The recordings come courtesy of Anthony Summers, author of a 1985 book about Monroe, “Goddess.” Interviews include a wide range of those who crossed her path, delivering the old Hollywood kick of hearing excerpts from his conversations with directors John Huston and Billy Wilder and Monroe “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” star Jane Russell.
The documentary undermines that, unfortunately, with the unnecessary wrinkle of actors “turning on” these people by synchronizing the audio, a futile attempt to create the impression that the viewer sees the other side of those conversations. With plenty of Monroe’s video and film footage to weave in, it’s very nice fun in its own right, adding a sense of showmanship that does nothing to bolster the project’s credibility.
Furthermore, director Emma Cooper dedicated much of the latter half of the film to the “mysterious” part of the title, and decades of speculation about whether her death in 1962 was a suicide, an accidental overdose, or, in Summers’ words, “something more sinister.”
Inevitably, that conversation turns to Monroe’s reported relationships with John and Robert F. Kennedy, the subject of a seemingly endless number of documentaries and (mostly television) films over the years.
In fact, focusing on the Kennedys is almost a distraction from hearing more interesting observations, such as Huston’s citation of Monroe’s descending path from The Asphalt Jungle to The Misfits (which he directed 11 years later); Or Wilder says of his difficulties working with the actress he directed in two of her best films, “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like It Hot,” “I never had a problem with Monroe. Monroe had issues with Monroe.”
For her part, Monroe has spoken in taped interviews about her twin’s desire to be happy and to be a good actress, saying somewhat wistfully with the benefit of hindsight, “You have to work at both.”
In that sense, watching The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe is a reminder, to paraphrase Elton John’s musical tribute, that her candle burned out long before it was tapped.
“The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” premieres April 27 on Netflix.