A 1953 comedy masterpiece directed by Howard Hawks, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is an irresistible musical that helped define the Monroe icon.
“The truth is finally coming out! You admit it’s after your money?” “No, I’m not. Do you know that it’s funny? Don’t you know that for a man to be rich is like for a woman to be beautiful? Maybe a girl won’t marry just because she’s beautiful… but my goodness, it’s not a dowry ?”
In 1985, during the period in which he topped the world charts thanks to the album Like a Virgin, Madonna creates a music video that will make history and help consolidate the importance of the Italian-American pop star in the cultural imagination of the eighties. The video in question serves as a stepping stone to the song Material Girl and sees Madonna wrapped in a large fuchsia sheath dress and surrounded by a swarm of dancers in black suits, who court her with jewels: a satirical representation of the materialism of Reagan’s America to which the verses of the song refer in the first place. The entire sequence, however, is a very faithful tribute to a precise chapter of the Hollywood iconography of thirty years earlier: Marilyn Monroe’s performance on the notes of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friendscult scene from the musical film Men prefer blondes.
From Broadway to the Moulin Rouge: genesis and fortune of a classic
Material Girl it doesn’t represent the only time Madonna has ventured into a re-enactment of Marilyn Monroe, who has always been one of her main models of inspiration. However, that song in particular offers us a taste of the stainless popularity of the figure portrayed by Marilyn within the comedy of Howard Hawkswhich debuted in American theaters on July 1, 1953: after Madonna, in fact, the number of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friends it would be revived and referenced on countless other occasions, including Nicole Kidman’s 2001 performance in Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge. In general, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is an emblematic example of when a film is inextricably linked to the star image of one of its protagonists, almost to the point of drawing a real archetype.
At the origin of the Howard Hawks musical is the novel of the same name published by Anita Loos in 1925 and adapted for the Broadway stage in 1949, with songs composed by Leo Robin and Jule Styne and Carol Channing in the part which, shortly thereafter , would have been inherited by Marilyn Monroe. The Fifties, moreover, opened as the golden age of the Hollywood musical, and 20th Century Fox thought it well to ride the wave by putting in the pipeline a transposition of this theatrical comedy and entrusting it to a director of the caliber of Howard Hawks, known for his proverbial versatility. And although the title of the play emphasizes blondes, at the outset the real star of the project is the brunette co-star: the 31-year-old Jane Russellpin-up who had aroused attention – and scandal – for her very sensual role in My body will warm you by Howard Hughes (the story is also talked about in the film The Aviator), transforming herself into one of the most irrepressible sex-symbols of the 1940s .
Marilyn Monroe, the best films of the unforgettable Hollywood star
Marilyn Monroe: at the origins of the myth
The proud and sharp intelligence of Dorothy Shaw, the showgirl played by Jane Russell, is counterbalanced by the twenty-six-year-old Lorelei Lee Marilyn Monroewhich behind the facade of the dumb blonde (the “airheaded blonde”) hides a sharp pragmatism. Lorelei, betrothed to the rich scion Gus Esmond Jr (Tommy Noonan) and irresistibly attracted by diamonds, is a character to which the public will not be slow to associate the Californian actress, who in 1953 will reach the status of star of the highest magnitude. Until then, Monroe had stood out in brief and rather ‘decorative’ appearances in classics such as The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve, before moving on to supporting parts: just a year earlier, she had joined Barbara Stanwyck in the noir The Fritz Lang’s Confession of Mrs. Doyle, had landed her first starring role in the thriller Your Mouth Is Burning, opposite Richard Widmark, and was directed by Howard Hawks in The Magnificent Joke, opposite Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers.
1953 will be the decisive year in Marilyn Monroe’s career, at the center of three very successful films: in order of release, the thriller Niagara by Henry Hathaway, Men prefer blondes and finally How to Marry a Millionaire by Jean Negulesco, alongside Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. Confirming the audience’s passion for Monroe, the two films by Hawks and Negulesco will turn out to be among the ten biggest blockbusters of 1953, but it is above all Hawks’ musical that defines the Marilyn-icon: a model of sensuality breezy and ironic, provocative but with mostly playful and sunny tones, a model revived in particular in the comedies interpreted for Billy Wilder, When the wife is on vacation and Some like it hot. But in Hawks’ film, Marilyn’s stage presence is in perfect balance with that of Jane Russell: an alchemy essential to the success of the film, capable of entertaining with impeccable rhythm for ninety minutes straight.
Elvis and Marilyn: because their icons keep talking to us and about us
Dorothy e Lorelei: girls just wanna have fun
In this sense, Howard Hawks chooses to reduce the strictly musical dimension, highlighting even more the few songs present: from the enthralling opening number, Two Little Girls from Little Rockto the very famous Bye Bye Babyculminating in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friends, performed first by Monroe and then by Russell. But the true essence of the film is that of screwball comedy, the genre of which Hawks had already proved to be an undisputed master thanks to Susanna!, Friday’s Lady and Lightning Bolt: Men prefer blondes it is an ideal continuation of the aforementioned titles, from which it takes up the theme of the female figure as a narrative engine opposed to the substantial passivity of the male characters. Dorothy and Lorelei, who cross the Atlantic and then find themselves making ends meet in Paris, are therefore worthy heirs of the vital and enterprising characters previously embodied by Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell and Barbara Stanwyck.
Beyond its undoubted influence, Men prefer blondes therefore it remains, even seventy years later, one of the best comedies of classic Hollywood: by virtue of a story that always flows on the edge of parody, but with the ability to make us side with this fascinating pair of heroines; for the barrage of jokes and gags, many of which enter by right in the anthology of American comedy of the Golden Age (a scene above all: Lorelei who converses with the rich womanizer Piggy Beekman, played by Charles Coburn, while hiding a child under a towel); and for the charisma of two protagonists complementary to each other, but united by a spirit of ‘sisterhood’ which becomes a celebration of female solidarity and the ability to juggle a world of men; arriving, if necessary, to overturn the rules to their own advantage.