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.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
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.
BEST SHOTS FROM OTHER FILM BUFFS
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.
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.
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
NEXT TUESDAY EVENING:
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