Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is full of wonderful music and comedy but two sequences stand out. Each is a showpiece for stars Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, highlighting what makes these dynamic stars great. Like the best movie musicals, though, these scenes aren’t just fluff; they can further the narrative while primarily underscoring the motivations and psychology of the characters. In “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” we see the philosophical differences between Dorothy and Lorelei rather plainly—while Lorelei cares most for financial security [and to be bought nice things], Dorothy doesn’t care about the material as long as he’s a hunk.
Dorothy’s centerpiece number comes early on in the film and starts with an idyllic image: Dorothy amidst a number of swimsuit attired men and women at the side of a pool and an amazingly designed waterslide. It looks like something out of swingin’ Rome than from on a cruise ship. We cut into a close-up of Dorothy completely engulfed by nearly a dozen half naked Olympic athletes, all chiseled muscles and chest hair. She scoffs at the idea that their strict lifestyle keeps them from having any fun before they are whistled away by their coach to start their training for the day and, seamlessly, our song.
Overall, the setpiece is striking for its very simple staging. Outside of Dorothy’s bright yellow scarf and gigantic blue earrings, there isn’t much vibrant color on display—the men’s bodies are constantly moving but monochromatic, cheekily matched by their nude trunks.
We kick off with a tight shot of Dorothy ogling a man’s perfectly toned bicep with a wonderful expression of disbelief and primal sexual wonder. Jane Russell is at her best throughout this sequence while being set up as sexual counterpoint to Marilyn Monroe; she is equally sexy, but more outwardly expressive with open desires. As the men around her are completely focused on their conditioning, Dorothy can be the more aggressive yet more approachable one.
After quickly addressing a few bathing beauties looking on, she works her way through men one-by-one as they box, lift weights, or [quite suggestively] wrestle one another. The song, meanwhile, works partly in self-deprecation while letting these men know they have their priorities all wrong. She can’t play tennis, or golf, or whatever the “Australian crawl” is, rather interested in sporting for hunks.
For the most part, the scene is shot in a medium-long shot, that sets Dorothy up among the men around her. This breaks with a cut into a close-up that focuses on her smouldering face, again with Dorothy’s expression plainly telling you what she’s thinking. Here, a mix of growing frustration and the look of a lion ready to pounce on its prey. Strangely, this focused shot is perhaps the most striking of the scene, mostly because it stands apart from the rest.
As we leave the close-up, Dorothy decides to saunter over to the gymnasts doing handstands over pommel horses. With these men stretched out and motionless, there is no clearer indication that they are nothing more than stage dressing, bodies for the viewer to admire. This, of course, is completely intentional and incredibly subversive, a flip on the cinematic male gaze that almost exclusively uses women in this way.
The camera draws back closer into Dorothy’s face as the song briefly slows down before an amazing interlude where she walks down an aisle of men doing sit-ups, leg lifts, and an excuse to thrust and lower their butts into the air. Again, the men are playing the female chorus line, a hunkier version of the Rockettes, there to emphasize Dorothy and her desires.
“Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” ends with Dorothy sitting back next to the pool as the men vault over her [not sure what this is training for exactly] until she is clipped and down she goes. This actually looks like a pretty dangerous stunt, almost unintentional, until the intention of getting Dorothy soaking wet is obvious. And thus an excuse for the dedicated men to notice her again. They lift her up on their brawny shoulders just as an emergency cocktail is delivered.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’s final showpiece is sharply contrasting in most every way. It is a big, classically staged number of elegance and grace, popping with Monroe’s iconic pink dress against a blinding red background. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” isn’t the same impromptu pop-up but an actually production within the film, which speaks for many of these differences. It is also the climactic showstopper of the film, too, so it certainly has to be bigger and bolder.
Given the characters’ differing viewpoints on love, as well, we see the opposite dynamic, with a score of finely tailored men doing everything they can to win Lorelei. They surround her similarly to the Olympians, but they [like the viewer] can’t take their eyes off Marilyn. The performance starts with these men presenting their hearts to Lorelei only to be rejected with a simple “no.” She swirls away across the stage, unsuccessful avoiding their advances. When finally cornered, she rejects them again with a coy playfulness that approaches teasing. In response, absolutely bizarrely, the men all draw guns and commit suicide at her feet.
“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is all about Monroe, a showcase of her beauty, talent, and charisma. She uses big gestures and an impressive amount of face acting around the stone-faced suits. The camerawork is a bit more lively, too, moving around the stage while zooming in and out on Lorelei. It isn’t one continuous shot, but almost gives the impression of one, which further highlights the performance.
Narratively, the song plays out Lorelei’s philosophy just as plainly as Dorothy’s song before. Another significant difference, though, is that Lorelei is explicitly being watched—most importantly by her beau Gus, who isn’t enjoying the performance as much as I was. The cuts to Gus remind us of the destructive force Lorelei has been, how her philosophy on love has led to the plot’s major conflicts. Normally, this type of musical number would be absolutely fine as a fantasy wholly outside of the narrative, but Hawks interestingly undercuts it. Fortunately, though, that isn’t enough to take us out of Lorelei’s spell.