All-Girl Power: ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ at 70

Screencaps via Fan Pop

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes reaches its milestone 70th anniversary this year. The musical comedy classic – which made Marilyn a global superstar – first opened in New York City on July 15th, 1953, finally making it to the UK on December 31st.

Today, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes seems fresher and funnier than ever, thanks to its sly mastery of camp and burlesque – and most importantly, the incredible chemistry between both leading ladies.

As Rebecca McCallum writes in a wonderful essay for MovieJawn, ‘Solidarity is a Girl’s Best Friend …’

“Despite being progressive in its message, the film has routinely been misread and reduced in interpretation as a diminutive story of two vacuous gold diggers. However, a re-evaluation of the film–most crucially from a female perspective–repositions it as a triumphant example of female friendship and solidarity … In the 1950s, attitudes towards women and sex had not quite arrived at the milestone that would emerge in the following decade. Such a fact makes the power of female sexuality in the film all the more progressive and equally, impossible to ignore. Despite the opposite sex attempting to stifle and control their sexual expression, the women repeatedly take control … When Lorelei [MM] meets the wealthy diamond baron Piggy, the possessive male gaze loses its power as, in her eyes–and in ours–for one moment, Piggy literally becomes an object as his head is shown encased by a diamond.

This destabilisation of sexual roles and bodily power is also seen in the women’s musical solo numbers … Lorelei performs ‘Diamonds are a Girls’ Best Friend’ dressed in a warning colour of hot-pink. As the male dancers advance upon her, Lorelei makes her feelings known, confidently rejecting them with a gentle slap of her phallic fan … When surrounded by the female dancers–who are colour-coded in union with her, Lorelei is seen to be more at ease with them as opposed to their male counterparts, even making physical contact and seeming to offer advice, signifying that female solidarity is front and centre in the film.

The first shot of the women shows them in performance, and performativity itself becomes a theme across the film. While they assume various roles to attract and disarm men who mistakenly believe they have the measure of the pair, this veil is dropped in the name of authenticity when they are alone together. Such openness and honesty are never mirrored in the relationships of the male characters, who by turn, we see watching, detecting, and following the women with little success … Arriving at Paris, there is a wonderful montage of the pair shopping with the strong feminine spirit of the film echoed through shots of the female form, shown in sculpture and mannequins … In the capital, we see them come together through their mutual love of song and dance in the number ‘When Love Goes Wrong.’ Through the art of performance, they lift one another’s spirits in a positive expression and celebration of their talent. The truthfulness and freedom of their energy notably spills out, infecting the crowd that quickly gathers around them.

When male forces conspire against them, Lorelei and Dorothy [Jane Russell] coordinate harmoniously in a way that celebrates their individuality and which proves how, when together, they are unstoppable. In their eye-catching outfits, they take command of every room and can silence any man, but in doing so they expose the shallowness of those who judge them merely on their appearance … As Dorothy says resolutely, ‘Two heads are better than one, come on we’ll stick together.’

The loyalty and faithfulness between Lorelei and Dorothy defies the rampant patriarchy both of 1953 and that which continues to dominate women to this day. What is most endearing about their relationship is that despite their differences (Lorelei dreams big and is impulsive, whereas Dorothy is cautious and realistic), they act as balancing forces for one another. In addition to this, they also acknowledge that each deserves fulfilment, with Lorelei wishing Dorothy to be taken care of financially and in return, Dorothy hoping that Lorelei: ‘finds happiness’. However, although romantic love is waiting in the wings, we are left questioning the permanency of such a prospect.

From the beginning of the film, we see the women tease one another and disagree, but this is never to the detriment of their friendship. Rather, theirs is a portrait of a healthy relationship that includes not always seeing eye-to-eye as well as providing love and support. When apart, they also show their loyalty by protecting and defending one another … In the courtroom scene where Dorothy stands in for Lorelei, who has been accused of theft, their connection becomes almost transcendent when the former poses as her friend in an act of assimilation. In this transformation, Dorothy is not only saving her friend from danger but her ability to perform the part so convincingly reflects the depth of their relationship.

The final scene shows Dorothy and Lorelei in a double wedding, with the focus not on the couples but on the women. Once more, they are dressed the same, in two white gowns as we return to the song of the opening ‘Two Little Girls from Little Rock’ and to a place of ultimate unity. With the attention given to them as their eyes meet with excitement–rather than gazing at their husbands–Lorelei and Dorothy are forever betrothed to one another. The two friends will never be separated and their allyship has been, is, and will continue to be their greatest strength. They do not exist as women to merely be looked at but as women in possession of knowledge and agency. This female-centric reading of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has evidenced that, in reply to the question, ‘ain’t there anyone here for love?’ The answer is that, in this case, the most enduring love of all is to be found in friendship and female solidarity.”