A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, July 1, 2016

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks, 1953)

Given the sexism and vulgarity that underlies the teaming of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell -- two women best known at the time for their bodies, not for their talents as actresses or singers -- it's gratifying that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes turned out to be a landmark film in both their careers. Some of it has to do with the director, Howard Hawks, who despite his reputation for womanizing created some of the most memorable roles for such actresses as Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Lauren Bacall, and many others. Certainly neither Russell nor Monroe ever showed more wit and liveliness than they do here, even though Monroe is playing the gold-digging ditz part that she came to resent, especially after having to play it again the same year in How to Marry a Millionaire (Jean Negulesco), and Russell is stuck with the wise-cracking sidekick role. Both stars are paired with lackluster leading men, Elliott Reid and Tommy Noonan, but while it might have been fun to see someone like Cary Grant in Reid's part, that kind of casting would probably have thrown the film off-balance. Better that we have Charles Coburn's bedazzled old lech, young George Winslow's precocious appreciation of Monroe's "animal magnetism," and Marcel Dalio's judge overwhelmed by Russell's hilarious impersonation of Monroe's Lorelei Lee. The production numbers, choreographed by Jack Cole, costumed by Travilla, and filmed by Harry J. Wild in a candy-store Technicolor that we'll not see the like of again, are exceptional showcases for Russell and Monroe: The former's baritonish growl blends perfectly with the latter's sweet and wispy soprano (though some of Monroe's high notes were provided by Marni Nixon).

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