Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953, Twentieth Century Fox. Starring Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell. Co-starring Charles Coburn. Directed by Howard Hawks. Technicolor, 91 minutes.
Sassy showgirls and best friends Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are boarding the ship that will take them to France for work. Lorelei has another interest in crossing the ocean–her wealthy fiancé, Gus Edmond (Tommy Noonan), plans to wed her in Paris. But his father has his doubts, and has hired private detective Ernie Malone (Elliot Reed) to monitor the young woman’s every move.
While Lorelei is drawn to men with money, Dorothy falls for good-looking, broke gentlemen. She’s in her element when she realizes the U.S. Olympic team (well, the male side of that team) is on board with them. Soon, however, she discovers they have a curfew, among other restrictions, and she turns her attention to the handsome man at their dinner table, none other than Ernie Malone.
In the meantime, Lorelei has met a new man, Sir Francis “Piggy” Beekman (Charles Coburn), who, among other claims to financial fame, owns a diamond mine. While her heart is still true to Gus, she can’t help herself and flirts outrageously with the befuddled Piggy. That doesn’t go unnoticed by Ernie, and her prospective marriage is in trouble.
Director Howard Hawks later said making this film was “just fun” and “we purposely made the picture as loud and bright as we could, and completely vulgar in costumes and everything. No attempt at reality. We were doing a musical comedy, pure and simple.” Indeed, the film characters are caricatures and the show is slightly bawdy, but thoroughly enjoyable.
This was one of Monroe’s first starring roles and it set her apart from the other blondes in film at the time, establishing her unique “bombshell” character. The rapport between the two actresses appears genuine, and according to Hawks, it was.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes received no Academy Award nominations, but did get one nod in a nomination by the Writers Guild of America for Best Musical. It was well received by audiences and slightly less so by some critics, who found the musical tedious at times. Still, both Monroe and Russell got good reviews even from those who didn’t like the film overall.
This is lightweight fare that doesn’t—and can’t—hide its sexiness, but rather plays on it in grand musical numbers and lightweight quips. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is as fun to watch as it Hawks said it was to make, and completely escapist in nature.