The plot revolves around billionaire Jean-Marc Clement (Montand) who learns that he is to be satirized in an off-Broadway revue. After going to the theatre, he sees Amanda Dell (Monroe) rehearsing the Cole Porter song "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", and by accident the director thinks him an actor suitable to play himself in the revue. Clement takes the part in order to see more of Amanda and plays along with the mistaken identity, going by the name Alexander Dumas.
Frankie Vaughan appears as a singer in the revue, while Milton Berle, Gene Kelly, and Bing Crosby appear in cameo roles as themselves trying to teach Clement how to deliver jokes, dance, and sing, respectively. Tony Randall in a supporting role portrays Clement's conflicted public relations employee.Marilyn Monroe as Amanda Dell
Yves Montand as Jean-Marc Clement/Alexandre Dumas
Tony Randall as Coffman
Frankie Vaughan as Tony
Wilfrid Hyde-White as Welch
Bing Crosby as Himself
Gene Kelly as Himself
Milton Berle as Himself
Joe Besser as Charlie Lamont
In 1955, Monroe had entered into a new contract with 20th Century Fox, requiring her to star in four films within the next seven years. By 1959, she had completed only one: Bus Stop, which had been released in 1956. While Monroe shot Some Like it Hot in 1958 (for United Artists) her husband, Arthur Miller, completed the screenplay for The Misfits (1961), which they had intended on being Monroe's next film. Some Like It Hot was released in March 1959 and became an enormous success. Critics praised the film and Marilyn's performance. Hoping to capitalize on this, 20th Century Fox required Marilyn to fulfill her contract. The Misfits was put on hold and instead Marilyn signed on to star in what was then titled The Billionaire.
The original script was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Norman Krasna. He was inspired to write the script after seeing Burt Lancaster do a dance at a Writers Guild Award ceremony and receive loud applause. He came up with the idea of a story about a very wealthy playboy like John Hay Whitney who hears about a company putting on a show that made fun of him and becomes enamored of the theater and a girl in the play. Krasna felt that only three actors were suitable – Gary Cooper, James Stewart and Gregory Peck – because all were so obviously not musical performers, making it funny if they sang and danced. Peck agreed to play the lead, and then Monroe was signed opposite him, even though Krasna preferred Cyd Charisse.
With Monroe attached to the picture, she and Miller wanted the part of Amanda expanded. Miller worked on the script (although he did not receive credit) to expand the role. Peck bowed out after the emphasis shifted to the female lead. Various sources state that the role was then offered to Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and Charlton Heston, all of whom declined. It was eventually offered to Yves Montand, who had appeared in a French film version of Miller's The Crucible (1957) and had received praise for his recent one-man musical show in New York. Monroe and Miller both gave their approval for Montand in the role. The title was changed to Let's Make Love and production began in January 1960 with George Cukor directing.
In March 1960, Monroe was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Actress—Musical or Comedy, further cementing the success of Some Like It Hot. Montand's wife Simone Signoret, with whom he had starred in the French version of The Crucible, won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Room at the Top in April. The two couples were soon inseparable; they had adjoining bungalows at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
From the beginning issues arose with the film. Monroe, although enthusiastic about Montand, did not want to make the film and the original screenwriter had reservations about the cast. Despite being offered the role and having found success with his one-man show, Montand did not speak English. This led to enormous stress as he worked to understand the lines he was speaking through translation. Monroe, at this point in her career, had developed a reputation (beyond Hollywood) for oftentimes being late to set, forgetting her lines, and deferring to her coach over the director. However, some reports state that this was not true during the filming of Let's Make Love, although she and Cukor did not have the best relationship. Neither star was satisfied with the script and production was shut down for over a month by two Hollywood strikes: first by the Screen Actors Guild and then the Screen Writers Guild.
Monroe and Montand were said to have bonded over the difficulties each was experiencing with the film, and when both Miller and Signoret departed during production for other commitments rumors about an affair between the two were rampant. Gossip columns at the time made note of frequent sightings of the two together alone. This led to greater publicity for the film, with Fox manipulating the affair to its advantage. In August 1960, shortly before the release of the film, Monroe and Montand were featured on the cover of Life magazine in a sensual pose taken from the film. Their affair ended when filming ended, with Montand returning to France.
Given the box office popularity of Monroe, and the press surrounding Montand and their relationship at the time, the film was considered to be a disappointment, although it was, in truth, a moderate success. The high expectations and modest results have led to many viewing the film as either a total flop or a huge success. It opened at the top of the box office its first weekend, but made only $6.54 million in total. It was the first film starring Monroe to earn so little money on its initial release, although it was the top-grossing musical of the year and one of only two musicals in the top 20 in 1960. It fared better in overseas markets than in the United States.
Appraisals at the time were mixed. The New York Times reviewer wrote that the film was slow going, that Marilyn Monroe looked "untidy", that throughout the film she is "fumbling with things in the sidelines...", and that Montand's accent was so heavy it was not charming, just hard to understand. The direction and script were criticized for not allowing Montand the opportunity to use his Gallic humor. The irony of having Bing Crosby and Gene Kelly brought in to give the pupil further lessons was noted. The direction was further criticized because Monroe's appearance had changed very noticeably during the halt in production and under Cukor the differences had been exacerbated by poor costume, hair and makeup decisions, and by poor direction of the musical numbers. Poor editing was blamed for parts of the film seeming disjointed and for the use of stand-ins being easily noticed. It was reported that Fox executives wanted some of the scenes completely refilmed, but Cukor ignored such requests.
Variety stated that the film '"has taken something not too original (the Cinderella theme) and dressed it up like new. "Monroe is a delight...Yves Montand...gives a sock performance, full of heart and humour."' The highlight of the film according to The New York Times was Milton Berle, who stole the show.
Let's Make Love received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for Lionel Newman and Earle H. Hagen and two BAFTA nominations for Best Film from any Source for George Cukor and for Best Foreign Actor (Montand). It also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture Musical/Comedy.
Not long before she died in 1962, Monroe commented that the role of Amanda was the worst in her career. In her opinion, there was "no role...that you had to wrack your brain...there was nothing there with the writing" and that it had "been part of an old contract." Arthur Miller was also critical of the film, stating that despite his efforts to improve the script it was "like putting plaster on a peg leg." During an interview with David Letterman in 1988, Montand acknowledged his difficulties with the script and his problem speaking English, but said it was an honor to work alongside Marilyn Monroe."Let's Make Love" (Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen) - sung by Marilyn Monroe and chorus, then by Marilyn Monroe with Frankie Vaughan and again with Yves Montand.
"My Heart Belongs to Daddy" (Cole Porter) - sung by Marilyn Monroe
"Give Me the Simple Life" (Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby) - (parody) sung by Frankie Vaughan
"Crazy Eyes" (Cahn and Van Heusen) - sung by Frankie Vaughan
"Specialization" (Cahn and Van Heusen) - sung by Marilyn Monroe and Frankie Vaughan
"Incurably Romantic" (Cahn and Van Heusen) - sung by Bing Crosby and Yves Montand, by Marilyn Monroe and Montand and again by Marilyn Monroe and Frankie Vaughan.