As with Project Horror, I decided to kick off Project Valentine with a block of classic movies. Somehow, I'd made it this far in my life without ever watching a Marilyn Monroe movie, and decided that I'd like to go ahead and change that with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
This is one of those roles that's so iconic, so closely associated with the actress who played it, that it was a surprise to me to learn that this movie was made fairly early in Monroe's career. This, along with two other movies that came out in 1953, was her first true breakout role. At the time this was made, Jane Russell was actually the much bigger star. The studio wasn't sure if Monroe had what it took to be the lead in a movie, so they gave Russell top billing, and generated rumors that the two women couldn't stand each other in order to spark publicity. In truth, Russell and Monroe remained friends until Marilyn Monroe's death almost a decade later.
Back in college I watched the movie 42nd Street with the girl I was seeing at the time, and we both noticed something - there really aren't that many movies made anymore about putting on a show, but classic Hollywood was swimming in them. Singing in the Rain, Kiss Me Kate, and on and on... Gentlemen Prefer Blondes isn't about that, but does set us up in the first scene with the knowledge that our heroines are cabaret performers, all the better to prepare us for the musical numbers to come.
Lorelei, the character played by Monroe, is engaged to a wealthy young man, and is planning to marry him in France. His father, however, disapproves, and prevents him from traveling with her. Instead, she travels alone, with her friend Dorothy (Russell) as a chaperone. The fiance's father hires a private detective to sail on the same cruise ship the ladies are on and try to find any dirt which would prevent the marriage. There's more, but that's the gist of it right there. What makes this movie work isn't so much the plot, but the execution. Russell is sharp as a knife, and delivers in every scene she's in. And Marilyn Monroe...
This was a great first movie to see Marilyn Monroe in. She is one of that small number of performers whose legend looms so large that you can't separate the performance from the legend. She really was much more than just a pretty face (although that was definitely one pretty face) - her comic timing and delivery was top notch. When she finally meets her potential father-in-law, she has my favorite line of the entire movie.
Esmond Sr.: Have you got the nerve to tell me you don't want to marry my son for his money?Because I am thoughtful, before I give my rating and lesson learned from this movie, first I'm going to put a little something for the ladies.
Lorelei Lee: It's true.
Esmond Sr.: Then what do you want to marry him for?
Lorelei Lee: I want to marry him for YOUR money.
I really enjoyed this movie. It's more comedy than romance, but it still had enough of a love story that I feel like it qualifies for Project Valentine.
RATING - I give this one five Marilyns out of five.