THE FRENCH LINE (1955) – Jane Russell’s “Lookin’ for Trouble”…with some censors


The following is my entry in the “…And Scene!” Blogathon, hosted by the ethereal Sister Celluloid at her blog from June 25-28, 2015. Click on the banner above, and read bloggers’ critiques of their favorite single movie scenes!


For this blogathon, I have chosen to write about “Lookin’ for Trouble,” a musical number performed by Jane Russell in a notorious Howard Hughes production, The French Line. This scene has always stuck with me for many reasons — a number of which will seem obvious once you actually view the number (embedded below), but for some subtler reasons as well.


At the time of this movie, Howard Hughes owned RKO Radio Pictures and was in the process of running the studio that had produced King Kong, Citizen Kane, and some classic Astaire-Rogers musicals into the ground. Hughes had been obsessed with Russell’s (admittedly impressive) bustline ever since he’d first met her and did his best to exploit it — first in The Outlaw (1943, Russell’s movie debut), and now in this

Here, Russell plays Mary Carson, a wealthy Texas oil heiress who is unlucky in love. Her suitors either want her for her fortune, or they get intimidated by the thought of a woman with power. Determined to find herself a man, Mary poses as the model of dress designer Annie Farrell (Mary McCarthy) while onboard an ocean liner heading for France. On the ship, Mary meets Pierre (Gilbert Roland), and complications ensue, primarily because Pierre seems to want her for her body in the same way as previous men wanted her for her money.

At one point, Annie holds a fashion show on the ship to display her clothing designs. Mary appears in the show very demurely at first, wearing a white gown that covers her from head to toe. But in record time, Mary sheds the gown to reveal herself in a barely-there bathing suit that New York Times movie reviewer Bosley Crowther aptly described as “a seven-ounce glorified bikini.”



From there, Mary goes on to display and shake everything God gave her in a rousing musical number titled “Lookin’ for Trouble.” Unlike Russell’s charming number “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (the movie which inspired Hughes to create this musical), here there’s no subtext whatsoever. Like Russell’s physique, the song is in-your-face; Mary makes it quite clear, albeit in 1955 terms, that she’s out to get laid.

Russell spent two pages of her autobiography describing the, er, trouble involved in getting this number committed to film. Initially, Hughes tried to get her to do the number while wearing only a real two-piece bikini. At the time, bikinis were worn only in France.

Russell wrote that when she tried on the bikini, “I stood before my horrified camera crew, feeling very naked.” (However, Russell’s embarrassment over the bikini did not extend to her autobiography, which contains the following photo of Russell wearing (a) said bikini, and (b) a s**t-eating grin.)

Does this look like an embarrassed woman to you?

Does this look like an embarrassed woman to you?

In any case, Russell refused to film the number until she was given wardrobe that covered her up a little better; hence, the seven-ounce bikini substitute.

The bikini photo is a perfect metaphor for the musical number that inspired it. In her book, Russell explains how her conscience bothered her while performing this number:

“The only problem, as I saw it, was that it was never made clear in the story that the millionairess did the naughty number to get even with her fella [sic], to make him mad. I begged them to put in one short scene to show some motive for it. They all looked at me like I was bananas…Finally, a scene was shot. No film was in the camera, I’m sure, for I never saw it, nor did anyone else.”

And yet, watch Russell perform “Lookin’ for Trouble.” This does not look like a woman who is ashamed to be throwing her fulsome body all over the screen (and the movie was originally released in 3-D). Even though the number is not as sexually explicit as anything in modern-day cinema, it quite clearly makes the point that Russell’s character is looking for…well, dare we replace the word “trouble” with S-E-X?

Ehh...could be.

Ehh…could be.

It seems to me that this number, like much of Russell’s movie career, is trying to have it both ways: Getting men to go popeyed with lust, while Russell tells us not to read anything nasty into her enthusiastic shimmying and hip-grinding. In any case, the only way Russell could display any more of her sexuality in a movie is if she had gone all the way and gotten…very naked.

Jane Russell Friday # 3

A lot of my favorite show-biz related blogs have quirky habits. TV writer Ken Levine posts and answers questions from his fans. When he’s too busy to blog, Mark Evanier posts an image of a Campbell’s Soup can to let his readers know that he’s otherwise occupied.

When I get home on Friday, I’m happy it’s the weekend. The best way I could convey this is with a weekly photo of me drinking a bottle of wine, but nobody wants to look at that. But Jane Russell? That, people want to look at (including me).

I’ve already done two such JR/Friday posts, so I’ve decided to make it my tradition. Sometimes I’ll post a video of her, sometimes just a photo. (I “run” a Facebook page titled “Jane Russell’s Bod,” so I’m forewarning my FB readers that I will probably freely crib from that.)

I have been gaga over Ms. Russell ever since the ripe old age of 15 when, in 1976, I happened onto a photo of her in a coffee-table movie book. The photo was of Janie stuffed into a barely-contained one-piece bathing suit, from The French Line. I’ve been pie-eyed over her ever since. Someone will say I’m living way in the past, but IMHO, an ounce of Jane Russell is worth a ton of Kim Kardashian.

Anyway, here’s my JR tribute for today: her riotous number “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love?”, from the so-adorable-you-could-pinch-it musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Trivia (or is it urban legend?): Jane’s very wet finale wasn’t scripted for the movie, but it worked out so well that it was kept in. (And notice how those muscle-bound men don’t, er, quite have it in them to reciprocate Jane’s obvious lust for them…)