The Two M-M-Marvels Of Our Age In The Wonder Musical Of The World!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was Marilyn Monroe’s breakout hit and the film that made her a leading lady. There has been far more written about Marilyn and I need add nothing more to it. Suffice to say there is a reason after this film she almost always got top billing.
Its her costar here, Jane Russell, who gets top billing. Jane Russell, who just passed away, was the brunette and was by far the star when production started. Made by famed director Howard Hawks, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was based on a fairly strong Broadway production as well.
In many ways, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is typical of the style which would become Monroe’s own for the 1950s and early 1960s. It is light, with hints of romance, comedy, and a few musical numbers. What I found revealing is what to me anyway is a second, more metaphorical and ribald storyline underneath the plot itself. But more on that later. Let’s just say it is clear this is not the staid, classic style of musicals MGM put out. Its from Fox, which is quite different.
On the surface Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe are Dorothy and Lorelei, two little girls from Little Rock. Lorelei’s fiancé Gus Esmond (played by Tommy Noonan) puts the two wayward showgirls on a cruise liner to France. From the get go it is clear that Lorelei is the dimwitted money grubber attracted by money. Or perhaps….she isn’t dimwitted at all but merely playing the hand than men give her and playing the role men expect her to play.
Esmond’s father, however, thinks not so much of young Lorelei and hires a private detective to spy on her and “keep her honest.” In the course of the spying Dorothy (Jane Russell) falls for the PI causing Lorelei to wonder what she sees in him as he is not wealthy.
Lorelei, by contrast, flatters the craziest old man, Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman, who just also happens to be the owner of the world’s second largest diamond mine. Both women clearly came on board looking to see who they might meet of the opposite persuasion but it is interesting to see how both women play the system to their advantage.
Done in really sharp color this film is a beauty to look at. Unfortunately many consider it a dimwitted comedy, typical of the vapid Marilyn Monroe. Not so fast.
Watch the film again, with two things in mind. First it is 1953 and even the slightest hint of indiscretion or sex will get a film censored heavily or banned. Second, look at it not as two pieces of eye candy trotting around on a cruise ship dancing and singing their way along to France in a completely male dominated society.
Rather, look at it as two incredibly smart women who are out to get what they want by taking advantage of the chauvinistic and shallow world men have created. Some things to point out along these lines- take a look at the musical numbers for starters. And both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, neither of whom were the best singers, pull of some rather well done performances.