Day one of my Seven Days of Marilyn Series to celebrate the life of this great starlet as well as the release of the Forever Marilyn: The Blu-Ray Collection brings us the first disc in the set, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was released in 1953 as a film adaptation of the stage musical and was directed by Howard Hawks. It was the sixth highest grossing film of 1953. The film is about two women who have their own stage show that has become quite popular and successful. One of the women, Lorelei Lee (Marylin Monroe) is engaged to the wealthy Gus Esmond Jr. (Tommy Noonan), while the other woman, Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) is the consummate playgirl. The two embark on an adventure on the high seas, on a cruise liner as it were, where the Senior Mr. Esmond (Taylor Holmes) has a private eye keeping tabs on Ms. Lee. The investigator is none other than Ernie Malone, played by Elliot Reid. The most memorable moments in the film come by way of the signature song, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, a look and performance which has been emulated by many, from Madonna to Kylie Minogue.
The film opens on the two women singing “Two Little Girls from Little Rock“. Jane Russell seems a little stiff and not quite made for the dancing so much as the singing, especially next to Marilyn’s graceful performance. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is full of great quotable moments, one of my favorite being, “You can never go to big” – Lorelei Lee (Marilyn) to Gus Esmond Jr., in reference to her engagement ring that he has just bestowed to her. Gus’ bumbling nerdiness next to Ms. Lee’s grace and va-va-voom leads us to believe that Lorelei is what she seems to be after this comment; a gold-digger, but her apparent innocence can be disarming and we can’t be quite sure at the outset of the film.
The two women embark on a trip across the ocean from the U.S. to France with the initial intention of Lorelei and Gus getting married, though Gus cannot make the trip due to his father’s protests to his impending marriage. The Olympic team on board drives Dorothy to distraction and to another awkward dancing number in which she plays off the gentlemen, who are scantily clad in flesh colored shorts, reverse sexism at it’s best. Gus’ concern that Lorelei might get herself into a precarious situation is not unfounded; there are a quite a few yummy looking characters on the ship on which he is leaving the beautiful, daft blonde. It does turn out in fact that the good looking fellas are the least of his worries as her tastes lean more toward money as appearance and age matter less and less. Lorelei sultrily lets Gus know he’ll be on her mind in a rendition of “Bye Bye Baby” and she better be on his while she is gone. I’m not a huge musical lover, but I enjoy them any time Ms. Monroe is involved.
There are several moments that remind us that we live in a different world these days. This was filmed a time when you could go through a list of names on a ship manifesto and not worry about privacy issues, not to mention being able to rely on a last name to tell you everything you need to know about a person. Later in a scene with Mr. Malone and Lorelei, Dorothy asks the Malone to get them all some cigarettes and a drink, something you would see these days much in a film, much less in a situation where the character is a distinguished, glamorous woman. Come to think of it, there really are no films featuring distinguished, glamorous women these days.
Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman (Charles Coburn), the diamond mine owner, seriously creeps me out, more so as Lorelei puts it on thicker and thicker with him as she is blinded by the promise of bling. His character makes for great fodder for comedic Marilyn moments though. One of those moments comes when Lady Beekman (Norma Varden), or Mrs. Piggy as I like to call her, appears on the scene as Lorelei is laying the groundwork with her elderly husband. The woman is literally dripping with diamonds and pulls out a tiara which confuses Lorelei momentarily. When Mrs. Piggy sets her straight as to where to wear the tiara, Lorelei squeals, “I just love finding new places to wear diamonds.” I don’t know that this line would mean the same thing today as it did then, she might be relatively shocked by how many different places she could wear diamonds these days what with all the piercings available now.
Marilyn and Jane both look stunning in their evening gowns at dinner on the ship, the digital remastering making the rich, gorgeous colors of their gowns pull you right in to the screen. Right about this time in the film I did start getting a little tired of the “Marilyn speak” and gesturing. It started looking like nervous ticks and there was much too much baby talk going on between she and Mr. Piggy. Even I can find this vapid dialogue to be a little much at times. Lorelei gets in deeper and deeper with Piggy, until she backs herself into a corner when an incriminating photo is taken. More hilarity ensues in the plot to retrieve the photo, with Marilyn’s signature hips keeping her from making a quick escape through a porthole in on of the ship’s rooms. The buddy comedians really bloom when they join forces to take down Malone, despite the budding relationship between he and Dorothy. The women play exceptionally well off one another as they strip the poor man down and send him out the door in a fluffy robe in order to save Lorelei. Russell’s shrewd, chiseled look is balanced well with Marilyn’s fluffiness. The stark contrast between the two women makes them the perfect team, visually and in their performances.
I love how Marilyn can get you to root for her characters no matter how self-serving their intentions may be. She is so endearing and you really start to feel that if these men are so easily taken by killer looks and little substance, they deserve what they get. That is one thing that hasn’t changed, I see it all the time, a pretty face can still trump character over and over. But to say that Lorelei’s manipulation doesn’t involve some intelligence is to underestimate her character as well. Though on the surface I started getting aggravated by all the baby talk and immature seduction halfway through the film, it didn’t take long for another side of Lorelei to show through and I was reminded that her actions are well planned out and have a purpose, however shallow that purpose might be.
When the women arrive in France and are kicked out of their hotel on suspicion of theft, they belt out another song and dance number with “When Love Goes Wrong“. This is the one performance I could have completely done without, and it seems to go on forever. I was quickly rewarded for sitting through that number with another great line from Lorelei, this time speaking to Gus Jr. as to how appalled she is at his abandonment of her, citing “It’s men like you that make me the way I am”. Spoken like a true manipulator. “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” comes quickly after this confrontation and Ms. Monroe is at her best in this performance. It always puts a smile on my face and really shows her talent and love of the spotlight. I definitely enjoy hearing her sing more than speak in the majority of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and when she does it is full and rich and just plain wonderful.
My favorite Jane Russell moment is the scene in court in which Dorothy pretends to be Lorelei. She has to stall while Lorelei tries to fix things with Mrs. Piggy’s “missing” tiara. She goes to court dressed as Lorelei, complete with platinum blond hair and Marilyn-esque mannerisms. Dorothy causes a huge stir in her skimpy showgirl outfit, with a great, hilarious performance in the middle of the courtroom until the judge puts an end to things. Russell really gets a chance to shine and does fantastic as Lorelei’s doppelganger. In the end it really doesn’t take much to convince the Sr. Esmond to let Lorelei marry his son, just three minutes alone with him. We may never know what happened in those three minutes to abate the objections that he had to the union, and not to sully a great classic film, but we may never want to know.
Can I just say wow? If you didn’t think Monroe and Russell could be any more stunning than they already were, you haven’t seen them digitally remastered for Blu-ray. The sparkles are sparklier, the reds redder, and of course, the blondes even blonder. The clarity and definition of the picture along with the vibrancy of the colors makes watching this film a whole new experience no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. That signature Marilyn wink has a little extra pow to it as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what the difference in my experience will be with the rest of the films as well.
Blu-Ray Special Features:
- Movietone News, “Marilyn and Jane in Cement”. We see the “first blonde and first brunette” putting their mark on the Hollywood walk of fame. It’s a fun little blurb and I really enjoyed seeing them out of the studio for a moment. The Movietone News moments always held a certain amount of fascination for me anyway.
- Along with this the original theatrical trailer and trailers for other Marilyn films are part of the features available and are also fun to watch and compare to the trailers of today.
While Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not my favorite Marilyn film, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it again and “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” thrills me to no end no matter how many times I see it. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. Another great girlfriends film!
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What is your favorite Marilyn moment? Share in the comments!