Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953): Comedy Starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell

gentlemen_prefer_blondes_5In 1953, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Fox studio noted, “If anyone has doubts as to the future or talent of Marilyn Monroe, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the answer.”

Versatile director Howard Hawks’ buoyant musical comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, co-starring Jane Russell (who was also popular at the time), was a smash hit at the box-office, establishing Monroe as Hollywood’s most dominant sex icon of the 1950s.

Originally a 1928 film with Ruth Taylor and Alice White, Hawks version of Anita Loos’s 1928 Broadway musical switched the setting from the 1920s to the present. Fox spent half a million dollars in purchasing the rights of the stage property as a vehicle for their reining diva at the time, Betty Grable, but Monroe was on a fast-rising track after the success of the noir melodrama, “Niagara” (also released the same year).

The concept is rather simple: Two vacationing women on the go, one out for love, the other out for money. When the saga begins, Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan) plans to marry Lorelei Lee (Monroe), a blonde bombshell who makes no secret that money is what makes the world go around.  When Gus’s cynical, domineering father thwarts his son’s plans, Lorelei and Dorothy Shaw (Russell) proceeds with their plans to go to Europe—with assurances for Gus that he’ll join them soon, plus credits and money to spend.

Structurally, the yarn is divided into two parts: The first mostly set on the boat to Europe, and the second largely in the City of Lights.  For a musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes does not have many production numbers, only about 5 or 6, but it’s book-ended by two good ones, including Monroe’s signature piece, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

For the record, this was Marilyn’s 17th film, in which she demonstrates not only her comedic skills but also considerable singing talents.  Marilyn had neither sung nor danced so much in any previous feature. Together, Marilyn and Jane Russell sang “Two Little Girls from Little Rock,” by Jule Stein and Leo Rubin, and “When Love Goes Wrong,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson. Each star rendered her own version of “Bye Bye Baby,” by Jule Stein and Leo Rubin.

The movie’s showstopper is Marilyn’s big solo, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” by Jule Stein and Leo Robin, melting the screen in her sexy pink dress (and gloves), set against red background. Jane Russell also sang part of this song in a courtroom scene, in which she pretends to be Marilyn’s Lorelei. Russell did a marvelous, campy rendition of a solo number, “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Harold Adamson.

At least three musical sequences were eliminated from the final cut, such as “Four French Dances,” Down Boy,” and “When the Wild Wild Women Go Swimmin’ in the Bimini Bay.”  Hawks didn’t like some of them, holding that they interrupt the flow of the narrative.

Released on July 16, 1953, the movies was the year’s 8th commercial hit, grossing over $10 million at the box-office.

Cast

Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe)

Dorothy (Jane Russell)

Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn)

Malone (Elliott Reid)

Gust Esmond (Tommy Noonan)

Henry Spotford III (George “Foghorn” Winslow)

Magistrate (Marcel Dalio)

Gus Esmond Sr. (Taylor Holmes)

Lady Beekman (Norma Varden)

Watson (Howard Wendell)

Credits

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Produced by Sol C. Siegel

Directed by Howard Hawks

Screenplay: Charles Lederer, based  on the play by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields

Camera: Harry Wild

Editing: Hugh S. Fowler

Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Jospeh C. Wright

Costume: Travilla

Choreography: Jack Cole