The Erotic look: Marilyn Monroe Vs Grace Kelly: Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze in Hitchcock’s Rear Window and The Misfits

This is most apparent from reading Rear Window in conjunction with Mulvey’s essay on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975) as it shows how Hitchcock employed the look as erotic instinct. In many ways Rear Window epitomises Mulvey’s theory of voyeuristic, fetishistic and scopophilic looking.

Grace Kelly and the Erotic Look in Hitchcock’s Voyeuristic Rear Window

Grace Kelly’s is shot in close proximity from her very first scene. “She is isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualised” (Mulvey, 2000: 244). Lisa leans in to kiss Jefferies, keeping fixed eye contact, as if she might extend her kiss to the audience. This indicates the first dissimilarity to Monroe, one which is obviously affected by the genre of the film. A voyeuristic thriller united with a romantic love story offers plenty of opportunity for the erotic look to demonstrate itself.

Marilyn Monroe avoids the Gaze as Troubled Roselyn in John Hustons’s The Misfits

The Misfits, however, is a dramatic western dealing with the difficulties of divorce and human isolation in the early sixties. Monroe’s first appearance as Roselyn is through the lace curtain of her window which distorts the spectator’s view of her silk negligee. The erotic gaze cannot be satisfied and as she wanders around the room in her underwear, the emotions in the scene conflict with the spectacle of her body. She is vulnerable and moving as is her life story.

Rear Window and Laura Mulvey’s Theory of Scopophilic, Fetishistic Identification

Most of Kelly’s scenes in Rear Window are shot alongside James Stewart therefore the erotic look is often provided by his character. Monroe is frequently shot alone in The Misfits. Ironically, this isolation produces an intimacy of a very different kind, indicating the separation between star and spectator. Both films facilitate the spectatorial glimpse into the privacy of the cinematic domain but Kelly cannot offer the same opportunities for likeness and identification. Both actresses connote “to-be-looked-at-ness” (Mulvey, 2000: 243) and therefore a scopophilic, fetishistic identification.

The Importance of Costume for the Active Female Grace Kelly

The exhibition of Grace Kelly is so unlike the black and white, naturally lit, shots of Marilyn in The Misfits. Kelly’s red lips, luminous pearl jewellery and reserved emotion in the close-up maintain voyeuristic interest and connote fantasy, wealth and style. Lisa’s appearance is an integral aspect of the film. As she turns on the three lamps, she creates her own mise-en-scène. She fills the gloomy apartment with light, using each beam to illuminate her costume through straight on, side and rear profiles. The camera follows her movements with medium to full shots of her outfit. The neckline dips gently at the back to reveal her softly lit skin and the fitted bodice hints at the shape of her waist.

She is an elegant model who “never wears the same dress twice” (Rear Window, 1954). The consistent changes in costume parallel her varying moods. For instance both her silk nightgown and black one piece cleverly signify her increasingly aggressive sexual pursuit of Jefferies.

The Complexity of Monroe as the Passive Female

In one scene in The Misfits, Marilyn plays with a bat and ball while clothed in a simple white dress covered with red cherries. The camera transforms the innocent episode into a spectacle by cutting between images of the men scrutinizing her body to close-ups of her animated rear. She undoubtedly uses her body and clothes to dominate the male gaze, something that Kelly struggles to achieve in Rear Window.

In this scene Marilyn conforms to Mulvey’s definition of the passive female but in reality the reading of her performance is not so simple. Kelly’s presumed class sets her apart from Monroe meaning that the camera never explores her body in this way. This objectification results in a sense of sadness and realism surrounding Monroe’s performance which Kelly would never emulate.