Let’s Make Love (1960): Marilyn Monroe’s Next to Last Picture, Co-Starring Yves Montand, Directed by Cukor

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“Let’s Make Love,” was George Cukor’s third musical film (after “A Star Is Born” and “Les Girls”), and his first picture with Marilyn Monroe.

Grade: B (**1/2* out of *****)

However, “A Star Is Born” was such a distinguished drama with music, artistically and commercially, that it cast a shadow on Cukor’s subsequent attempts. Like “Heller in Pink Tights,” with Sophia Loren, “Let’s Make Love” is a light film, with serious thematic overtones and strong artistic values.

Initially known as “The Billionaire,” the musical has an entirely negligible plot. A French billionaire-playboy, Jean-Marc Clement (Yves Montand), learns that an off-Broadway company is planning a satirical review of him. He intends to take legal action to stop the show but, upon meeting the leading lady, Amanda Dell (Marilyn Monroe), he changes his mind.

Instantly infatuated with Amanda, he passes himself off as a down-at-the-heels actor, who bears resemblance to Clement. The rest of the film describes the preparation of the show and Jean-Marc’s romance with Amanda.

Though the material is slight, the film features one of Cukor’s dominant themes: the magic of show business. Cukor gives stronger visual attention to the theatrical setting in Greenwich Village than to the characters. He conveys the chaos of rehearsal, the confusion of activities of a company in the midst of putting on a show, the excitement of performing. In the end, the spirit of play and theatricality conquer Clement and shake his bureaucratic world, captured by Cukor in a long shot of his formal office.

In this film, Cukor shows again his expertness in constructing special entrances for his female stars. Monroe’s introduction begins with her legs shinnying down a pole at center stage; she is rehearsing her big number, the Cole Porter classic, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” Cukor alternates shots of Amanda and an all-male chorus, emphasizing the whiteness of Monroe’s skin and blonde hair. Lighting is a key factor in this sequence, with spotlights illuminating Monroe’s features. The movie encourages voyeurism: while watching, Clement fantasizes performing the sexually suggestive songs with Amanda.

After” A Star Is Born,” Cukor’s mise-en-scene, specifically use of screen space and color became more pronounced. He employed a more dynamic nd deliberate camera movement and strong colors to intensify the impact of her song. Amanda’s red dress, suggesting her sexuality, is contrasted with her white face, her naivet. The scene in which Amanda’s chiffon dress, moved by a blast of air, billows out from her waist, paid homage to Monroe’s famous image in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. Cukor exploited Monroe’s photogeneity, cashing in on the viewers’ familiarity with her persona.

On May 27, 1960, shooting ended, except for the musical numbers. However, once again, Cukor encountered censorship problems. The Legion of Decency gave “Let’s Make Love” a Class B rating, because of its suggestive costumes, dancing, and lyrics.

On June 10, 1960, Frank McCarthy, Fox’s director of Public Relations, asked Cukor to let some censors see a rehearsal of the big number, “Let’s Make Love,” whose lyrics were deemed unacceptable.

At the end, it seemed like a miracle to Cukor that this truly sexually suggestive number remained intact.

Songs

“Let’s Make Love” (Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen) – sung by Marilyn Monroe and chorus, then by Marilyn Monroe with Frankie Vaughan and again with Yves Montand.

“My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (Cole Porter) – sung by Marilyn Monroe
“Give Me the Simple Life” (Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby) – (parody) sung by Frankie Vaughan

“Crazy Eyes” (Cahn and Van Heusen) – sung by Frankie Vaughan

“Specialization” (Cahn and Van Heusen) – sung by Marilyn Monroe and Frankie Vaughan

“Incurably Romantic” (Cahn and Van Heusen) – sung by Bing Crosby and Yves Montand, by Marilyn Monroe and Montand and again by Marilyn Monroe and Frankie Vaughan.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Scoring of a Musical: Lionel Newman and Earle H. Hagen

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Musical Score Oscar were Motris Stoloff and Harry Sukman for Song Without End.

 

Monroe considered the role of Amanda to be one of the worst in her career. In her opinion, there was “no role…that you had to wrack your brain…there was nothing there with the writing” and that it had “been part of an old contract.” Arthur Miller was also critical of the film, stating that despite his efforts to improve the script it was “like putting plaster on a peg leg.”

During an interview with David Letterman in 1988, Montand discussed his difficulties with the script and his problem speaking English, but he said that it was an honor to work alongside Marilyn Monroe.