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Best Shot(s): Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Commence squealing. For what could be more delightful than an evening with two perfect musical comedy performances? It's time to talk Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. The film, currently streaming on Netflix, was the runner up in our Readers Choice polling for Hit Me With Your Best Shot.

20th Century Fox. Released on July 15th, 1953 in New York
Director: Howard Hawks; Cinematographer: Harry J Wild 
Starring: Jane Russell as 'Dorothy', Marilyn Monroe as 'Lorelei', Charles Coburn as 'Piggy', Elliott Reid as 'Malone', Tommy Noonan as 'Esmond Jr'

Howard Hawk's classic was not the first iteration of the story. It was based on the stage musical which itself was based on a book which had already spawned two non-musicals. The 1949 stage musical, a huge hit on Broadway, had introduced Carol Channing to the world. New star Marilyn Monroe got Channing's  star-making "Lorelei" role for the screen. (The same thing would happen to Channing sixteen years later with her other signature role Hello Dolly) But sometimes a movie turns out so spectacularly well that it's impossible to imagine it existing in any other shape than the one it's in, all other versions prior or subsequent feel like faint cultural echoes. 

Best Shots after the jump...


The comedy gets much of its vibrance from the chemistry between Monroe & Russell who are perfectly matched in that they aren't at all alike: blonde/brunette, sweet/sour, chill/"on", sarcastic/earnest, smart/"dumb", etcetera. The shot above, from "When Love Goes Wrong" is my favorite image of the women performing together because it conveys so much of what is happening with Monroe & Russell in the film. Dorothy is always watching over Lorelei (sometimes subtly with little glances) and though Russell is a star in her own right and top billed she gracefully plays "back up" to this more fragile incandescent creature who is just coming into focus - Marilyn is rushing to center stage at this moment. Jane Russell was at the peak of her comic gifts but had already been a star for ten years, while Marilyn Monroe was essentially fresh out of the gate, exploding into superstardom in this very year with three big hits (the others being Niagara and How to Marry a Millionaire). 

If the image above had just a bit more pizazz it would have been my shot because it's shared between the ladies and featured a recurring beat in their tight friendship. But it's just a brief comic beat, a throwaway reprise joke in actuality (Tommy Noonan's awkward heir "Esmond Jr"). Lorelei is saying goodbye to her fiancé and kisses him upon which he looks dizzy and the sound mix works in comic bird chirping noises to make the gag broader. Note how the foreground diagonal of the ship's ramp make this nerdy rich man appear even more off balance in Monroe's presence; Lorelei is delighted by her own seductive gifts and Dorothy is deeply amused but not jealous of Lorelei's powers.

I'm cheating with a tie but together these two shots, which are siblings in character portrait purpose and composition, Dorothy/Lorelei singing and surrounded by men, define the film when conjoined. 

Jane Russell may have been larger than life onscreen but her appeal was of the attainable variety, all grounded carnality, so naturally Dorothy's a good time gal and doesn't mind getting messy. What's more the men are, if not equal partners, a lively part of Dorothy's spectacle. Lorelei's shot is totally different and yet the same. The lighting is artificial and there's nothing earthy about the moment, all staged and precise -- you instantly recall Norma Jean's famous quote that she could flip a switch to turn Marilyn "on". The men are technically in the shot but her sex appeal has already knocked them down for the count. They're not part of her act so much as a particular well dressed audience, rushing her stage. Marilyn Monroe was an autoerotic spectacle if ever there was one for the screen. Cinematographer Harry J Wild undoubtedly shined a spotlight on this "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" number (how else to get that perfect gradient red behind the star) but Marilyn Monroe was already, and would remain, her own light source.

There are 9 more entries on this film on other blogs & twitter.

If you watched Blondes as a child as I did, “Anyone Here for Love?” is perhaps… um… not the same when you’re an adult. 
-Film Mix Tape 

It's pretty much my own dream scenario to be honest...
-Sorta That Guy


It’s the first thing in the movie that made me chuckle, thanks to the visual wit. 
-Allison Tooey 

The sheer magnetism she exudes in this movie is not something that comes around often... 
- I Want to Believe 

it’s Marilyn Monroe’s smile that shines the brightest.
-Cinema Cities 


There were Technicolor pictures made before Howard Hawks's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and there were Technicolor pictures made after it, but I don't think there is one that is MORE of a Technicolor picture than this one.
-Dancin Dan on Film 

My second-favorite Monroe vehicle ever, behind Some Like It Hot.
-Antagony & Ecstasy 

and two more entries from twitter Paul Outlaw's choice and Christian's, too. 

ZOOTOPIA (2016) will you join us?


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Reader Comments (14)

All great choices and explanations of why you chose each. The dueling best shots are precisely as you say the epitome of each woman's essence within the character.

But my favorite of these is your Silver choice. Love Marilyn smile/laughing face and the expression on Jane Russell's is priceless. In this movie she was queen of the side eye shade.

Also I've always loved Tommy Noonan as Mr. Esmond. Such a dear befuddled nincompoop but endearing nonetheless and in his way sort of a sexy nerd. He so different than he was the following year as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester's best friend and accompanist Danny in A Star is Born. Never understood after his success in those two big featured roles why his career petered out.

July 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Love this post more than Pokemon Go. This is one of my all-time favorite movies. They're all great shots. But you and the "Other Film Buffs" really hit the high points. Thanks for this!

July 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

Just posted mine:

Love your best shot choices and your explanations for them, they perfectly compliment each other.

July 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKeisha

Here's mine (sorry I'm late!):

July 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Just squeaking by with my own entry;

I see most of the shots are divided into two scenes (including mine). Not a big surprise, but still amusing nevertheless.

July 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Tooey

Socially the 1950s were terrible for women. Aesthetically they were terrific.

July 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer 1994

Jennifer -- yes and yes. no arguments here.

July 13, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

In the second to last picture on this page, do you notice the last fellow on the right end???

It is none other than George Chakiris.... I know for sure ... I was there when final number was shot.

July 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

At that time they made the stars and then
they would know if they could act.
Now they find the actors
and try to make them stars.
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are these stars who justify
the old studio system. Today they wouldn't be movie stars.
Or even actresses. Better for them to be scientists or
work in the Silicon Valley.

July 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly S

At that time they made the stars and then
they would know if they could act.
Now they find the actors
and try to make them stars.
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are these stars who justify
the old studio system. Today they wouldn't be movie stars.
Or even actresses. Better for them to be scientists or
work in the Silicon Valley.

July 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly S

I love the unexpected choice of Antagony & Ecstasy. He's so right, the BFFs is the enduring fun of the movie. Dorothy and Lorelei forever.

July 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Fuuuuuuuuuuck, I totally forgot about this and would've done it too since I JUST had a fun rewatch not too long ago.

Anyways, let me saddle up in my tiara and enjoy these posts.

July 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

@rick: that is so incredibly cool.

I did notice that it was George Chakiris the last time I watched Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and I was happy that soon he would have a featured role that showcased his wonderful dancing and win him an Oscar.

July 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Saw The Neon Demon yesterday. I want Marilyn Monroe in the role played by
Elle Fanning.

July 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSonofaVan

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