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Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
(1953)

Marilyn Monroe reunites with Howard Hawks a year after her supporting role in Monkey Business, but this time sharing leading lady duties with Jane Russell. But it’s Russell’s show to command, really, as testified by her impersonation of Monroe’s Lorelei Lee during the courtroom climax. Complete with a second, vigorous, run-through of Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend (Marilyn famously sings it the first time).

Neither star steps on the other’s toes, since they’re playing complete opposites; Russell, the deadpan, world-wise one in search of love, Monroe the airhead gold-digging bimbo. Monroe’s is like no character you’ve ever seen, both in manner and delivery, but you completely buy into her heightened, almost abstract performance (Fox allegedly wanted her voice dubbed, which goes some way to illustrate how out-there she seemed). It helps too that her suitors her are played by actors with great comic timing. The starlet reportedly drove Hawks to distraction with her demands for retakes (although not so much that he didn’t have plans for a third film together); while they may have been unnecessary, at least this is one of her performances that works, and is rightly celebrated.

Showgirls Lorelei and Dorothy Shaw (Russell) travel on a ship to Paris; Lorelei is spied upon by private detective Ernie Malone (Elliott Reed), under the employ of the rich parents of her fiancée Gus Esmond Jr (Tommy Noonan). Before long Lorelei, obsessed with diamonds, is flirting with wealthy mine-owner “Piggy” Beekman (Charles Coburn), while Malone has fallen for Dorothy.

The plot is wafer-thin, and it is punched-up accordingly with a series of show tunes of variable quality (the aforementioned Diamonds… being the highlight). But, with Howard Hawks at the helm, the result is never less than energetic; he also pulls of a couple of comedy coups. Both Charles Coburn and child actor George Winslow featured in Hawks’ previous picture, Monkey Business. Coburn is sublime as silly old fart Piggy, attempting to carry on with Lorelei while avoiding his wife’s scrutiny. Winslow, meanwhile, plays diminutive tycoon Henry Spofford III and all three appear in the funniest scene. Monroe, wedged in a porthole and draped in a blanket, has Winslow play her body while a bemused Piggy remarks on her tiny hands.

Reid’s a bit of a wet blanket as Russell’s love interest, and is consigned to playing straight man for most of the proceedings. His presence does at least advance the action, which is more of a means to get from song to song than any attempt at coherent narrative. Which is perhaps surprising, given that the property had already been a novel and a play by the time Hollywood came calling. Perhaps it’s just the fate of films set aboard ships (see also the Marx Brothers’ haphazard Monkey Business (no connection with Hawks’ film, other than title).

If it sounds like I’m damning what is generally regarded as a classic with faint praise, it’s rather the case that musicals have an uphill struggle to win me over in the first place. It takes really special entries in the genre to successfully combine songs with story, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is unable to reach that plateau. So, for fans of the genre, that I found it agreeable for the most part should be a fair indication of its virtues.

***1/2

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