GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was directed by Howard Hawks. Well, sort of. All the musical numbers, about 40% of the 91-minute running time, were the work of choreographer Jack Cole. While some of Hawk’s 60% of the musical-comedy’s…uh…broadly played…material is still fun, in a dated wink-wink way, it’s Cole’s handling of his end that delivers the verve, especially the one immortal signature number that’s so dynamite cool it makes the whole gaudy, silly show worthwhile.
“Those girls couldn’t drown.”
Showgirls ‘Dorothy Shaw’ (Jane Russell, 31) and ‘Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe, 25) take an ocean liner to France, where sweet but dim Lorelei will meet with her rich, nice but equally vacant fiancé (Tommy Noonan). His dad sends a detective (Elliott Reid) along to spy on Lorelei, assuming she’s a gold-digger. Dorothy’s a smart cookie, but she falls for the snoop. Can all this work out so everyone is happy?
Russell and Monroe play well off each other (it helped that they got along during the shoot), though Marilyn—in Technicolor—basically blows everyone near her off the screen: it’s an accomplished comic spin—more so since she was so monumentally insecure, and was already engaging in her director-frustrating behavior. Russell is a matter of taste: she’s sassy for sure, but a little too blunt for some (as in, me). Old pro Charles Coburn is on hand for some good back & forth with Monroe. Noonan’s a mildly amusing doofus, but Reid has as much charm as a desk.
Apart from the major showstopper, the musical numbers are pretty much era whitebread, though Hoagy Carmichael’s “Anyone Here For Love” has a measure of camp value. Easily the highlight is Monroe’s sashay of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”, every bit as electric as its iconic reputation. Emulators come and go (and most should go away) but no-one did this stuff-strut like Marilyn Monroe.
The script was written by Charles Lederer but the story originated with “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady”, a 1925 novel written by Anita Loos, sensational for its day; in fact it became the 2nd-best-selling novel of 1926. A silent film version was done in 1928. A 1949 Broadway musical was a hit, establishing Carol Channing as a stage star. Fox czar Darryl F. Zanuck gambled on Monroe over Betty Grable. Hawk’s had dealt with MM a year before in Monkey Business, and was not at all enamored of her, though he sensed her potential. The casting, and the expense of $2,300,000 paid off like gangbusters when the grosses of $15,500,000 put it 7th place for the year.
Lionel Newman did snazz arrangements on the score. Russell and Monroe did their own singing, with a few high notes at the beginning of MM’s ‘Diamonds’ done by Marni Nixon (often erroneously attributed to Gloria Wood).
LORELEI, holding a tiara: “How do you put it around your neck?” DOROTHY: “You don’t, honey, it goes on your head!” LORELEI: “You must think I was born yesterday.” DOROTHY: “Well, sometimes there’s just no other possible explanation.”
Prominent in the supporting cast: George Winslow (8 years old with a deep “Foghorn” voice who tells Monroe, stuck in a porthole, why he’ll help her: “The first reason is I’m too young to be sent to jail. The second reason is you got a lot of animal magnetism.”), Marcel Dalio and Norma Varden. Others glimpsed—-you have to be quick, and, well, old—include George Chakiris (18, eight years before West Side Story), Robert Fuller, Alvy Moore, Julie Newmar, Steve Reeves and Harry Carey Jr.
* “If we can’t empty his pockets between us, then we’re not worthy of the name Woman.” ’53 was the Year of Monroe, starting off with a moderate success in Niagara, then Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, finishing with the even bigger hit of How To Marry A Millionaire. Russell’s 1955 followup Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, with Jeanne Crain, didn’t fare too well. ’55 was her big year–with The Tall Men, Underwater! and Foxfire.