DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Friday, 10 August 2012

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy is a man-hunting classic featuring Marilyn Monroe as a shameless gold-digger on a cruise with her showgirl partner, Dorothy (Jane Russell), a horny brunette who prefers her men athletic and viral. As part of Fox’s Marilyn Collection on Blu-ray, Hawks’ superlative Technicolor production is an eye-popping musical delight.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) dir. Howard Hawks
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Elliot Reid, Tommy Noonan

By Alan Bacchus

After getting engaged to Gus, a rich but meek and shy nave, Lorelei and Dorothy have to travel to Europe to meet and appease Gus's controlling father. Unbeknownst to them, Gus's father has hired Ernie Malone, a private detective, to spy on them. While on the cruise, Lorelei becomes distracted by an elderly but wealthy diamond tycoon, Piggy Beekman, which Malone catches on camera. Enter Dorothy, Lorelei’s watchful protector, who uses her sexual allure to retrieve the disparaging photos. Complicating matters is Dorothy actually falling for Malone, just one of the many complications in Charles Lederer’s delirious screwball plotting.

Marilyn Monroe is at her most luscious, desirable and awkwardly hilarious. As the ditzy blonde sexpot, she is in fine form. Her cutesy voice can break glass, but her voice occasionally falters into a regular woman’s voice, hinting at some vulnerability beneath her persona. Jane Russell is no slouch for sex appeal either. Though I didn’t keep track, both Monroe and Russell seem to change outfits in almost every scene. At the very least, from a fashion standpoint the film predates the Sex and the City effect of setting fashion trends.

Hawks’ musical sequences are crafted to perfection. The opening number, ‘The Wrong Side of the Tracks’, essentially establishes the backstory. Lorelei and Dorothy, who had their hearts broken by men, leave the small town for fame and fortune in New York only to discover that men are the same everywhere. Thus, we establish a pair of career gals. Over the course of the film they fall in and out of love, but they never relinquish their control and independence in their lives.

Russell offers strong support, but the film is clearly written around Monroe. Dorothy’s confident and authoritarian attitude is a terrific contrast to Lorelei’s wondering eyes. Russell gets one solo musical number featuring a dance around a couple dozen shirtless and vain men bathing in the swimming pool, a sequence which coyly speaks to Dorothy’s libidinous desires and empowers her with sexual control.

The most famous sequence comes in the third act. ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ is iconic in its imagery of Monroe dressed in bright pink against a red background being carried around by tuxedo-clad men and singing about her penchant for diamonds. Jack Cole’s choreography is expertly executed by Monroe, arguably solidifying her as the most desirable celebrity in the world at the time. It’s less of a traditional dance sequence, but something Busby Berkeley might have designed, a sequence masterfully designed and composed to worship Ms. Monroe.


The glorious high definition transfer of the picture also deserves worship. The 20th Century Fox box set features other Monroe classics 'How to Marry a Millionaire', 'River of No Return', 'There’s No Business Like Show Business', 'The Misfits' and 'Some Like It Hot'.

1 comment :

noribori said...

This movie somehow is an updated version of Disney's Snow White, with Marilyn channeling Snow White, speaking to men like with little birds. And the men flock around her like little animals, even the young ones, because she has "a lot of animal magnetism". It's completely innocent. And the older ones are digging for diamonds and money, transforming into dwarfs whenever they meet her.
There's not exactly a jealous queen, but a disapproving rich father and a "huntsman", trying to kill the wedding plans by shooting Marilyn (with a camera). And there's an old lady with a tiara who doesn't want Marilyn to be the new queen of rich women.
And here's where the movie is different from the fairy tale: the split off bad personality (witch = disguised queen) doesn't have to die, instead it becomes integrated into the picture. Marilyn's friend disguised as Marilyn gives the tiara back and Marilyn tells the father that she wants to be pretty AND rich AND in love, and that's really nothing to be shamed about. And so we see in the end a double marriage confirming her claim of integration.
So the movie wants to be a magic mirror on the wall, trying to tell the audience who's really the fairest one of all: it's not the one with the tiara, but being rich doesn't harm either.

Compared with other Hawks pictures this is a rather simplistic movie. But it deserves extra credit for the most creative use of an olympic team in the background.