Feb. 25, 2006

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Grade: 63/100

Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn

What it's about. The pretty showgirls are inseparable and both seek Mr. Right, but their personalities differ. Marilyn Monroe is a sweet-tongued gold digger. Jane Russell just wants to have fun with a hunk. Their comic adventures, spiced with quality production numbers, get them into and out of trouble.

How others will see it. It's a good comedy and a very good musical. The girls sing respectably well, the situations are contrived but capably played out, and the characters are exaggerated but nonetheless charming. All in all, this is a film even for those who avoid classic cinema. Perhaps the only person who won't like it is the humorless humbug who thinks Hollywood should stick to detective stories and westerns. Of course, such an individual would never find his way to this website.

How I felt about it. Gentlemen Prefers Blondes begins auspiciously with a nifty production number. Our honey-voiced sirens would charm even the coldest heart. Colorful, entertaining, and dubious comedy ensues. The characters, it turns out, are caricatures.

We have the dumb blonde Monroe, with eyes only for separating men from their bank accounts. There's her fiance, Gus (Tommy Noonan), a sputtering clod whom Monroe especially likes since she can walk all over him, and he'll come back for more. Then there's third-billed Charles Coburn, an elderly but conniving man who ought to know better than to mix with the younger (but more experienced) Monroe. But some men want to be hooked, reeled, fileted, and served, I suppose.

Three of the five major characters are caricatures, although their foibles give them their charm. Russell is more realistic, except for her unshakable loyalty to Monroe, which also unaccountably allows her to forgive two-faced spy Elliott Reid, who actually prefers brunettes.

Because of its characters, Gentlemen Prefers Blondes is flawed, even if it has its surprises. The mysterious Henry Spofford III turns out to be a pre-teenager with a deadpan disposition. And it's Russell who has her day in court, physically if not on record.

Fortunately, the movie is directed by the inimitable Howard Hawks, who keeps things rolling. And the musical numbers (some of which were written by Hoagy Carmichael) are perhaps ten points better than the rest of the movie. This is because, according to TCM host Ben Mankiewitz, they were actually directed by the choreographer, Jack Cole. The musical Gentlemen Prefers Blondes is better than the comedy Gentlemen Prefers Blondes, which only helps the latter slightly since the former occupies less screen time. Such a shame.

One can argue that if Hawks had less to do with the splendid dance numbers, it is actually more to his credit, since he knew better than to tamper with them. And they are ably worked into the script. We just wish there were more of them. Perhaps The Umbrellas of Cherbourg had it right by simply singing the entire dialogue.

In the movie, Russell and Monroe are allies and not competitors. We know who gentlemen prefer. But, which girl is actually more beautiful? My vote is for the one who doesn't whisper her dialogue.