It's the day after Thanksgiving, and Day 5 of Girl Week 2016! I hope you're enjoying this week as much as I am. It's been a blast putting things together here on this site. It's been even more fun reading your posts on your site. Thank you, all, and not for the last time.
Today, Joel brings an icon to the party. The one and only Marilyn Monroe. I'll let him take over, for a little while.
Directed by Howard Hawks.
1953. Not Rated, 91 minutes.
Girl power wrapped up in diamonds! Splashy, sassy Technicolor musical tale of two little girls from Little Rock who lived on the wrong side of the tracks then someone broke their hearts and they up and left the pieces there. But they’re young and determined to be wined and dined in ermine and after finding men are the same way everywhere head to the big city in search of a gentleman who is shy or bold or short or tall or young or old as long as the guy’s a millionaire!!
While theoretically about two girls on the make, though only Lorelei Lee’s (Marilyn Monroe) heart is really in that pursuit while otherwise sensible Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) is simply man crazy, the real story of the film is the devoted friendship the two women share. No matter the predicament they find themselves in-mostly due to Lorelei’s avarice-the two never waver in their defense of the other.
Loaded with eye-popping fashions, musical numbers, including the amazing and justly famous “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and Jane’s ferociously homo-erotic poolside “Is There Anyone Here for Love?” this is a real showpiece for the talents of Monroe & Russell both separately and collectively. While they are surrounded by talented co-stars, Charles Coburn as the lustful Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman, Tommy Noonan as the sweet but nebbishy Mr. Esmond and young foghorn voiced George Winslow are all standouts, the pair effortlessly carry the film and make it something special.
Joel, thank you for this, but I have to take the wheel back, now.
I have a confession. Before Joel sent me this draft, I hadn't seen Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In fact, though her likeness has been all around me for my entire life, I had only seen one true Marilyn Monroe film, the comedy classic Some Like it Hot. I had also seen her in All About Eve, but she only has a bit part in that. Since Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has been on my radar forever, and I actually have seen the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" routine dozens of times, I figured 'why not go ahead and watch it, already?' So, that's what I did.
Here's my take.
Everything Joel says about the movie rings true. It's loads of fun, there is lots to dazzle the eye, and the friendship of our co-leads carries the day. To pull off that last feat, Monroe and Russell have fabulous chemistry. Of those in the supporting cast, young George Winslow is my favorite. This little guy stole every scene in which he appeared. That's no small feat considering who he was sharing the screen with.
Then, there are those musical numbers. Like everything else, they're just a blast to watch. Of course, "Diamonds" is just iconic. Seeing it within the context of the actual film, however, made it even better than I thought it to be. Still, being a 80s teen, I couldn't help myself thinking of Madonna's aping of the whole thing for the music video to her song "Material Girl." Lesser known, but more fun in a goofy way is Jane Russell's rendition of "Diamonds" in a courtroom. Joel hit the nail right on the head when he described her number "Is There Anyone Here For Love?"as "ferociously homo-erotic." I happen to think this was brilliantly done on purpose given the sentiment of the song.
Speaking of Russell, she is a bona-fide star, iconic in her own right, and delivers a wonderful performance, but I feel sorry for her. She shares more scenes with Marilyn Monroe than anyone else in the film. The problem is two-fold. First, Monroe is not a great technical actress, by any stretch of the imagination. After hearing horror stories about working with her from other actors, I can only imagine what this was like for Russell. Second, despite her lack of skill, Monroe is simply so radiant, and with such presence it's just not fair to the people on the screen with her. Yes, she had the blonde bombshell look and figure, but it could be argued that any number of actresses were better looking. Where she separates herself from the rest is in raw sex appeal. Everything about her is a risque innuendo. The trick to making it work is that it all feels so effortless. By contrast, Russell is clearly working so hard at being sexy she appears to be on the verge of breaking out in a profuse sweat. The comedy comes when Monroe makes a point of trying to be sexy. We can't help but chuckle because the extra effort is completely pointless, and/or because whatever poor sap she has in her sights doesn't stand a chance. For me, that's the key to what is an excellent performance despite her lack of acting ability. Too many times, she plays the dumb blonde moments with that weird extra wide-eyed expression she's wearing in so many photos. It works in stills, but comes off a bit odd in live action. However, she makes it work because it really does seem like a light bulb is coming on whenever Lorelei does something to prove she's not as stupid as everyone thinks.
The bottom line is that I really enjoyed this. The dialogue is packed to the gills with sly sex jokes. Russell delivers her dialogue as if she's clearly in on the joke, while Monroe delivers hers as if she's not. Both approaches work wonderfully and enhance their characters. The story ends with a rather odd and dated type of 'girl power' that might have to be explained to young women of the 21st century. Even then, its really more rich white guy fantasy than actual feminism. Still, it's just fun to watch and I'm glad I did.
Hope you enjoyed this look at Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Click below for yesterday's entries in Girl Week 2016.