This is the kind of true-crime documentary in which the lead voiceover repeats words, and the editing sometimes recaps everything so you don’t miss anything juicy. In one moment, it practically provides the full plot synopses, recreated here in full, using punctuation from Netflix subtitles:
“Marilyn Monroe’s death was just a huge event, pages and pages and pages. Question marks. Dig, dig, dig. Over two years. Hollywood, Los Angeles, the bugging, the eavesdropping. Had she been murdered? John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffa. Rumor. White House files, FBI files. Honesty. Assembling the facts. And … Marilyn’s death. Focus, focus, focus.”
That garbage bit of slam poetry from investigative author and reporter Anthony Summers comes almost 75 minutes into the movie, presumably to remind desensitized, or honestly, distracted viewers, to all the hot topics at play here. “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” does not even build an emotional journey, with her own life or Summers’ investigation; there are no significant emotions for a viewer here except cheap disgust, awe, and pity. This documentary does not feel for Monroe’s storied mental anguish beyond the impact she can have when the doc suddenly shows us a picture of her dead, in bed. She’s little more than a golden-haired question mark; a famous corpse.
The narrative within this documentary is more about Summers, to show off the tapes that helped him write his Monroe book Goddess, which was published in 1985 after two years and hundreds of interviews. And in terms as crude as this doc is, it’s more or less about getting him on camera to talk about this before he is unable to do so himself, just as his phone calls in 1982 were trying to grab the full story from the aging likes of directors Billy Wilder, John Huston, close friends of Monroe, and the children and spouse of her last psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson. Summers gets a mix of witness accounts, largely made of first-hand speculation; the documentary collages them, and lets actors lip-synch the calls.