1950s, 3.5/4, Howard Hawks, Musical, Review

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Amazon.com: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Poster Movie C 11x17 Marilyn Monroe  Jane Russell Charles Coburn: Prints: Posters & Prints

#15 in my ranking of Howard Hawks’ filmography.

An adaptation of a popular stage musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, is a delightful romp through a mixture of greed, consumerism, and true love that combines together to create a light and energetic entertainment full of fun songs, bright colors, and winning performances from everyone, in particular its two female leads.

It sounds like Marilyn Monroe was just an absolute pain to work with. She was talented, earnest, mistake ridden, and riddled with self-doubt that made her an infuriating kind of perfectionist, never satisfied even if her director, in this case Howard Hawks, told her everything was fine. As second fiddle to Jane Russell, she steals the show from the star, though. As the ditzy but calculating Lorelei Lee, she plays a showgirl engaged to Gus Edmond (Tommy Noonan), a wealthy heir who worships her. Her partner is Russell’s Dorothy Shaw, a woman who finds rich men distasteful, especially when they brag about their money, and wants to marry for true love. They are scheduled to go to Paris where Lorelei and Gus are to be married, but Gus’s father is against the match. He keeps Gus behind while planting a private detective, Elliott Reid’s Ernie Malone, on the same ship with the mission of finding anything to split Gus from Lorelei.

Dorothy is lovelorn but rather picky. She feels like she has the pick of the litter when the men’s Olympic team happens to be on the same boat, but they all go to bed at nine. Her number in the gym, bemoaning how no one is there for love in the middle of men working out, is inventive and fun, ending with Dorothy getting knocked into the pool (a mistake that Hawks didn’t see until he reviewed dailies because he didn’t direct the musical sequences, that was Gwen Verdon). Lorelei has a mission to find Dorothy a man on this trip, but she ends up growing close with the older, fatter diamond mine owning Piggy Beekman, played by Charles Coburn. He’s infatuated with Lorelei, under the nose of his diamond loving wife, for quite understandable reasons. All the while Ernie Malone ingratiates himself as well as he can with Dorothy, pretending wealth and needing to correct course when he realizes that signs of wealth don’t impress her. She becomes infatuated with him until she realizes that he’s investigating Lorelei, quickly piecing things together and figuring out why and who paid him.

There are efforts to get pictures Ernie took of Lorelei and Piggy, Piggy giving Lorelei his wife’s diamond tiara, and break in to Ernie’s cabin. In the end, Ernie keeps his pictures, Dorothy rejects him despite his protestations that his only lie to her was about his wealth, that he really does love her, and Dorothy and Lorelei end up in Paris together, quickly finding out that Gus has been forced to cut Lorelei off financially. Also, Piggy won’t admit that he gave the tiara to Lorelei, so Piggy’s wife is trying to get the police to arrest her and take back the tiara since she won’t give it up willingly (it was a gift, after all).

The resolution is a revolving set of circumstances as the police try to arrest Lorelei, Gus confronts her for one last time, Dorothy takes Lorelei’s place in court (with Jane Russell doing a wonderful little Marilyn Monroe impression), and Ernie decides to choose Dorothy over his employer. It’s amusing, all following the show-stopping “Diamond are a Girl’s Best Friend” that became one of Monroe’s most iconic moments.

Now, when I say that this movie is a celebration of greed and consumerism, I fully mean it. I take it in the light spirit in which it’s given, but Lorelei has an impassioned speech where she defends her desire to marry rich. She equates it to a man wanting a pretty girl for a wife. Sure, it may not be the only trait a man looks for, but it’s part of the package. The problem is that Gus offers no positive qualities other than being rich. He’s a complete pushover who gives her whatever she wants. I mean…I’m not trying to make too much of a deal about this, but Lorelei wins by marrying a rich dope and getting his father to bless it. The other side is Dorothy and Ernie realizing that they love each other. It’s a nice balance, especially in a lighter, comic film like this.

The musical numbers are well staged with fun music. The performances are winning with Russell providing the more conventional rock to Monroe’s sexier seductress. Charles Coburn is kind of wonderful as Piggy, the older man caught up in an affection for a much younger woman.

This is a trifle of a film, reminding a bit of Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch to a certain degree, well beyond the mutual Marilyn Monroe connection. It’s an entertaining fantasy with very nice musical numbers and winning performances all over the place. It’s a small delight.

Rating: 3.5/4

5 thoughts on “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

  1. A movie with two of the finest pieces of 1950’s trim ever offered up, this movie is also a twist on fantasy vs reality. Just as every man fantasizes about having a hot wife, every girl fantasizes about a rich husband. But the reality is…not all that. I wouldn’t want* Dorothy or Lorelei, both of whom have flaws that would make them terrible spouses.

    But that might be taking it a bit too seriously. This is a tease and a romp, the kind of movie that, yes, they just don’t make anymore. Worth watching, though maybe with the sound off.

    *as a wife. I..may find other roles for them.

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  2. I haven’t seen his one, but I’ll try to give it a look the next time it pops up. (it was on this week and I skipped it). I’ve kind of paired this one up with “How to Marry a Millionaire” as being two takes on the same idea, although without having seen this one I don’t know if that is valid.

    I’ve read elsewhere that Marilyn was a pain to work with, I think on “Some Like it Hot”, where she had her acting coach on the set, and after a scene, she would ask him, rather than Billy Wilder, how she did. Wilder said she was just terrible to work with, but he would have worked with her again. I guess in spite of it all he liked what she delivered.

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    1. I’ve never read a story of someone being happy having working with Monroe. I imagine she was a literal nightmare to work with.

      Wilder had her lines taped inside a drawer at one point during the filming of Some Like It Hot because she simply could not remember her lines after a dozen takes.

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