The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes don’t warrant much to be heard.
Published on May 5, 2022
Rating 1.5 /5
Marilyn Monroe has always been a fascination of classic Hollywood. Everything from her rise & fall within the film world to her ties to the presidency have made her an intriguingly beautiful enigma to understand. This documentary attempts to unearth some extra material about what led to her tragic demise. While these many tapes are interesting to hear, they don’t exactly lead down any revealing paths, making these tapes unheard more for being uninteresting.
This documentary is posed more like a podcast considering how it relies mostly on footage of tape recorders and shadowy stagings of people on the phone. The narrative at play focuses on Anthony Summers, an author who took greater interest in the case of Marilyn after the Los Angeles County District Attorney reopened the case. For three years, Summers collected as much material from this case as he could find, leading to 650 taped interviews of those who knew Monroe best and may have had info on her death.
The tapes, however, are rather dry and boring. Of the 650 bits of audio, the segments pulled for this film are still rather dull. We get actor Jane Russell talking about her time on set with Monroe and how she worked, most of which doesn’t feel all that revealing or new. More of her talks reveal Monroe’s troubling childhood which, again, not a whole that wasn’t known before for anyone who has read into the deep history of the actor.
Arthur Miller, having been married to Monroe, opens up a bit more about his time with her and their affiliations with communism, leading to them being targeted by the FBI. And here is where the film feels far too distant from this subject matter. Director Emma Cooper spends far too much time letting all the tapes do the talking. When we’re not hearing snippets from hours of routine interviews, we’re treated to film clips and archival footage of Monroe. The few times that Anthony Summers chimes in, it feels like far too little far too late. Perhaps Cooper is leaving the investigation more up to the audience, letting us play along as detectives.
I feel as though I have to pull my previous statement of this feeling more like a podcast. Most true-crime or biography-based podcasts tend to have some direction and some stance being noted by the host. There’s hardly any direction in this picture that feels more like a rough draft of an audio edit in need of some extra material. It feels as though a whole bunch of unheard tapes were just dumped into our laps and we get to listen on with no major revelations. It’s an excruciatingly boring exercise where you like you’re doing the work of finding some meaning in this mess of archived materials that don’t amount to a case for Monroe’s murder, let alone a great documentary or podcast for that matter.
The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes don’t warrant much to be heard. It’s mildly interesting if you find yourself an old Hollywood absolutist who needs to be entrenched in all things Marilyn Monroe. Those hoping for a more enticing biography where a murder will be revealed in these dug up tapes will be sadly let down. It felt a lot like watching the opening of Al Capone’s vault, a major television event that led up to an anti-climactic conclusion. The Unheard Tapes reveal nothing all that new or groundbreaking, making one feel like they’ve wasted an afternoon digging through heaps of interviews that don’t unearth anything all that compelling.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.