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Goodbye, Norma Jean
1976 - R - 95 Mins.
Director: Larry Buchanan
Producer: Larry Buchanan
Written By: Larry Buchanan and Lynn Shubert
Starring: Misty Rowe, Terrence Locke, Patch MacKenzie, Preston Hanson, Marty Zagon, Andre Philippe
Review by: Jake Cremins
In the annals of cinematic sleaze, 'Goodbye Norma Jean' will surely earn a special place as one of the most hideously depressing pieces of trash ever to be made by Larry Buchanan or anyone else. Buchanan, the Texas auteur behind 'The Naked Witch' and 'Zontar, the Thing From Venus,' has made bad movies before but never such a thoroughly contemptible one. Allegedly a filmed recounting of Marilyn Monroe's early life, 'Goodbye Norma Jean' is so braindead that all it gets right is her name, as it gives us a "story" that consists mostly of Norma Jean Baker being harrassed, molested, propositioned and raped by virtually every male character in the movie. That the movie's main draw is artlessly filmed rape scenes is bad enough, but that this garbage is supposed to be a tribute to Monroe is almost surrealistically offensive.

Misty Rowe stars as Norma Jean Baker, in a performance which isn't very good but inspires sympathy all the same, because a) playing the part of Marilyn Monroe herself must have seemed like a great opportunity at the time, but b) the dialogue Rowe has been given is so stunningly awful that Meryl Streep couldn't make it work and c) what Rowe is forced to do during the course of this film is incredibly degrading and shameful, with a creepy added layer of realism in the fact that she is starring in the story of a struggling actress exploited by lecherous moviemakers. The rest of the cast ranges from serviceable to lifeless, with the notable exception of Patch MacKenzie as a lesbian casting director who forces Norma Jean to sleep with her, all the while overacting so hysterically that she actually seems to be trying to chew up her words and spit them out.

There is not much of a plot here. We start with young Norma Jean in a foster home (with shoulder-length blonde hair and a high-pitched parody of the Marilyn Monroe little-girl voice presented as her usual conversational tone). Her foster mother comes back home one night with a charming man who says "I spent a buck sixty on you; I want some action here!" Norma Jean decides to change clothes slowly enough for the camera to get a good look. The man spies on her and this enrages her foster mother, who kicks her out. Sometime around here we're noticing how jarringly anachronistic the disco-styled musical score is, and then Norma Jean meets her boyfriend after she's raped by a highway patrolman and he comes to her rescue by calling the police and looking blankly in her direction as she sobs. The boyfriend is a sensitive type who enters her in the Miss Whammo Ammo contest and tells her, "I want those guys to be thinkin' when they look at you...'I could have that.'"

After that it's on to Hollywood (which looks suspiciously like rural Texas). After being raped by various photographers and casting agents, Norma Jean hits it big when she's raped in the parking lot of a kindly producer's mansion during a party and stumbles into his den afterwards. He's too old for all of that stuff, you see, and so he satisfies himself by giving her a makeover and some plastic surgery, after which she looks more or less like Marilyn Monroe (how she actually gets her name changed is a mystery to be answered in the sequel, I suppose--and yes, there is one). Then there's a screen test during which Rowe apes Monroe's mannerisms so obnoxiously that you want to throw something at the screen, and the movie mercifully ends after she recites a line that cannot be reprinted on a family website.

I would love to know what Larry Buchanan thought he was doing when he made this. It's obvious that he didn't have a lot of money to work with -- the lighting, photography and sound are execrable, and the sets look like someone's rec room -- and yet he went through the trouble of making a movie set during World War II, with period clothing and cars (including a Rolls Royce whose appearance near the end is announced by a big closeup of the hood ornament, to verify that yes, this is a real Rolls). In other words, if you're going to make a listless, trashy sex film like this for the drive-ins, it's more trouble than it's worth to spend money on period detail.

I can only conclude that, incredible as it seems, Buchanan is so awful a filmmaker that he actually thought he was making a serious film about Monroe's life. This in a movie which offers no insight, no sympathy and no interest in what might have made Marilyn a star. Indeed, Norma Jean is shown to have no charisma whatsoever, because the movie needs her to be one of the ludicrously stupid women who ever lived, otherwise she could not so constantly walk into dangerous situations and have her blouse ripped off.

Most amazing of all, the movie shows no interest in the irony that Monroe (who really was raped, though not as often as we're shown here) had not much interest in sex despite becoming one of the most alluring stars of the century. The only dim theory put forth by this movie is that Hollywood isn't a very nice place, which is not exactly one of the great untold stories.

Look. You could make several interesting movies about Marilyn Monroe's life. She was an unhappy woman who was traumatized at an early age and never seemed to become comfortable with her stardom, and died too soon. But this film is so cynical, so despairing and so moronic that it has to be seen to be believed. It is incompetent, unredeemed trash, and a shameful violation of her memory. Goodbye, Norma Jean.
Movie Guru Rating
Offensive and completely without value.  Should never have been released.
  0 out of 5 stars

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