A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Reconstructing the past can shed important new light on events. People are always more complex than appearances suggest, for better and sometimes for worse. Fame has compensations and drawbacks. It's hard to get the truth when you're telling someone's story.
Positive Role Models
Marilyn is portrayed as intelligent and serious about her acting, much more than her "sex symbol" reputation. People, especially men, are said to have used Marilyn for their own purposes regardless of how this impacted her. The film implicates famous people in a cover-up involving her death. Summers shows how an investigative journalist or author pieces together stories through hours and hours of work.
Hollywood of the 1950s and 1960s was not an especially diverse place. The film delves into the psychology of how childhood trauma can impact people well into adulthood. Drug use and mental health are seen as often interrelated.
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Violence & Scariness
There are theories about whether Marilyn's death was a suicide, an accidental overdose, or a murder. Archive footage shows her dead body where they found her (face down in bed) and covered by a blanket on a stretcher going into an ambulance. Interviewees talk about a lot of potentially disturbing topics, including child molestation, domestic violence, mob threats, and miscarriages. Old TV images show Cold War footage involving the threat of nuclear war; the FBI had a file on Marilyn in part because of her affiliation with known Communists and her stance on atomic testing. Discussion of men grabbing women's breasts and treating women like "pieces of meat."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Marilyn was considered a "sex symbol." Scenes emphasize this image, including the iconic scene of air from a subway grate lifting up her skirt. She's seen kissing her past husbands, and there's discussion of jealousies, abuse, and affairs. Recordings were made of her "lovemaking." Subjects interviewed talk about film producers in the past having little black books about "who could be laid" among young wannabe actresses. There's talk about the role of the "sugar daddy," indiscretions, "pimping," men grabbing women's breasts and treating women like "pieces of meat." Kennedy family patriarch Joe Kennedy is said to have told his sons, "Get laid as often as you can with as many women as you want."
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"F--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "goddamn," "smart-ass," "whore," "SOB," "for Chrissakes."
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Products & Purchases
Lots of brands and establishments seen in archive footage, as are Marilyn's movies, Hollywood film studios, and a variety of media outlets. Most of the film is based on research the author Anthony Summers did for a book that is still for sale.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Marilyn died of a drug overdose. People recall her past difficulties with drugs and alcohol, especially toward the end of her life and seen in erratic behavior on the shoot of her last movie. Historical images and reenactments show people drinking alcohol and smoking cigars and cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes delves into theories around the overdose death of the iconic figure. There's also language, sex, and violence in the recreation of past events. The theories involve famous people and touch on historical events as well as Marilyn's apparent childhood trauma and mistreatment by men throughout her adult life. People recall her past difficulties with drugs and alcohol, especially toward the end of her life and seen in erratic behavior on the shoot of her last movie. Historical images and reenactments show people drinking alcohol and smoking cigars and cigarettes. Interviewees talk about a lot of potentially disturbing topics, including child molestation, domestic violence, mob threats, miscarriages, and the Cold War-era threat of nuclear war. Marilyn was considered a "sex symbol," and friends and colleagues talk about her marriages and affairs, recalling recordings of her "lovemaking." There's discussion of indiscretions, "getting laid," "pimping," and men grabbing women's breasts and treating women like "pieces of meat." Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "goddamn," "smart-ass," "whore," "SOB," "for Chrissakes. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
As an interviewee in this documentary notes, Marilyn Monroe has always elicited a combination of fascination and empathy among both men and women, and this film proves that point again. The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is set up like a whodunit, complete with dramatic music and moody footage to complement the glamorous archive images and clips of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood. The film opens and closes on the voice of the actress and a brisk introduction starring the film's main narrator, author Anthony Summers, who tells us that after years of research and 1,000 interviews for his Monroe book, Goddess, he concluded that the circumstances of Marilyn's death were covered up. Summers delivers evidence about the day and night of her death (no spoilers here, though the book was originally published in 1985) and plenty of analysis from friends and colleagues about Marilyn's psyche, her character, and her actions.
There's so much detail here, viewers may feel they need to take notes lest they miss something. Summers leads us through excerpts from more than a dozen recorded interviews to flesh out a story that spans the movie industry, Kennedy-era politics, and the larger Cold War context of the 1960s. The filmmakers opted to use actors -- placed in dimly-lit, mid-century-styled clothing and settings -- to lip-synch the taped interviews. It's a curious choice that gives the viewer something to look at but also puts false faces to the voices of very real people, some of whom were famous in their own right -- like John Huston, Billy Wilder, and Jane Russell. These are supplemented with quite a lot of archive footage and location tape as well, particularly of Los Angeles through the decades. The lasting effect of Monroe's childhood trauma is broached, and it's clear most of the interviewees cared deeply for her. Audiences still seem to as well.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.