A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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).