Saturday, August 21, 2010

Film # 62: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Aug 21)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

1953, 133 min.
Directed by Howard Hawks

Dang it. I swear sometimes that I'm cursed to always run late. We actually departed rather early for the afternoon feature, but an obstruction of South Congress, traffic and construction downtown (and lack of available parking) took longer than we expected. The film was slated to start at 3 pm, and we parked the car at 3:08.

I always hate missing any part of a film screening, but I was also disappointed that we missed an event before the film. Like the screening of Auntie Mame, The Paramount was to have their very own Marilyn Monroe parading around, clad in diamonds from Austin's own Kruger's Jewelers. The jewelry store is located across the street from the theatre, so as we approached I glanced up and noted the time. 3:10. Not too bad. I then bustled with my girlfriend and made it into the theatre, stepping out of the grasp of the scorching Texas sun. Dude. Is it September yet? Can we get back to the double-digit figures, please? Between my vacation to Vegas last month and outdoor temps that threaten to turn me into a dish from The Salt Lick, I've definitely had my fill of 100+ degree heat. I know some like it hot, but sometimes gentlemen prefer air conditioning.

Like an oasis in the desert, we appreciated the respite from the heat. First stop, refreshment bar. Ah, an old favorite; Dr. Pepper and popcorn for both us. As we stepped towards the entry doors, we found ourselves face-to-face with The Paramount's Marilyn Monroe. Still in character, she sweetly told us that she was waiting for us before the show, and it was a shame we were late. We demurely smiled and offered our apologies (but no excuses!). As she turned to leave, she then returned her gaze to my girlfriend and complemented her on her outfit and accessories. Blushing slightly, my girlfriend offered her thanks. With that, Marilyn was gone. I practically bounded up the stairs after that. A Marilyn Monroe impersonator (who was just wearing a fortune in diamonds) gave kudos to my love about her fashion before a Saturday matinee. Yep, I'm a very lucky guy.

I grabbed a program as we made our way to our seats. It occurred to me that I had never seen a Marilyn Monroe film before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Glancing at the program before entering the dark auditorium, I was stunned to see Howard Hawks had directed the movie. Howard Hawks? I associated the man with somewhat heavier fare. I knew he had directed The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, Sergeant York, and Scarface (the 1932 version), but had no idea this was also in his filmography. A musical? This could be interesting.

Alas, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is not so much a musical as it is a female buddy picture. I'd call it a comedy with a couple of song and dance numbers. Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) and Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) are a showgirl duo that are best friends. Fitting into a cliche that often rings true, they are a duo where there's a sassy one and a sexy one.

Both seem to have an eye on eligible men, but Lorelei has hooked herself a whale. Her fiance, Gus Esmond, is a wealthy man with a disapproving father. He distrusts Lorelei and views her as gold digging after his son. The assessment is correct, but she does claim to love him. The engaged couple plan a trip to France to wed, but daddy puts the kibosh on that plan. Instead, Lorelei and Dorothy travel together on the ship with Gus remaining behind and providing a line of credit for them to live on.

A line of credit? That's a mistake, bro. Not to mention Gus is the jealous type. Doesn't this sound like a healthy relationship? Heck, he starts to freak out about an Olympic team that's about to set sail with the girls. Note to Gus, it's Marilyn Monroe. Don't worry about the athletes, she was already in her "Joe DiMaggio" phase. I'd be more worried if there were any Kennedys on board.

Dorothy has a blast with the Olympic team, who happen to train and work out in nothing more than flesh-colored underwear. When she has a song-and-dance number with the hard-bodied gents, it's like watching the world's first Lady Gaga video. Their skimpy attire hints that these gentlemen might actually prefer other men. Oh well, at least she's having fun.

But it seems Lorelei is having some flirty fun as well. On board is Sir Francis "Piggy" Beekman, an owner of a diamond mine who might as well have a huge target painted on him. An older fellow, he's like a cross between Planter's Mr. Peanut and the Monopoly game's Uncle Moneybags. You can practically hear the "cha-ching" sound whenever she hovers around him. Too bad Lorelei doesn't know she's being watched. You see, Papa Esmond hired a private investigator to tail her in hopes of uncovering improper behavior and scuttle the wedding. And she gives him plenty to work with.

Now I ain't saying she a gold digger... well, wait. I guess that I am. As Lorelei constantly is weighing and measuring men like an old gold prospector, I started to hear something in my head...

"She take my money, well I'm in need
Yeah she's a triflin' friend indeed
Oh she's a gold digger way over time
That digs on me

Get down girl, go 'head get down.
Get down girl, go 'head get down.
Get down girl, go 'head get down."

Thanks, Kanye.

Before long, incriminating photos are taken and the girls plot to get that film back in their possession. But wait! Dorothy is starting to fall for the investigator. Oh goodness. Dare I say it? Hijinx ensue.

The ladies actually work very well together, and you genuinely believe the friendship of this unlikely duo. It's no Laurel and Hardy, but it is along the lines of Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate in The Sweetest Thing... or perhaps even Romy and Michelle. Either way, it works. As alluring as Monroe is in this film, it's Russell who carries the plot on her shoulders. She's clearly a better actress than Monroe, and so she's given all the juicy lines and most of the silliness that propels the film forward.

Monroe does carry the audience's attention, however. As Blondes played on, I found myself unable to take my eyes off of her. Whether I was mesmerized by her beauty, her costumes, or simply trying to figure out how why she was squinting her eyes so much when she shared the screen with a male co-star, I felt that everything about her screen persona was a construct. Then it quickly occurred to me that it was a chicken and egg dilemma. Was I looking at her because she was sculpted for the screen? Or was she sculpted to augment that indefinable appeal? The deconstruction of Marilyn Monroe is a topic that could go on and on, but ultimately... her image is why she was cast here. This was a breakout role for her as a movie star and as a pop icon. One along the lines of Holly Golightly (and we all know what I thought of her), so it's no coincidence we view Marilyn as the original material girl. As someone who grew up in the 1980s, this was reinforced at an early age...

"They can beg and they can plead
But they can't see the light, that's right
'Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right, 'cause we are

Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl."

As a kid, I knew Madonna's video was an homage to Marilyn, but didn't know why. Today, I can finally see what the big deal is about Marilyn Monroe. Acting-wise, she'll never be confused with Meryl Streep, but that's not the point. There's not been a screen idol like Monroe ever since.

Gentlemen Prefers Blondes is silly, but enjoyable. The audience certainly had a blast, and so did we. Making our way back downstairs, I noticed a large crowd around a table just inside the lobby.

Some supporters were present to enlist the help of Paramount patrons in voting for the "This Place Matters" community challenge. A competition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it rewards the top vote getter with a $25,000 prize to help preserve this legendary theater. One can vote online (at the link I've provided above) or vote in person at The Paramount Theatre itself. I know I may be a little biased, but this movie palace is a beautiful landmark here in Austin. Heck, I've practically lived here this summer, so the least I can do is give a shout out on the theatre's behalf. My beloved and I had already voted online, but were pleased to see so many enthusiastically vote.

Maneuvering our way through the crowds, we take a slight break from The Paramount for a few hours. It had been a "date afternoon" of sorts thus far, and now was the time for dinner. The night would then continue with an evening's screening of Breathless. Exiting the lobby and re-entering the afternoon sun, I couldn't help but smile. It had been a great time at the movies and I had a beautiful woman on my arm. Those gentlemen can keep their blondes. I'll always prefer what I'm blessed with already.

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