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It's been over 50 years since this quartet of modestly sophisticated comedy/dramas hit the silver screen to entertain post-WWII America. In those early years of the soon-to-be-booming 1950s, audiences might have had inklings that a certain young, blonde starlet might have a big decade ahead of her. More likely, ticket buyers were eager to see Claudette Colbert (Let's Make It Legal), Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen (We're Not Married), Monty Woolley and Thelma Ritter (As Young as You Feel), or June Haver and William Lundigan (Love Nest). You'd have no way of knowing that, however, from 20th Century Fox's packaging of these cinematic time capsules that capture an intriguing era of Hollywood movie-making that's forever gone. Marilyn Monroe's second-tier presence in this foursome of flicks is clearly the marketing angle that 20th Century Fox feels will mint new cash from old celluloid.
It's a shame that the focus is so forcefully on Marilyn; these movies are fine examples of the cinematic craft (and I mean craft rather than art) that was the basis of American movies during the middle of the last century—a craft that included solid acting, tight writing, good directing, and respectable photography. However, for a modern public that has overindulged on special effects and ADHD-inducing scene changes, perhaps the only way to catch a modern viewer's interest in a series of minor movies that relied heavily on story-telling and acting prowess is to rely Ms. Monroe's star power, even if it's just blossoming in these movies.
Although this foursome is making its DVD debut, 20th Century Fox didn't do much to prepare the films for this release. The movies are exactly as they were released in the theater, in black-and-white with a 4:3 aspect ratio. While the Dolby Digital 2.0 and mono soundtracks are clean and clear, the prints show their share of dirt and scratches. All told, this is certainly not reference-quality stuff.
You'll find an embarrassingly limited amount of extras consisting of the trailer for the movie on the disc, plus trailers from other Marilyn Monroe movies. Let's Make it Legal includes a rambling commentary track by Robert Wagner (who plays a larger role in the movie than Ms. Monroe) in which he covers topics ranging from the studio system to the change in movie technology and societal mores (including his experiences performing in the stage version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).
The commentary track on Love Nest, narrated by director Joseph Newman and Jack Allen, is infinitely more enjoyable and informative than Wagner's somewhat narcissistic attempt. Director Newman provides much more valuable insight into the way movies were made in the '50s, while Allen offers an extremely interesting look into Marilyn's life and career, making this disc a definite keeper for movie buffs.
It's sad that 20th Century Fox didn't spend the extra bucks to digitally restore the films or offer more in the way of extras, but I'm sure sales economics (or simple greed) won't allow it. Hard-core Monroe fans will buy the discs regardless, and at least this way the movies' selling price can be kept low. As they are, each disc is fine for an evening of solid entertainment, especially the fun (if somewhat idealistic) antics of As Young As You Feel. Marilyn mavens will surely want to own one more piece of the legend; for the rest of us, these look more like a Blockbuster night.