27 July 2001 | TJBNYC
"I want to marry him for YOUR money!"
Anyone who's ever written off Marilyn Monroe as "just" a dumb blonde are directed to this film immediately. Yes, at first glance, Lorelei Lee is a brainless piece of fluff, given to such malapropisms as "Pardon me, please, is this the boat to Europe, France?" But upon closer inspection, this girl is no dummy. Rather remarkably for the chauvinist times, Lorelei and Dorothy (played by the incredibly underrated Jane Russell) do things on their own terms, and when Lorelei "plays dumb," it's because she knows that's what men expect--and she uses it to her advantage. But enough of the heavy analysing; above all, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is FUN! It's clearly of the Fox, rather than the MGM, school of musicals--MGM made the "art" musicals ("An American in Paris," "Singin' in the Rain"), while Fox made the "vulgar" ones ("There's No Business Like Show Business"). From the opening number ("Two Little Girls from Little Rock"), we know we're in for a visually opulent, noveau riche zircon of entertainment--witness the gaudy black, red and blue color scheme. Lorelei and Dorothy's costumes are at the extreme end of 50's fashion; designer Travilla will never go down as a contemporary of Dior or Balenciaga, but as a precursor to Bob Mackie. And yet, this is still a very funny (and essentially very warm) movie. There are few screen friendships as believable and as lovable as Lorelei and Dorothy's--maybe only Lucy and Ethel's on the small screen really surpasses it. "Let's get this straight," Dorothy warns, "nobody ever talks about Lorelei except ME." And Lorelei returns the compliment: "Dorothy is the best, loyalest friend a girl could ever have." Pretty heartwarming stuff! In a nutshell, Lorelei and Dorothy are nightclub entertainers who head for Paris when Lorelei's romance with millionaire Mr. Esmond (Tommy Noonan) flounders due to his father's interference. Shipboard, Dorothy is romanced by Malone (Elliot Reid), who, unbeknowst to the girls, is a private detective hired by Esmond to keep an eye out for potential scandal. Meanwhile, Lorelei meets Lord Beekman, aka "Piggy" (Charles Coburn), probably the dirtiest dirty old man in the history of film. Piggy just happens to own the 2nd largest diamond mine in South Africa, and soon enough, Lorelei is coveting the gorgeous diamond tiara owned by Piggy's wife, Lady Beekman (Norma Varden). Various mixups and mayhem ensues, with Lorelei and Dorothy eventually stranded in Paris. And that's where Marilyn Monroe gives her penultimate performance: the legendary "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" sequence. Even today, after scores of parodies and tributes, this number captivates. Not since Rita Hayworth's "Put the Blame on Mame" in "Gilda" was there such an intoxicatingly sexy marriage between star, song and persona. In this number, Marilyn is by turns playful, alluring, seductive and charming, but NEVER conniving or hard-edged. And therein lies her appeal: even when proclaiming "I prefer a man who lives and gives expensive jewels!", Marilyn is never anything less than adorable. She's not a gum-snapping, man-eating golddigger; she wants pretty things, and knows how to get them--but not at the expense of being nice. She may peruse passenger lists with single-minded focus ("Any man with '...and valet' after his name is definitely worthwhile"), but she's still a likable character WITH a motivation behind her actions--which always remain entirely innocent. Special note must be made here, too, of Jane Russell's contributions to this film (not the least of which is her seen-to-be-believed solo, "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love," in which she's surrounded by posterior-pumping beefcake). It would've been very easy for Russell to either throw the film entirely to Monroe, or push too hard for her own spotlight at the expense of onscreen warmth and camraederie. Wisely, Russell does neither. She simply turns in a snappy, effortless comic performance that more than holds its own, and projects a marvelous sense of sisterhood in her scenes with Monroe. This is a small comic, musical gem; the sum is greater than its parts (the songs themselves are weak; the comedy is sometimes obvious), but you cannot deny its sheer entertainment value. This is a perfect example of star power (Monroe's AND Russell's) turning a rhinestone into a diamond.