Monday, 1 March 2010

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

I'm sure there was a time before I saw Howard Hawks' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" but to be honest I don't remember. I also have no idea how many times have I seen it, but each time it gets better and better - and I just got the chance to see it where it belongs, on the big screen, in a beautiful print.

The film follows two friends travelling from New York to Paris on a ship and their love lives tangling and untangling at the sound of some great songs and the help of a diamond tiara. One of the friends is Lorelei Lee, a blonde keen to marry for money and the other is Dorothy Shaw, a brunette keen to marry for love. The film stars Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei, Jane Russell as Dorothy and Charles Coburn and the supporting cast includes the delightful Norma Varden as Coburn's wife (the queen of obnoxious women on screen). These latter two are key in helping setting the comedic tone of the film. Norma Varden's obsession with diamonds made me think that she might have been a Lorelei herself in younger days. Coburn gives one of his most memorable performances and certainly the one I remember him for (well, that and the one in "The Lady Eve"). Another cast member that deserves some mention is the young kid, George Wilson. One of those wise beyond his years sort of kid, he's clearly directed to be as innocent and yet as keen on Marilyn as all the others. It's a credit to both him and Hawks that he succeeds.

Watching Jane Russell I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for her. She's very good and she was the main star at the time of filming (doubt me? She's top billed over Marilyn). She's funny and energetic, delivering some of the best lines of the film, as when she turns to the recently engaged Lorelei and tells her she doubts her future father-in-law would let her commit matrimony with her son. She particularly shines when she's imitating Marilyn in the court scene or in the gym number when she's surrounded by many semi-naked men who seem to have no interest whatsoever in her. But does anyone really remembers her here? Marilyn runs away with the film. It's one of her best performances, and I would say the template for the dumb blonde who turns out not to be as dumb as all that. She's funny, sexy and far clever than anyone but her friend gives her credit for. She has some delicious moments, when she predicts exactly to the minute how long she needs with a man to get from him what she wants or how she blackmails the head waiter to seat a particular gentleman on her dinner table. But the best is the excellent "Diamonds are a girl's best friend". She's so at ease, so perfect, and finishes by provoking her former fiancee (poor thing, never really got a chance...). Actually, his reaction before the show made me think that there might be more than meets the eye, and that perhaps this is a coded striptease number, like the one in "Gilda".

The film is now approaching 60 and despite being hardly unknown, it deserves some reassessment. It's pure joy and it feels much younger than its years. Like the men in the film, you can't take your eyes away from the "two little girls from Little Rock".

No comments: