Mirrors #15

Marilyn Monroe as the troubled broken Nell in one of her best performances in Don’t Bother to Knock.

As with so many broken characters in cinema, Nell is drawn – irresistibly – to the mirror. Not for vanity. But to live in her dream world, OR to realize her dream world isn’t real. Monroe is truly unnerving in Don’t Bother to Knock.

When Monroe got the role and met with the costume designer, she was shown a bunch of dresses that were clearly costumes. Nice Hollywood-y dresses. She knew they weren’t right. She KNEW Nell. Nell had spent an hour on a city bus, it was hot, she has no money, no job, she’s desperate enough for work to take this one-night babysitting job. She doesn’t have any money for clothes. So Marilyn went to the “five and ten” and bought this dress, and wouldn’t allow the costume designer to iron it. It would be wrinkled after a hot long ride on a bus.

It’s very touching.

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4 Responses to Mirrors #15

  1. Jessie says:

    This is one of my favourite Marilyn performances for all that you mention above. I didn’t know that about the dress, she was spot on. Ever since I saw it I keep thinking about what she does with her hands in almost the very last shot…she’s doing wonderful unconscious work throughout and then when Widmark hands her over to the policeman she sort of….reaches out and holds the policeman’s thumb for a moment, as she grasps him. It’s so childlike, such a beautiful single gesture. I can’t keep track of the conversations but I’m sure you were the one who put it on my radar, so thank you!

    • sheila says:

      Oh God, that gesture with the policeman! It’s heartbreaking.

      And how Widmark transforms – in many ways his transformation is the heart of the movie (which might be a little clunkily presented: Anne Bancroft: “You don’t care about anyone. And that’s why I have to break up with you.” Half an hour later she sees him caring for poor Nell and her eyes are opened. But it works because they’re all so good.)

      I find his tenderness in this surprising – he didn’t often get to play it. The look on his face when he sees the scars on her wrist –

      At a certain point – and it’s very early on – he realizes she’s quite frail and damagd – and he doesn’t take advantage of the situation, like so many other men would. He actually feels protective of her – even though she’s also irritated, and she’s quite unnerving and unstable. But he is so caring, he knows she’s lost, but he insists on her dignity – in that final scene, he’s right by her, protecting her. BAH it’s so good!

      • Jessie says:

        He’s so very sweet at the end – he’s primed to transform out of caddishness and he tracks it really well! Yes I think everyone including Roy Ward Baker has moments of clunkiness but it has a genuinely unnerving/upsetting core and it hits where it counts — like the tilt down to the child’s feet and hands tied — I wasn’t expecting it to get as dark as it did. Great stuff!

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