’s Make Love.
Thankfully, the early sixties New York penthouses, fun global décor, richy rich art, and high life visuals looks smashing! The posh music and ironic jazz scoring is nice as well, with cabaret styled choreography to match the spiffy stage coloring and lighting designs. Let’s Make Love is traditionally styled as a musical, yes, yet there are wonderful hints of something more hep cat than showboat. There’s lyrical wit and a kinky touch to it all, and the possibilities are again scarified for, well, I don’t know what. The dance routines lag by the middle of the picture, and the premise of the play spoofing Elvis and the like isn’t actually that good when we see the show within a show design and cumbersome moving sets. Some of Monroe’s costumes also seem unusual choices. Though barely there and lovely, her silver dress doesn’t seem to fit, nor the inexplicable corset. Fortunately, the pink and white breezy sheer number and the fantasy montage for the catchy titular rendition are perfect. At last some charm and tune from both stars, but she’s going to poke his eye out with that dress!
The DVD subtitles will be a must for some in understanding Montand, but onscreen dialogue won’t help solve the many mixed signals in Let’s Make Love. This is good for fans of the cast or classic film audiences who like mid century bed pillows type films. Otherwise, there’s not much reason to look any deeper into this potentially special musical comedy that ended up not well done, without a lot of musical, not that much funny, and too much seriousness.