CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 11 . . . . November 11, 2011
Mysteries in the Archives: 1954 Marilyn Monroe in Korea.
Serge Viallet (Director). Florence Fanelli (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
26 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153B 9909 275.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
On 24 January 1954, newly married Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe went to Japan on what was billed as their honeymoon. As both were superstars, the event generated much newsreel coverage. While in Japan, Marilyn Monroe was asked to entertain the American troops in South Korea, something which she did much to their pleasure and the delight of the camera.
Part of a 10 film series which features major events through the decades, 1954 Marilyn Monroe in Korea looks in detail at the film footage of this event. By close analysis and deconstruction of the segments, what seems initially to be a visit by a Hollywood star to the troops becomes a study in media technique and puts the whole trip under a microscope.
The trip to Japan was not DiMaggio and Monroe’s honeymoon. In fact, DiMaggio had been booked to run a series of clinics in Japan, something which he had done in the past. A huge star in Japan, his arrival generates a large crowd of followers. However, the fans were also thrilled to see Monroe. According to the film, DiMaggio had hoped to take Monroe away from Hollywood and her adoring fans. This plan clearly backfires, and his irritation with the Japanese reception is clear as he takes her elbow and guides her from the stage. At that time, there were 120,000 American soldiers still in Japan, and the famous couple are shown visiting some of those in hospital.
A cozy relationship was already formed between entertainers and American troops. Many stars had gone to boost troop morale, and so when Marilyn was asked to do the same, she agreed to a four day tour in South Korea. The war was freshly over, but tensions remained. Her tour was to include nine shows where she would sing three songs. This would be her first time performing live.
Still photography can capture the moment where the subject is at her best, but film footage is able to show before and after the shot. This film looks at background activity and the nuances in Marilyn’s looks and shows there is much going on that one could overlook.
When she arrives, she is wearing fatigues as only she could wear them. She is fresh and looks spectacular. However, the pace of the tour and the cold Korean winter take their toll on her. She appears initially in a bare shoulder outfit while those in the audience are wearing winter clothes. In one concert, the rain soaks the band and the instruments, and they cannot get off stage fast enough. However, Marilyn puts on a brave front and continues despite the cold. On 18 February, she caught a chill which became the beginning of a bout with pneumonia.
Everyone loved her. Her fame increased, and newsreels sent home sang her praises. The film slows the motion, and, while her smiles are radiant, they do not last as long. The pace of the tour is clearly exhausting her. However, there can be no doubt of the adoration of her fans.
Joe DiMaggio brought Marilyn to Japan to take the spotlight away from her and hoped that maybe she would abandon her star lifestyle. The trip to Korea simply put her into a higher orbit. When they returned to America, their marriage did not last although, until his death, DiMaggio had fresh roses placed on Monroe’s grave.
1954 Marilyn Monroe in Korea is an excellent examination of what seems to be a fairly common story: “Star entertains troops.” However, through careful study, one can see that the subject of the newsreels is only part of the story. What is happening around the subject is a story in itself. This film should be seen in any Media Studies or Film production course. As a time piece, there is much here as well.
Frank Loreto is a teacher librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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