Monday, May 17, 2010

Monologue: A Friend of Dorothy's.

the monday monologue

Few movies are as delightful as Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). It has everything: clever production numbers, great quips, beautiful stars, and a zippy plot. But mostly the film sparkles just by ogling the twin pleasures of Jane Russell & Marilyn Monroe. Russell and Monroe play best friends and musical partners, wisecracking Dorothy Shaw and golddigging Lorelei Lei, respectfully. One of the best sequences plays like an extended joke on the movie itself, riffing on both the musical numbers and the two star personae that director Howard Hawks has so expertly shined up for the audience.

Jane as Jane | Jane as Marilyn

Toward the end of the film, there's a misunderstanding over jewelry that gets Lorelei (Monroe) in hot water. A tiara has reportedly been stolen and everyone thinks Lorelei is the culprit. Well, her eyes do flash at the mention of diamonds. Dorothy (Russell) attempts to buy her friend some time by impersonating her at a court hearing about the absent jewelry.

At first Dorothy isn't sure she's sold the Lorelei illusion. Jane fusses comically at her blonde wig, over selling the Monroeisms for the back row. The next time she's worried that the illusion is breaking she razzles and dazzles the courtroom to utter distraction with a coarser version of the number we just saw the real Lorelei perform "Diamonds Are a Girl Best Friend."

Just when it seems clear that Dorothy's (and therefore Jane's) approximation of Lorelei's (and therefore Marilyn's) 's breathless 'who me?' dumb blonde act has worked its trick, Dorothy's new boyfriend Ernie Malone (Elliot Reid) charges into the courtroom threatening to give the game away. Dorothy as "Lorelei" acts quickly to protect Lorelei and regain control of "Dorothy"'s man.
Your honor before he talks could I explain something?

Well, I have a friend named Dorothy and she's a really good friend. And Dorothy knows that I would never do anything that was really wrong.
It's a real kick to hear Russell comically mimic Monroe's line readings while playing her own romantic story arc.
There's a certain young man that Dorothy likes. In fact, she's very fond of him.

And Dorothy would never speak to this man again if he ever did anything to hurt me, Lorelei. So I think this young man had just better know that... well... well...

Dorothy thinks she's in love with him!
On this last line reading, Russell amusingly dumps Monroe's naive girliness for her own jaded womanliness. Dorothy's suitor is naturally delighted at this admission of love, even though she's underlined it as comic exasperation.

Needless to say Mr. Malone supports Dorothy's courtroom ruse and saves the day.

Jane's faux-Marilyn scene comes shortly after Marilyn's legendary "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" showcase. It's tempting to view this from a modern perspective -- "Diamonds" is the film's great legacy having been referenced countless times in pop culture since -- and assume that any performer would be hard pressed to follow that showstopper and mock it in the very next setpiece. But Jane Russell, a formidable star, doesn't sweat it. In fact, she appears to be having a complete ball. She sure had a pair.

The courtroom imposter scene isn't as famous as the musical numbers but it's as priceless as any missing tiara. All things considered it's Russell, top billed, who may be best in show. In the case of this 1953 classic, this gentleman prefers brunettes.



JoFo said...

Agreed! I love this movie and I can't take the grin off my face whenever I watch it. The scene that makes me howl with laughter is the scene where Monroe gets stuck in the window so she gets a blanket, wraps it around her neck and has a cynical little boy stand under it as her feet.

Glenn said...

Such an incredible movie. That weird homoerotic dance sequence on the cruise ship bears mentioning too! hah.

Have you actually seen Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes? it's horrible.

Anonymous said...

What happened to this site actually covering current movie news? I'd like to hear the bloggers' opinions on today's films moreso than these retrospectives. There are, afterall, two Marilyn Monroe projects in the works. One of which has just released a promo pic of Naomi Watts in the role.


this site has always covered movies from all eras and is proud to do so.

There are many many many movie sites that do a good job covering every piece of news involving movies that are in production. can't compete with that (no news staff, operating budget or insider connections) and don't really care to...

you'll see some articles on brand new films and stuff in development (see all the cannes coverage, half of most linkroundups and the recent discussion of 20,000 leagues under the sea) but the focus has always been on movies in general rather than movie news.

I will certainly cover the Marilyn biopics (had actually planned to soon) but one has to wonder why people are interested if they don't actually care about older Marilyn Monroe movies ;)

Anonymous said...

On behalf of the official Film Experience Anonymous group, I reject Anonymous 11:55's idiocy. Please, Nathaniel, write what you want to write.

Unknown said...

I love this movie. It's my favoriye of Monroe. I laugh out loud when both girls are invited to the captain's table and Marilyn can stop talking with the gentlemen who have paid to be seated near her. She wouldn't let themn utter a word and said: Don't you adore conversation!

Pd: to the anonimous 11:55, that wasn't a promo pic of Naomi in the movie. It belongs to one of many Marilyn-themed photoshoots.

Craig said...

Jane Russell has oft been quoted that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes wss the best film she ever made (as well as Marilyn's best film, in her opinion). Though Monroe garnered more attention for her performance, Russell certainly matched her scene to scene. Her dry, all-knowing line readings were the perfect foil to Monroe's ditsy naivete.

Gentelmen Prefer Blondes definitely belongs to the paean of iconic films from Hollywood's Golden Age of musicals (late 40s to late 50s).


Craig -- i know. can you believe ZERO oscar nominations? ugh. the academy is so scared of comedies. even when they're great ones.

S said...

Great post, haven't seen this movie in ages.

Deffo time for a rewatch.

John T said...

This is one of those great gaping holes in my filmography (come on, we all have them)-I shall get this on Netflix pronto!


John T -- we definitely all have them. But you won't regret 90 minutes spent with these good time gals. so so so so so fun.

costa said...

a few thoughts:

I love how you start this by saying how rewatchable this movie is. It is like a timeless pop song that will always lift your spirits.

It is so flawless as well. just the most perfect piece of fluff.

There is something spiritual about the "Love goes Wrong" song. Something about the set-up in the dinky cafe with all those around getting involved so organically. I think its because the words of these two women are gospel to take down 'in black and white'. teehee!

I love all the old golddigger movies - How to marry a Millionaire, Moon Over Miami etc. such a great and timespecitic genre! (though, yeah, admittedly one swamped in uncomfortable gender politics)

This specific scene you are discussing, I always remember finding rivetting. It was like a built in postmodern take on a famous iconic moment, before either postmodernism OR the iconicism even existed! It's like these sassy all knowing women's allknowingness went beyond the film itself!!!

I remember reading one take on the film being a loveletter to bisexuality. These women love eachother but need men. The real genuine relationship however, is the lesbian one. I didn't buy it, but I can't escape it everytime I watch.

The colour in this film is glourious. It is such a shame films never feel this lush.


costa -- thank you for commenting! so agreed about the lushness of it. I wish today's fluff would be this perfectly executed. Nothing wrong with fluff if it's done by artists who are being totally creative and enthusiastic about their craft.

Welcome! said...

Nathaniel thank YOU for your reply. Also, I don't want to be too forward, but I've been thinking and I want you as a friend. You are awesome Nathaniel and we agree on everything. Don't get me wrong, I have an overwhelming number of friends (it's an embarassment of riches really) and I live in Australia but still, you seem a good egg. If you're ever in Australia, and I'm not busy with many many other people, I'd love to grab a movie.

costa said...

oh geez. And that uncalled for friendship demand came from me, costa.. sorry..