GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) – Fun feminism

SexMarilynJane

The following is my entry in this (my) blog’s 2nd Annual SEX! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon, being hosted here from June 19-21, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of movies that subtly suggest sexuality rather than graphically depicting it!

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(The following blog entry is dedicated to former USA TODAY film critic Mike Clark — who, one day when he tried to switch the TV channel from a showing of Jane Russell’s The French Line, was chastized by his crying two-year-old son, who told him, “I want to see the big lady!”)

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I am married to a newspaper publisher and editor, so I’d be a fool not to believe that women are the equal of, and in many ways far superior to, their male counterparts. What I don’t believe is that women can’t be feminist and sexy at the same time.

Unfortunately, women are so often forced to loudly confirm my first statement (in order to shout over the yahoos who try to drown them out) that the second statement gets lost in the confusion. But I think that director Howard Hawks — whose filmography is filled with bold, assertive women (see His Girl Friday and Ball of Fire) — was trying to make this point, however subtextually, when he directed my all-time favorite movie musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The movie stars Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, two American showgirls en route to France. The story makes it abundantly clear that these women want what they want, with no apologies, and each is given her own musical number to spell it out.

Dorothy is attracted to brawny, ripply men, and she lusts over acres of them in the hilarious “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” (Naive moviegoer that I am, it took me years of sexual politicism to realize that there might be a reason why this roomful of muscle-bound males never give a second glance to buxom Dorothy.)

Lorelei adores anything with a dollar sign attached to it, particularly diamonds, and she makes this feeling explicit in the iconic “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Luckily, Lorelei happens to be engaged to Gus (Tommy Noonan), a rich, milquetoast man who is only too happy to appease her. Unfortunately, Gus’ father completely distrusts Lorelei and hires Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), a private detective, to tail Lorelei on her cruise to France. Too bad Ernie has a thing for women who look like Jane Russell.

At this point, I must make a full confession: I am not gaga over Marilyn Monroe as most red-blooded American males are. I can easily see why she became a star and the fantasy figure for so many people, but for me, she just sells “it” a little too hard. However, she does win me over for, at least, the duration of this movie. If you doubt the movie’s support of feminism, listen to Lorelei’s beautiful speech to Gus’ father near movie’s end — where basically, she upends the viewpoint of male chauvinists by saying, If you guys can have it both ways, why can’t we women have it, too?

Nevertheless, my heart — and let’s face it, my hormones — go out to Jane Russell. She is thoroughly winning as Dorothy — strong, brassy, and yet willing to let her heart melt when the right guy comes along. And for a woman who spent a large part of her autobiography apologizing for the skin she displayed in The Outlaw and The French Lineshe has zero qualms about showing off her absolutely bitchin’ bod here — particularly in a short reprise of Marilyn’s “Diamonds” number that, for me at least, has it all over the original.

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That’s right, Operator, I said “absolutely bitchin’ bod.”

Wouldn’t the world be a whole lot better off if each gender admitted to and embraced its weaknesses and strengths? One wonders how many moviegoers, if any, caught the feminist broadside of this smashing musical when it was first released in 1953. Six decades later, it’s still a message worth taking in, even if you have to root around in the subtext to find it.

 

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6 responses to “GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) – Fun feminism

  1. The friendship between Lorelei and Dorothy may not pass the Bechdel test, but it’s strong and endearing. As for Russell, I can’t imagine the pain she must’ve been in wearing those incredible corsets, but she does look smashing. And she is so funny when she impersonates Lorelei/Monroe. I love that scene. Great choice for the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! My first “taste” of Russell was when I was a teenager. I came across a photo of her in a coffee-table movie book, and I’ve been nuts over her ever since. (My late father once told me that he and my mom went to see THE OUTLAW on their honeymoon. It must have been in my genes.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved reading this piece. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has always been a favourite of mine, partly because it is such a spectacular vehicle for two spectacular ladies, and partly because the film itself is so sparkly and colourful and fun, it is impossible not to fall in love with it.
    And as the cherry on the cake, Lorelai and Dorothy are supportive of each other, and the film never stoops to cat fighting to create conflict between the characters. How’s that for progressive? I can barely think of one mainstream hit from the last 20 years to pull off such a feat with such success.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Insightful post, Steve. Love this movie because of its link to Anita Loos. The screenplay was based on the 1949 Broadway musical written by Anita Loos and Joseph Fields. Carol Channing played Lorelei Lee. The stage musical was based on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady, a 1925 novel by Anita Loos.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First off- Love your choice- I also choose a Marilyn Flick- the power of Monroe! But yes- Jane Russell is so underrated and In my opinion does overshadow Marilyn in this flick- I love everything about this film- every song is wonderful and catchy! Awesome choice and I hope to have my entry up soon! -Emily

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this film! I got to see it on the big screen earlier this year and it was spectacular — the colors, the music, and of course, the leading ladies. A few years ago for a college class, I had to do a presentation over the feminism of this film and it was so much fun to do. Really enjoyed this post, Steve!

    Liked by 1 person

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