Comedy musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes arrived in cinemas in the summer of 1953 on the back of a successful Broadway run. Set largely aboard an Ocean Liner and Paris, the movie follows the fortunes of two beautiful showgirls. Although the best of friends, the two women couldn’t be more different from one another. Blonde bombshell Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) is a childlike airhead, desperate to marry rich. Her friend Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) is much smarter and more down to earth, interested in love not money. The two head to Paris with Dorothy sent along as a chaperone by Lorelei’s rich and naïve fiancé (Tommy Noonan). Also aboard the ship is a handsome P.I (Elliot Reid), who’s there at the behest of Lorelei’s potential father-in-law.
The film is famous today for Monroe’s iconic and much copied rendition of Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. Along with this song, there are several others in which the two stars sing seductively, strutting across the stage in glamorous and often revealing attire. Many of the songs weren’t to my liking but I had no complaints about the visuals. Around the pair is some excellent choreography. Russell’s rendition of Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love is set inside the ship’s gymnasium and she’s surrounded by the American Olympic Team of whom she makes interesting and amusing props. The actress looks to be in her element. The number also features a mistake in which the actress is knocked into a pool. Director Howard Hawks liked the take though and kept the accident in the finished film. The opening number I’m Just a Little Girl From Little Rock is well staged and sets the film off to a flying start.
I liked both lead characters. They had some well written differences and the actresses played them nicely. Monroe is at home as the ditzy blonde; often unaware of the effect she has on the opposite sex but willing to exploit it at every turn. She’s very much the old fashioned one of the two, happy to be provided for while she admires her diamonds. Jane Russell is more of the modern woman, not quite a feminist but happy to go for what she wants with no qualms about it. She’s well aware of her feminine charms but is looking for love not money. It would be quite easy for the two characters to be written as enemies but they complement each other and the friendship is written in a genuine and caring manner. Jane Russell’s second act impersonation of her co-star was one of the film’s finest moments. Although she doesn’t quite look the part, she has the Monroe persona and mannerisms down to a tee.
The plot isn’t full of surprises but it features some nice lines and the well drawn characters I’ve already spoken about. The male characters are given little screen time and even less to do which is a welcome change. So often I write the exact opposite. The humour isn’t of the bawdy sort as in Some Like It Hot but it’s also a little sparse for my taste. Monroe’s naivety is responsible for some laughs, the moment she puts a bangle on her head is a highlight, but the film concentrates more on musical and romantic elements than comedy. Perhaps the funniest character is that of Henry Spofford III (George Winslow). Lorelei sets Dorothy up with the eligible bachelor, only to be shocked to discover he’s a child.
One of my favourite things about the movie was its general look and ambiance. I’m a big fan of 1950s glamour and this film has bags of it. The gowns, hats and bags are sumptuously designed and worn beautifully by Russell and Monroe. The sets also speak of wealth and glamour and are a joy to behold. Paris is designed with a stereotypical eye but the city is filled with interesting characters and costumes. Overall I enjoyed the picture but it’s far from my favourite from the period. The musical elements were well handled and the two leads sizzle but I found it a bit boring. It’s a nice film to look at but I’d happily look anything in which Marilyn Monroe was involved.
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