There are plenty of movies I can quote just about every word from, but today’s little entry is just going to talk about what is probably my favourite musical: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Famous today for the iconic Marilyn Monroe number, Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, my real joy in this movie is not Monroe’s ditzy blonde with a sharp mercenary streak Lorelei Lee, but Jane Russell, playing the clever, acerbic Dorothy Shaw.
Lorelei and Dorothy are showgirls, entertaining rich men every night in an upmarket night club. While Dorothy is focused on doing her job, Lorelei is on the lookout for a rich husband, and has found a willing volunteer. The problem is, he’s not really the rich one: his father is, and his father will not countenance his only son marrying a platinum blonde showgirl. Lorelei’s answer to this problem is to take a trip to Paris – as soon as her rich boyfriend breaks and follows her there, they can get married without his father interfering. The problem is, the father has hired a private investigator to look into Lorelei, and she’s a girl who gets into a lot of trouble, even in the middle of the Atlantic!
Luckily for Lorelei, she has her best friend Dorothy to help get her out of a jam. That is, of course, if Dorothy can tear her eyes away from the US Olympic team who are travelling on the same boat to France the women are. She may be acting as chaperone, but as she tells Lorelei’s fiance firmly:
“Now lets get this straight, Gus. The chaperone’s job is to see that nobody else has any fun. Nobody chaperones the chaperone. That’s why I’m so right for this job!”
Dorothy is clever, witty, brash and not scared of a damned thing. She’s not a gold-digger like her best friend, but a woman who falls in love with the wrong man regularly, which she accepts with wry resignation. She’s loyal to Lorelei when most wouldn’t be, and isn’t scared to give as good as she gets. She even puts up with Lorelei’s determined matchmaking!
Dorothy: What are you doing?
Lorelei: Checking the passenger list. “Mr. Alfred Loman and valet.” “Mr. Eugene Martin and valet.”
Dorothy: Why the sudden interest in valets?
Lorelei: When a man has “and valet” after his name, he’s worthwhile. I’m trying to find a gentleman escort for you… Do you want a loveless marriage?
Dorothy: Me, loveless?
Lorelei: If a girl spends time worrying about the money she doesn’t have, how will she have any time for love? I want you to find happiness and stop having fun.
Dorothy: That baffles me.
Lorelei: You’ll thank me some day. Here’s a good one: “Henry Spofford III and valet.” I remember. The Spofford family owns practically a whole state. A big one too. I think it’s Pennsylvania!
Dorothy: I guess I could settle for Pennsylvania.
Lorelei: Hello, Mrs. Henry Spofford III!
Dorothy: Mrs. Henry Spofford III and valet. He won’t have anything I don’t.
This was made in 1954, and it shows. A modern woman doesn’t have much to look up to in Lorelei, although she does have a certain cunning charm. It’s a musical with pretty much only one big number, which goes to Monroe, although Russell gets a crack at it too at the end of the movie. Russell’s big stand-alone song , “Is Anyone Here For Love?” sees her sing and dance in the middle of the ship’s gymnasium as the US Olympic gymnasts, wrestlers and, it seems, dance team, work out in skin-tight, skin-coloured briefs. The number ends with Russell taking a tumble into the pool, only to be hoisted out, still singing, by some of the helpful wrestling dancers. That, it turns out, was a mistake; one of the extras who was supposed to dive over Jane Russell and into the pool caught her with his foot accidentally and toppled her into the pool. They changed the ending to include the splash, and Russell gamely went along with it, looking impossibly glamorous while soaking wet and in agony with a bad back.
Jane Russell, musical bad ass.
The costumes are wonderful – perfect clothes that you couldn’t imagine wearing yourself but look fabulous on Russell and Monroe. The songs are catchy – I’ve had a snippet of “When Love Goes Wrong” in my head for days – and the two female leads are in wonderful form. The men are largely forgettable, but that’s okay. This isn’t a film about the men. It’s all about the women, and that’s why I love it so much. It’s funny and romantic, and ends well for everybody, which is what I want in a musical.
If you’re fond of a musical and you haven’t indulged, do. You won’t regret it!