10 August 2010

Two Little Girls From Little Rock

Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe

Everyone, sing along with me, “We’re just two little girls from Little Rock. And we lived on the wrong side of the tracks.” These memorable lines are from the opening number of Howard Hawk’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and on a recent hot afternoon, I escaped into a cool cinema to watch a newly restored print of the film. And boy, what a film it is.

Showgirls and best friends Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) travel to Paris via ocean liner, causing trouble and breaking hearts along the way. Onboard ship, Lorelei tangles with a diamond mine owner name Piggy while Dorothy falls for the private investigator tailing Lorelei. Throw in a frog-voiced young boy with a valet, a missing tiara, and the US men’s Olympic team, and you have nonstop fun.

The girls between scenes.

Monroe is at the top of her form in this film. Her Lorelei is a likeable mix of naïveté and shrewd smarts (“I don't want to marry your son for his money, I want to marry him for your money”). And her breathy rendition of the songs and perfect comic timing remind us just how good a performer Monroe was.

Russell, as the straight talking Dorothy, is the perfect partner for Monroe. Striding confidently across the screen, she serves as the voice of common sense while delivering zingers with the best of them.

Lady Beekman: You'll find I mean business!

Dorothy Shaw: Oh, really? Then why are you wearing that hat?

Yet Russell manages to show her character’s vulnerable side too so Dorothy doesn’t come off as too hardnosed. Seeing the two together makes one wish that Monroe and Russell could have been paired up in more films.

The French are glad to die for love.

As for the song and dance routines, where do I begin? Watching Monroe’s iconic rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” it's hard not to think about Madonna and the countless others who have imitated Monroe yet none can hold a candle to her. As for Russell’s “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” I defy you to find a campier and more enjoyable number. (Men in nude trunks wrestling. Need I say more?)

As for the print, the new restoration is beautiful. The images are sharper while the amazing costumes and sets practically pop off the screen in all their Technicolor glory. 

The film plays at Film Forum in New York through August 12. Even if you can’t make it, get a copy and watch it again. And just remember, “A kiss on the hand, may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

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