Director: Howard Hawks
Writer: Charles Lederer; based on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949 musical) by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields
Cinematographer: Harry J. Wild
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
by Jon Cvack
It’s been a long time since since I’ve How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), but I really didn’t like the film’s overall message, which is that women should use their charms, looks, and sexuality to find rich and successful men who can lavish them with gifts and launch them into the upper echelons of high society. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a lighter version of this same philosophy, except with Marilyn Monroe being the sole proprietor of this twisted worldview.
Monroe’s iconic look has marketed ad nauseum through places such as Hot Topic, Kohl’s, H&M and other mass chain stores. Given the continued success of all this stuff - ranging from posters to t-shirts to people continuing to dress like her, you can’t help feeling nostalgic for the days when celebrities could take on a such a high place in culture, and maintain it for nearly seventy years. In a time when entertainment extends beyond the big screen, allowing for famous tv stars, video gamers, musicians, reality stars, YouTubers and other social media influencers, I’m not sure anyone could ever hold the same place within culture, as we’re so over saturated with celebrity in all avenues of life, that it seems nearly impossible.
The story revolves around two women Lorelei Lee (Monroe) and her dance song and dance partner Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) who travel to France for work. Lorelei’s engaged to the extravagantly wealthy man, Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan), whose father refuses to let him get married, fearing that Lorelei is only interested in his money. Aboard the ship, Lorelei then grows enamored with diamond businessman, Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn), who’s about 75 years old when the filming place, whose wife has a diamond studded tiara worth about $12,000 (about $107k in today’s money). Meanwhile, Dorothy meets and quickly falls in love with Ernie Malone (Elliot Reid), who’s a private detective hired by Gus’s father in order to spy on Lorelei, who later gets caught with Beekman - and while not showing or specifying what they’re doing, there’s heavy suggestion that Lorelei might have slept with Beekman in order to get the tiara, which then leads to the police getting involved, landing the two women in court, with a bunch of musical numbers scattered about.
When Michelle Williams portrayed the legend in My Week With Marilyn (2011), we got to see a very confused woman, who struggled with her international stardom and sex appeal. Having seen most of Monroe’s more popular work, I’m increasingly blown away by how lascivious even the simplest seen with her can be. Looking at both this film and what I remember from How to Marry a Millionaire, Marilyn’s character of Lorelei Lee is about as far from a bluestocking as you can get, playing the traditional ditzy blond whose entire worldview revolves around money and diamonds; culminating in their classic “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” routine. Rather than looking for a partner that can provide a loving and interesting relationship, she focuses on rich and boring men who can provide all she materially desires.
In one scene between her square fiance Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) and his father who directly accuses Lorelie of gold digging, we’re offered one of the few enlightening philosophies Lorelei possesses, which is that just as a man wants a good looking woman, women want rich men who they know can take care of her (Lorelei must have taken an evolutionary biology course or two). Edmond’s father isn’t really sure what to make of it, finally capitulating and supporting the engagement.
The older I get the more I can see why Monroe soared to popularity, with movies such as The Seven Year Itch (1955) demonstrating the weakness of men when confronted with overwhelmly and salacious beauty. Such a character allowed men to live out their lustful fantasies. What I find strangest of all, though, and which seems to be much a more antiquated idea, is the puerile attitude Lorelei possesses. She feigns stupidity and dizziness, showing us how men created female characters back in the day; that women shouldn’t have high minded interests, as it’s better if they’re completely dependent on men, looking to material objects for their entire life’s purpose. I found myself getting frustrated every time Lorelie would put on the tiniest dress she could find and rely overwhelmingly on her sexuality to get what she wanted rather than any form of intellectual trickery. I suppose the point was to foil against Dorothy’s more analytic and thoughtful approach, but it remained just as frustrating, leaving me to turn back to the film Marilyn, which showed that even Monroe-herself had likely grown frustrated as being nothing more than a sex object for most men, with those in power demanding she preserve her whimsical character type all the way up to the end. It makes it all the more tragic to watch a film like this, knowing that its design likely contributed to Monroe’s sense of alienation. In some ways it offers an historical portrait of the woman, and what would soon lead up to her tragic demise.
BELOW: Between ostensibly providing sex for money and calling her fiancé "Daddy", it's all very bizarre
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