Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was made in 1953, a movie adaptation of the 1949 musical of the same name. The musical was an adaptation of a play, which was adapted from the novel, written in 1925 by Anita Loos (a prominent screenwriter of ’20s). The original book was a satire of the flapper culture in the 1920s. The movie has none of that satire, mostly being an excuse for catchy songs sung by Hollywood’s leading sex icons of the era, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, in glorious (occasionally gaudy) technicolor.
However, I found it a very entertaining extravaganza. What I really enjoyed about it most was the great camaraderie between Russell and Monroe as they sail through the film, making mincemeat of the men, all the while having each other’s back. There’s none of the usual Hollywood female cat-fighting in this film.
The film follows the exploits of two showgirls, Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw. Monroe is Lorelei, the blonde ditz and dedicated gold digger (diamond digger, really). Jane Russell plays Dorothy, her fun-loving, snarky, but utterly loyal friend. Lorelei has managed to ensnare the hapless Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan), the son of a millionaire. However, Gus’ father is determined to prevent their wedding and when Lorelei and Dorothy make a transatlantic crossing to Europe, Gus’ father sends a private detective along to watch Lorelei.
Lorelei, meanwhile, meets the very rich Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn), who owns a diamond mind, but is also married. Dorothy meets the detective, Malone (Elliott Reid), not knowing he is a detective and they mutually fall for each other while he still tries to spy on Lorelei. His vigilance pays off, too. Sir Francis has traveled a great deal in Africa and while he demonstrates to Lorelei how a python wraps up a goat, with Lorelei as the goat, Malone manages to snap some pictures. But Dorothy catches him taking pictures and between her and Lorelei, they swipe the pictures back. Lorelei gives the pictures to Sir Francis to destroy and in gratitude he swipes his own wife’s diamond tiara (that Lorelei has been coveting) and gives it to Lorelei at her request.
This proves to be her undoing as Malone gets wind of it, who passes the information on to Lady Beekman and Gus’ father. Gus breaks up with Lorelei and Dorothy breaks up with Malone, leaving the two girls broke in Paris; down, but by no means out. Through more machinations, the girls manage to get everything they want, including Gus and Malone.
The film is often characterized as being about two gold diggers, but there is actually only one gold digger and that is a big reason why these two women can be such good friends in the film. They are not competition for each other. They want different things out of life and they both get what they want.
Lorelei Lee, as played by Monroe, personifies the blonde ditz, but nevertheless has a razor sharp streak of pragmatism and smarts. She may not know that you wear a tiara on your head, but she certainly knows how to get what she wants and has a surprisingly well developed philosophy on the matter.
Movies and novels have always popularized the notion that you can’t help who you love, but Lorelei earnestly believes that you can chose who you fall in love with and there is no reason in the world why you shouldn’t find a millionaire that you can also love. And nothing in the film contradicts this belief. She is not made to fall in love with a poor man or repent of her scheming for money. In fact, when Mr. Esmond says that she only wants his son for his money, she admits that money is a factor. Being a rich man is like being a pretty woman, she says. Men don’t marry women just because they are pretty, but “my goodness, doesn’t it help?” If he had a daughter, surely he would want his daughter to marry a man with money, too.
Dorothy, unlike Lorelei, is not a ditz and gets to deliver some of the films funniest and snarkiest lines. She also has a completely different philosophy in life. She likes “a beautiful hunk of man” and she likes to have a good time and she can’t stand playboys. When Gus wants her to chaperone Lorelei while they are on their trip to Europe, she is very excited to see that the whole US Olympic team will be on board. Gus is worried (he needn’t have been; athletes are too poor for Lorelei to glance at), but Dorothy replies that “the chaperone’s job is to see that nobody else has any fun. Nobody chaperones the chaperone. That’s why I’m so right for this job.”
The film is generally regarded as being Monroe’s film, but I have to say I really enjoyed Jane Russell. She brings an intelligent good humor to the character, with staunch loyalty to Lorelei. Russell has always had a reputation for not being the most versatile actress, but I like her low-key, comfortable persona and how she has a way of looking as if she’s really there with the other actors, instead of just using them as a prop, as Monroe can occasionally do.
The iconic song is, of course, “Diamond Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” sung by Marilyn Monroe, in pink dress with red background and dozens of men dancing in tuxedos, offering her dozens of diamonds. It’s a very catchy song, but my favorite songs are from the first half of the film. There is “Bye, Bye Baby,” which I absolutely cannot get out of my head, “A Little Girl from Little Rock,” and the song that Dorothy sings when she learns that the entire Olympic team has to be in bed by nine, “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love.”
I have always had a lukewarm opinion of Marilyn Monroe’s singing abilities. She has a way of breathing through a song instead of singing. However, Monroe does a fairly good job in this. She still manages to whisper/sing many of the lyrics, but she studied hard for the film and she’s better than usual. For the really high, operatic notes in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” however, her voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon, who also dubbed Deborah Kerr’s voice in The King and I and Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady.
The director, Howard Hawks, is best known for films like Bringing Up Baby and Only Angels Have Wings. He did not get along with Marilyn Monroe at all. He didn’t like that she had her acting instructor on set all the time or that she wanted many retakes. However, Jane Russell was evidently a very easy going person and was able to intercede between Hawks and Monroe.
All the songs were written by Jule Styne, with lyrics by Leo Robin. However, two additional songs were written by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson: “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” and “When Love Goes Wrong.”
Here is “Bye Bye Baby.” The first woman you hear singing is Jane Russell. Later, when you hear somebody crooning breathily that is Marilyn Monroe, singing to her fiance, Gus.