Soundtracking: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at 9:00AM
Chris Feil in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Soundtracking, musicals

by Chris Feil

If you want to look to reinforcement of traditional gender roles in the movies, sadly you can look to the history of movie musicals for consistent examples. It’s a genre that consistently returns to tropes and archetypes for its structure, but that just makes it all the more rewarding when there are examples to the contrary. Take Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for example - no seriously, take it and watch it on a loop because it is perfect cinema.

The film gives us two unique musical heroines in Jane Russell’s Dorothy Shaw and Marilyn Monroe’s Lorelei Lee, a team on the stage and in dealing with men. They are two ingenues that subvert genre tropes and traditional images of women looking for love on screen, and you can see how they do so in their solo songs...

Mind you Russell’s showcase number “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?” is already one hallowed in gay history. The actress struts through a horde of muscle men, moving in unison in their nude illusion shorts and paying her no mind. They quite possibly could be there for love, but it ain’t for Jane.

Russell meanwhile gets to play both coyly thirsty and delectably butch. The song’s central question is tongue-in-cheek in her delivery, with her aloofness and dismissal of the lovelorn role she is supposed to play is her own sly flirtation with the audience. Those distinctly phallic earrings she wears aren’t just a cleverly positioned dick joke, but  a symbol of her horniness and her characteristic assertiveness that traditional gender roles would say are reserved for a man.

She gets to play empowered, horny, and more than a little queer in a single definitive number, showing that femininity need not be defined by the rules of the era. Her subversion is powerful, funny, and very sexy.

Monroe’s diva moment however is more subtle in upending expected ingenue femininity. And of course it is its own cultural landmark, one that has been chased by later icons like Madonna and Nicole Kidman. But while “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” is iconic for cinema history, we might forget that it is done with a wink.

On its surface, you can see how foolish men could interpret the number as an ode to the kind of superficiality that female characters were long painted with. But that was a trope that Monroe adeptly undermined throughout her career. She played breathy “dumb blonde”s with an intelligence so smooth, fawning men never realized she was intellectually sideswiping their expectations. Here the song jokes she walks off with their money, winning a power play they didn’t even realize they were having.

And yet she is able to do so without betraying the hyperfeminine persona that is demanded of her. There’s a reason this number has been mimicked and repeated for decades: it’s peak glam perfection. The men surrounding Monroe here may be more rapt than the crowd that met Russell in her moment, but they are as unmatched to Monroe’s respective power. Instead, they are moths to a flame. Where Russell was more of a glitterbomb to the traditional gender role, Monroe dismantles it from the inside.

But together, they are smart heroines we can get behind.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (
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