Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

7 06 2010

I could give Hawks a lot of credit for presenting conflicting ideologies and making neither sound the least bit attractive, but I think that’s giving this film a little too much credit. In all likelihood, the complex shared between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell is intended for comic hi-jinx and not feminist theory. Still, the latter is pretty much unavoidable though I’ll admit that this film is at its best as pure Hawksian entertainment and at its lowest when it becomes fodder for an over-thinking modern audience.

That’s not to say that this movie is “dumb” or something, sure the characters are, but like every Hawks does, it’s tightly constructed yet beautiful and open. In other words, it feels the way Howard Hawks musical should feel, though I do feel it’s worth mentioning that the film occasionally drifts away from the conventions of the genre. There’s a stretch in the middle of the film where the remarkable energy from the opening begins to die down and the film settles itself into a pace that is  more leisurely. A lot of people like to consider this something of a sister film to Jacques Rivette’s masterful Celine and Julie Go Boating and aside from the physical connection (both films following the friendship of two unconventional women) there’s also the element of freedom.

The composition in most of the early sequences is tight, perhaps even restrictive and the characters are given very little time to operate outside of musical numbers. We get a few jokes (mostly silly stuff) and then it revealed, within a flash, the deepest intentions of the main characters – Monroe’s character wants money, which she sees as a substantial romance where Russell’s character just wants good-looking men. Naturally, it is Russell’s character who is initially perceived as a whore. The “I’m Here For Love” sequence alone is enough for theorist to devote an entire book to, Russell struts around provoking countless men all of whom are exercising, and/or “perfecting” their appearance. She is framed in the middle of this workout with all the men forming a circle around her. Do I need to continue?

Yes, that sounds sleazy and completely unfair. Russell is perceived, perhaps accurately, as someone who is only interested in the superficial appearance of men – and this makes her selfish right from the start. Her intentions, at least to a modern viewer like myself, still seem more admirable than those of Monroe, whose entire concept of love is based on seducing wealthy men. There’s a brilliant line about halfway through the movie when the question is popped: “how are you gals friends?” and instead of clearly articulating their back story, we’re given Jane Russell brushing the question aside with “There’s more to Lorelei (Monroe) than you think.”  It might be a lie, but it definitely is more interesting than a justification. I guess Hawks deserves credit for a lot of things here, but it’s impossible that he would anticipate the academic reaction that this film received and still receives. He’s a genius and it’s not an accident, but sure feels like it at times.

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2 responses

8 06 2010
Ed Howard

Re: “There’s more to Lorelei than you think.” The key to the film, for me, is Monroe’s throwaway line – which she apparently added to the script herself – about how she’s smarter than she seems, she’s just realized that men don’t like her to be smart, don’t like her to reveal herself as anything more than a shallow bimbo. That line is the key to any potential feminist reading of this film, developing the subtext that these women present these shallow surfaces not because all there is to them, but because it’s a kind of defense mechanism, a way of showing a male-dominant world what it wants to see from women.

That said, the film is primarily enjoyable to me as a light musical, a spectacle, and a very charming one at that. The relationship between the two women – one of the only (if not THE only?) female/female friendships in Hawks – is, despite their differences, very satisfying, and the musical numbers are staged with panache. It’s not a characteristic Hawks movie by any means, but he clearly enjoyed making it and infusing it with some character, if not quite his usual character.

16 06 2010
Colin

I’m also of the opinion that this movie is best taken and enjoyed at face value, that is a light romantic/musical concoction. It’s possible to read a lot of things into most of Hawks’ movies and sometimes it’s justified. Here, I get the feeling he was simply having a blast and I have no problem with that.
As Ed Howard posted, this is not your typical Hawks film but it remains a very entertaining one for all that.

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