- Movie Rating -

The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes (2022)

| April 27, 2022

Netflix’s newest “tapes” documentary The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is a disgusting bag of tabloid trash, a movie that purports to take us behind the Hollywood façade to the real-life Norma Jean heard through audio tapes made more than 60 years ago.  What it is really doing is gluing together pieces and parts of rumors, speculation and mythology (read: gossip!) into a movie that wants to root around under this poor woman’s fingernails and unearth a lot of nonsense without any real commentary or – God forbid – genuine concern for this troubled soul.

It is also ironic in that last week the streaming service released Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes and that film turned out to be more engaging!  Director Emma Cooper’s film trashes Marilyn’s legacy by spending an exorbitant amount of time wallowing in the tabloid muck.  What’s worse is that no one could figure out which pile of muck they wanted to wallow in, so they picked several at random.  Was Marilyn’s unhappiness and early death the product of an unhappy childhood?  Sexual issues?  Two failed marriages?  Infertility?  A drug problem?  Hollywood toxicity?  The Kennedys?  The Cold War?  HUAC?  This movie speculates on all of them with all the tenderness of a pest strip.

Our guide is author and journalist Anthony Summers whose research for his 1982 book “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe” took place at the exact same time that L.A. District Attorney John Van de Camp was reopening the case of Marilyn’s death to challenge what had initially been concluded as “probable suicide.”  Van de Camp concluded his investigation reaffirming the original coroner’s findings.  Yet, Summers’ work continues and he tape recorded more than 600 interviews with friends and coworkers who knew and/or worked with Marilyn during her career.

See, that’s the issue that I have.  The title suggests that this film will be made up of Marilyn’s true confessions, but actually Marilyn is heard on Summers’ tapes only here and there.  Most of the audio are those other people, directors, friends, etc. all of whom are, for some reason, played by actors who lip-synch the actual audio recording.  Why?  To what purpose?

What’s worse is that the movie is all over the place, narratively speaking.  It doesn’t know what it thinks about Marilyn Monroe other than to cherry pick the more unsavory parts of her life.  We get her unhappy upbringing, her cattle-shuffle through the sexually abusive Hollywood system, her meteoric rise to movie stardom, her marriage and divorces to Joe DiMaggio and then Arthur Miller.  Most appetizing is her association with Jack and Bobby Kennedy and how they groped the actress freely and even shared sexual encounters with her with encouragement from their father.  Yilk!

Then the movie falls down a black hole as the third act becomes a speculation about Marilyn’s ties to the Kennedy administration, her ties to communists and questions about whether or not top echelons of the Kennedy White House uses her 1962 death to silence her.  The recreation of her death and speculation about how and why she died is trotted out with the whoriest of unsavory speculation.

Look, I love Marilyn.  I love who she was on the screen.  I feel for who she was behind the screen.  If you want to really get a feel for Marilyn, watch her body of work in Some Like It Hot,   Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Bus Stop, movies that showed her grand gift for comedy played through one of most luminous women ever to work in the medium.  I’d rather celebrate Marilyn’s life, unlike Ms. Cooper and Mr. Summers who prefers to haul her out of her grave and poke at her corpse.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary