Friday, April 28, 2023

2023 Blind Spot Series: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes


Based on the musical stage play by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the story of a woman who goes on a cruise ship with her best friend to deal with a blown engagement to another man whose father suspects that she just wants to marry his son for their money. Directed by Howard Hawks and screenplay by Charles Lederer, the film is a musical-comedy that plays into the world of showgirls who support each other and hope for a better life until someone questions their values and morals prompting them to seek adventure somewhere else. Starring Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Elliott Reid, Tommy Noonan, George Winslow, Taylor Holmes, and Norma Varden. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a dazzling and exuberant film from Howard Hawks.

The film follows two showgirls who both go on a cruise to Paris after one of them deals with an engagement with another man is halted because of his father where they hope to find a rich man. It is a film with a simple premise as it plays into these two showgirls who are best friends despite their different personalities as they go on a cruise to Paris in the hopes of getting rich and meeting men as one of them prefers to find a good looking man no matter if he is wealthy. Charles Lederer’s screenplay is straightforward as it plays into the adventures of Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) as they’re both showgirls who are hoping to get a financial break as the former is engaged to Gus Esmond Jr. (Tommy Noonan) who is smitten with Lee though his father (Taylor Holmes) is convinced that Lee is a gold-digger.

Esmond Sr. hires a private detective in Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid) to tail Lee and Shaw as the two go on a cruise to Paris with Gus’ money as well as credit they would get from Gus upon arriving in Paris. Malone would bump into Shaw as the two would fall for each other despite Malone doing his job where he would catch Lee flirting with Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman (Charles Coburn) who owns a diamond mine where Lee’s interactions with him would lead to trouble. Even as Piggy’s wife Lady Beekman (Norma Varden) is carrying a priceless tiara that Lee wants as their arrival to Paris would lead to chaos.

Howard Hawks’ direction is lavish in not just some of the set pieces but it is also filled with gorgeous imagery in its overall presentation. Shot on location at the studio backlot of 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles, Hawks uses a lot of wide and medium shots for some of the film’s set pieces whether it’s the dining area in the cruise ship as well as the pool room in the cruise where a group of American Olympians are training. Notably as he would let the camera move around during a musical performance in a scene where Shaw sings where Hawks allows the camera to capture as much space but also follow Shaw every time she moves. There are also moments when Hawks does maintain some intimacy in the medium shots and close-ups as it relates to characters interacting with one another or in a conversation. It adds to not just some of the humorous moments but also in the drama where both Lee and Shaw deal with their respective situations upon their arrival to Paris in the film’s third act. Especially as the former has gained possession of something that would later get her and Malone in trouble though she got it through a misunderstanding.

Hawks’ direction also maintain this sense of humor as there is that element of misdirection as it plays into some of the drama while the big musical number where Lee sings Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend has so much happening. Largely due to the work of choreographer Jack Cole who would direct the sequence as there is a lot of attention to detail in the compositions and the rhythm of the music. It adds to some of the dramatic suspense over Lee’s moral position and what she does want and how Shaw is willing to help her as long as she gets something out of it. Overall, Hawks crafts an exciting and lively film about two women trying to find love and happiness with some diamonds along the way.

Cinematographer Harry J. Wild does brilliant work with the film’s Technicolor photography in creating vibrant colors for many of its interior scenes including some of the musical set pieces along with some additional photographic visual effects by Ray Kellogg for a few exterior scenes on the cruise ship. Editor Hugh S. Fowler does amazing work with the editing as it has this air of fluidity in the musical numbers as well as some rhythmic cuts for some of the film’s comedic moments. Art directors Lyle R. Wheeler and Joseph C. Wright, along with set decorator Claude E. Carpenter, do excellent work with the look of the cruise ship interiors including its rooms, dining hall, and indoor pool room as well as the stage shows for some of the musical performances. Costume designer Travilla does incredible work with the design of the gowns that the women wear including the iconic pink gown that Lee wears for her big performance.

The makeup work of Ben Nye and Alan Snyder do terrific work with the look of the women in their musical numbers as well as the look of Piggy. The sound work of Roger Heman Sr. and E. Clayton Ward is superb as it play into the atmosphere of some of the locations as well as how things sound from afar in some scenes. The film’s music by Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Adamson, Jule Styne, and Leo Robin is wonderful for its sumptuous orchestral score as well as the songs that are performed in the film as it is a major highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Steven Geray as the hotel manager in Paris, Marcel Dalio as a magistrate in Paris, Taylor Holmes as Gus’ father Esmond Sr., Norma Varden as Lady Beekman who doesn’t like Lee, and George Winslow as a young heir that Lee hoped to pursue only to realize that something is wrong. Tommy Noonan is fantastic as Gus Esmond Jr. as Lee’s boyfriend who is smitten with her as well as funding her trip to Paris as he tries to deal with his father who objects to their relationship. Elliott Reid is excellent as Ernie Malone as this private detective who tails Lee while falling for Shaw where it creates some conflict for him despite the fact that he is hired by Esmond Sr. to do his job. Charles Coburn is amazing as Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman as this diamond mine owner who is smitten with Lee to the point that he would later put her and Shaw in trouble.

Finally, there’s the duo of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in tremendous performances in their respective roles as Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw. Monroe brings a sense of charisma and wit to her performance as Lee who seems like this foolish showgirl who isn’t smart but she uses it as a front as someone who is way more clever while being entertaining figure with Marni Nixon providing some vocal dubs in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. Russell’s performance as Shaw is fun to watch with some of the zingers she brings in as she is the smarter of the two women when it comes to planning but is also someone who is less interested in getting a rich man but rather a strong and caring man. Monroe and Russell together are a joy to watch in the way they use their different personalities together while being these lively performers who also bring in a lot of fun and comedic timing.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a spectacular film from Howard Hawks that features great leading performances from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, simple yet effective premise, gorgeous visuals, and an amazing music soundtrack with some incredible musical numbers. It is a film that is full of humor but it is also about female friendship while they go on a quest for men and diamonds. In the end, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a sensational film from Howard Hawks.

Howard Hawks Films: (The Road to Glory) - (Fig Leaves) - (Cradle Snatchers) - (Paid to Love) - (A Girl in Every Port (1928 film)) - (Fazil) - (The Air Circus) - (Trent’s Last Case (1929 film)) - (The Dawn Patrol (1930)) - (The Criminal Code) – Scarface (1932 film) - (The Crowd Roars (1932 film)) - (Tiger Shark) - (Today We Live) - (The Prizefighter and the Lady) - (Viva Villa!) - (Twentieth Century) - (Barbary Coast) - (Ceiling Zero) - (The Road to Glory) - (Come and Get It) – Bringing Up Baby - (Only Angels Have Wings) - (His Girl Friday) - (Sergeant York) - (Ball of Fire) - (Air Force) - (To Have and Have Not) - (The Big Sleep (1946 film)) - (The Outlaw) – Red River - (A Song is Born) - (I Was a Male War Bride) - (The Big Sky) - (Monkey Business) - (O Henry’s Full House) - (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) - (Land of the Pharaohs) – Rio Bravo - (Hatari!) - (Man’s Favorite Sport?) - (Red Line 7000) - (El Dorado) - (Rio Lobo)

© thevoid99 2023


ruth said...

Man, I have such a huge blindspot in regard to Marilyn Monroe and Howard Hawks. Ohhh so THIS is the movie where the song 'Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend' first appeared in, I only knew it from Moulin Rouge, ahah.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-This is my fifth Hawks film that I have seen as I'm really just getting started on him while there's several films of Monroe that I hope to watch as this film was fucking fun.

Brittani Burnham said...

This is really one I should check out too. I need to add it to my 2024 list. I'm not well versed with Marilyn's filmography at all.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-There's several films starring Marilyn that I want to check out such as The Seven Year Itch, The Prince & the Showgirl (that would be the basis of My Week with Marilyn, and The Misfits being the 3 films I want to see the most. She's a much better actress that I think people give her credit for.

joel65913 said...

LOVE this film!!

I can't tell you how many times I've seen it and it's a joy each and every time. The reasons for that are innumerable (the musical numbers (Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend is legendary for a reason), the costumes, the supporting players, the whisper thin but delightful story but most of all the female star duo who share the sort of lightening in a bottle chemistry that can't be manufactured happening only by happy accident) but what I admire most about it is the girls unwavering friendship and support for each other. It's never "You're in trouble" but always "Sister WE'RE in a jam!" and they stick together to get out of it.

As divine as they are they don't exist in a bubble. Foghorn voiced George Winslow is a stitch as Henry Spofford the Third and Charles Coburn expertly walks the line between lech and buffoon but my favorite secondary actor is Tommy Noonan as the dorky but sweetly endearing Mr. Esmond.

This performance is such a change from his other best known role as Judy Garland's straight talking best friend Danny in the following year's "A Star is Born" which he also played quite ably. I've never understood why his career didn't blossom into a more prominent one as a secondary lead but after that one-two punch the quality of his films declined and became more intermittent, then he passed away at the young age of 46 so ill health might have played a part as well.

A film best described as a bauble it was the one that firmly put Marilyn at the top, a position she had been ascending towards steadily for the three years previously when her dual small roles in "The Asphalt Jungle" and "All About Eve" put her into the public's consciousness.

You mentioned you wanted to become more familiar with her filmography. I'm not crazy about "The Seven Year Itch" but it has its fans, "The Misfits" is a powerful film about dashed hopes with strong performances by all.

I'd recommend the film she did just previous to Blondes-"Niagara" which explores the darker elements of her allure (she would have done well in noir, Fritz Lang wanted her for the Gloria Grahame role in "The Big Heat" but Zanuck wanted too much money to loan her out). The only other film she made that looked at the dark side of her persona is "Don't Bother to Knock" where she plays a troubled babysitter that also served as Anne Bancroft's screen debut. Aside from them I'd say "How to Marry a Millionaire" and "Clash by Night" are worth seeking out. I'm assuming you've seen "Some Like It Hot" but if not it's an essential.

thevoid99 said...

There's a lot of films by Marilyn as I've seen a few so far as I own a Criterion DVD copy of Some Like It Hot which is a classic. I don't think Marilyn gets enough credit for her work as an actress. I'm glad to have watched this film as it's just good fun.