Thursday, April 29, 2010

Discovering Marilyn

One recent evening I was browsing Netflix, waiting for my sweetheart to come home, and I came across Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I remembered seeing bits of it on TV when I was little, although the only part I remembered clearly was when Marilyn Monroe's character, Lorelei Lee, meets the owner of a diamond mine and fantasizes a big old diamond where his head would be. I must have found that pretty funny when I was a kid, because that's all that stuck with me, other than a general impression of silliness.

I'd just finished a long and sort of bruising day at the day job. I was in the mood for silly. I zapped it to my TV and settled back. And from the opening number--"Two Little Girls from Little Rock"--I was in a state of wow.

This isn't a movie review, because I unabashedly adore this movie. Yes, the male stars are completely forgettable. Yes, the plot is entirely predictable--its main concern being the number of skin-tight outfits it can smoosh our heroines into. (Marilyn's co-star is Jane Russell, the actress for whom Howard Hughes engineered a new kind of underwire bra to achieve the exact right cleavage for his movie The Outlaw.) Yes, it has dialogue like this:

Anonymous Male Character 1: (gesturing at Marilyn and Jane)"If this ship sinks, which one would you save?"

Anonymous Male Character 2: "Those girls couldn't drown!"

And yes, Marilyn does get stuck climbing through a porthole.

It's that kind of movie. Dumb. Cynical. (Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"?) And silly beyond all belief.

And yet. Love, love, love. Jane Russell is at her wisecracking best. Marilyn's Lorelei Lee is absolute perfection. If it's true that it takes a smart actor to play a dumb character, Marilyn must have been a freaking genius.

Before this, I've never seen an entire Marilyn Monroe movie. For some reason, I had the impression that mostly she stood around and looked...well, like Marilyn. Before this, whenever I thought about Marilyn Monroe, I mostly thought about drugs and Kennedys and tragic death. But when she launched into...

"A kiss on the hand may be quite continental..."

...I literally got goosebumps. There's a reason that performance is iconic, and it's not because of the dress, or the platinum hair, but because Marilyn was just insanely talented.

I realize everyone else in the world is probably already aware of this. I'm embarrassed to admit it was a revelation to me.

I'm a newfound Marilyn fan. And if you see me driving around, singing in my car, it'll either be "Two Little Girls From Little Rock" or "Ain't Anyone Here for Love" (which, BTW, if you thought beefcake was a recent invention, think again), or "Bye Bye Baby," or the queen of them all, "Diamonds."

Every last cynical, scintillating syllable of it.


mi said...

i love the scene where she's stuck in the porthole and has the blanket and scarf on so she looks like she's standing up! too funny!

i've never been a huge marilyn fan, but i've really enjoyed some of her films - how to marry a millionaire is probably my favorite.

and i agree she was talented. because not only could she play the ditz convincingly, but she made you actually care about the ditz, so you weren't just laughing at her, but genuinely rooting for her.

btw - my word verification is "hompumbo" which totally sounds like it could be a title to a marilyn/jane duet!

Christine Fletcher said...


I love your point about Marilyn not only playing the ditz convincingly, but so sympathetically that we end up rooting for her. Which is quite a feat with the gold-digging Lorelei, but yes, she pulls it off!

And I agree, the porthole scene is one of the funniest in the movie.

"hompumbo"...what a duet that could make!

After seeing GPB, I got How to Marry a Millionaire. I love Lauren Bacall, but somehow I'd never seen that one. It's great!

Walter Rowntree said...

Good for you!

Anonymous said...

I JUST saw "Some Like it Hot" last night, which is one of my fave movies of all time and Marilyn is GENIUS in it....and the dresses she's costumed in, with the strategically placed sequins are beyond belief!
When I was in theatre school, one of the biggest truisms ever is that you gotta be really smart to play dumb. Otherwise, it just doesn't work.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I'm with you : when it comes to Marilyn -- celebrate the joy and not the tragedy.

It's a good philosophy towards our own lifes, too, come to think of it.

Strange how certain older movies will strike a sympathetic chord deep within us.

For me it is CASABLANCA. And yes, I am drawn to the tragic love triangle. But more I am drawn to the wit and wry friendship between Bogart and Claude Rains. And to a man, weary, cynical, but unwilling to let go of his code of honor.

After all, when darkness surrounds you, only the light you carry within you can guide you.

Thanks for the obvious creativity and effort you put into your blog. It's appreciated, Roland

Christine Fletcher said...

Walter--better late than never when discovering Marilyn, I guess!

Sally (aka anon)--SOME LIKE IT HOT is going on the Netflix queue right now. I do love to see me some pretty dresses (I think that's half the reason I adore costume dramas) :) And I've always been a Jack Lemmon fan.

Roland--Thank you for the kind words!

Ah, CASABLANCA. I adore that movie, and yes, the friendship b/t Bogart and Rains is one of the best elements. Bogie's performance was phenomenal.

I am a huge fan of old movies. They're made for grown-ups, for one thing. The dialogue in the best of them is incomparable. Hmm...I sense another blog post topic... :)

Lisa Nowak said...

I've never seen this movie, but my husband has. He loves old movies and is always filling up our NetFlix queue with them. Fortunately, he gave me my own queue, or I'd never be able to see anything filmed after 1970. :)

Christine Fletcher said...

Lisa, that's a great idea about separate Netflix queues. Fortunately, my sweetie loves old movies, too...although it's going to be a challenge to get him to watch Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. That one is a little over the top for him.

prashant said...

It's a good philosophy towards our own lifes, too, come to think of it.
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The Hojo Family said...

I love this movie too! I saw it for the first time with Nana! When I went to school at Santa Monica JC, I used to go there every Wednesday night and Nana and Granddad would pick an older movie for us to watch before dinner had started. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has been a favorite of mine since then :-)

Christine Fletcher said...

Thanks for sharing that, Monica--I never knew that! I think I got my love of old movies from Mom. I used to love watching them with her. One of her favorites was The Women, and now it's one of mine, too.