For Reel

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
January 31, 2016, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Howard Hawks
5 Stars
Gentlemen Prefer BlondesWhen Andrew Sarris wrote of Hawksian masculinity, he described that men in Howard Hawks films are often measured by their work, with their method of seducing women almost irrelevant to how one conceives of their manhood. The women in Hawks films, then, are typically mysterious and distant–in fact, they often infantilize the men by acting as remarkably adept heterosexual males, most famously Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, then, is a remarkable detour for Hawks on the level of gender politics, foregrounding two impeccably strong women even before the opening credits have rolled. Not only are Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell framed side-by-side facing the camera–devouring every inch of the frame with their sequined gowns and seductive glances–but Tommy Noonan, as an audience member, is shown in brief moments to be a limp fish, his reaction shots comical in his utter powerlessness. This opening sequence marks Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as one of the essential feminist texts of the 1950s, a complete subversion of the sexual politics laid out by Laura Mulvey. As Lucie Arbuthnot and Gail Seneca analyzed, “By becoming active themselves, they make it impossible for men to act upon them.” The way that Hawks accomplishes the power of this sexual spectacle makes Lorelei Lee perhaps the defining character of Marilyn Monroe’s career in that it wisely exposed and subverted Monroe’s screen image. Lee, as Monroe was in many of her films, is fully in control of the fantasy she represents–she is not one to be fawned over, but one who creates the conditions in which she is desired.

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