Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Gentlemen Prefer Blondes</strong> (1953)

(On TV, November 2018) As someone who doesn’t go crazy for blondes, I’m less susceptible than most to Marilyn Monroe’s charms. But she could be a hilarious comedienne when given the right material, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (nonsense!) is as good a showcase for her brand of humour as anything else I’ve seen her in so far. Helmed by the always-excellent Howard Hawks, this is a Hollywood musical from the golden age, as two women make their transatlantic way to Paris in search of husbands and their fortunes. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and Monroe’s Pink Dress are set-pieces of the film, the song reprised more than once. Monroe is very, very funny as the ditzy but clever heroine, while Jane Russell is spectacular as her brunette friend—her “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” number (complete with a surprising amount of cheekiness) is a highlight. Maybe a bit lighter on songs than you’d expect from a 1950s Hollywood musical comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (nonsense!) is heavier on comedy. All of this plays quite well to Monroe’s comedic talents—the film is her showcase even if I prefer Russell on general principles. The gender roles of the film are hopelessly dated, of course (the film is based on a 1940s Broadway musical itself based on a 1920s comic novel, explaining some of the material such as crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner) but once you get into the 1950s frame of mind, anyone will realize that the heroines are really the masters of the plot, playing their hands as skillfully as they can. That kind of agency (need we go over the Hawks woman archetype again?) certainly helps Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (nonsense!) survive well through the decades, offering many of the same pleasures that audiences of the 1950s enjoyed while watching the film.

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