Saturday, July 28, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Good God, y'all.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) is basically one long exercise in "Jane Russell or Marilyn Monroe?", and no one can answer that question honestly without risking a trip into madness.

Just when the answer seems "well, clearly Monroe" (she is, after all, Monroe), you kind of have to take a moment to pause and reconsider.  Because, well, Jane Russell.  Just when Monroe seals it up with "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend"...  Russell does her own version.

I suspect the pitch meeting went like this:

Producer:  It's two singing and dancing girls!  Leggy!  One is a gold-digger, the other doesn't care about money!  They get on a boat!  There's singing!  There's dancing! There's showgirl outfits! It ends with a wedding!
Studio Head:  Meh.
Producer:   We cast Monroe and Jane Russell!
Studio Head:  Can we see either of them soaking wet?
Producer:  We're throwing Russell in a pool RIGHT NOW!
Studio Head:  You've got yourself a picture!

Sure, it's a throwback.  But it's a movie that knows exactly what it's got on it's hands and doesn't make any bones about it - made in an era where women could be portrayed as knowing what they had without having to pretend to be unaware or be cast as the villain, and do it all with a wink.  It's a movie about a diamond-digging Monroe and her pal for whom money doesn't mean much on a cross-the-pond trip to France surrounded by men.  Hi-jinx ensue and a number of pretty good musical numbers.

The movie never equates beautiful with brainless.  Perhaps Monroe's Lorelei is a bit clueless or off in dreamland, but she has a certain brand of whimsical genius that's the ying to yang of the streetwise, smart girl who sees all the angles, played by Russell.  Both are great and really, really funny.  As is a lot of the supporting cast.

I hadn't seen the movie since high school, which means I hadn't seen it since I taped it off AMC back when the network was American Movie Classics.  Seeing the movie in HD on a TV screen that begins to do it justice really does show what color film was doing during the era and what Hollywood was bringing to the big screen with design and smart use of palette.  Of course the film is the work of the great Howard Hawks showing an eye for comedy and getting the hell out of the way when it comes to the musical numbers.

It's a fluffy, fun comedy and a classic for a reason.  Maybe not as quirky as you might hope for, but the dialog is refined to a razor's edge.  Good stuff.

And, of course, our leads.

Do I know why gentlemen supposedly prefer blondes?  No sir, I do not.  The movie never actually explains the title.

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