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.