Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018
 

Explosive women

Film

'Blonde Bombshells' explode at the Castro Theatre


Marilyn Monroe in Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
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Marilyn Monroe (1926-63) is the most famous Hollywood blonde, and she stars in several of the Blonde Bombshells movies playing the Castro Theatre   Aug. 27-Sept. 4. She's incandescent in Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which, in a brand new print, opens the series. Lorelei (Monroe) and Dorothy (Jane Russell) are showgirls sailing from New York to Paris. Lorelei wants to marry rich. Dorothy wants love. Lorelei proves the two aren't mutually exclusive. Her explanation of why a girl wanting a wealthy man is no different from a gentleman preferring a pretty woman is a masterpiece of comic logic. Russell, top-billed, is a good foil. They're terrific singing "Two Little Girls from Little Rock." Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friends" remains unequaled. (8/27-29, with a different co-feature each day.)

Censorship hampered the film of George Axelrod's Broadway hit The Seven Year Itch (55), and even Billy Wilder's direction couldn't save it. Still, Monroe shines as the neighbor whom married Tom Ewell fantasizes about. (8/27)

Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall plan How To Marry a Millionaire (53) from their rented Manhattan penthouse. Monroe showed a knack for physical comedy – she's too vain to wear glasses and keeps bumping into people and walls. Grable has the biggest role and is very funny. Bacall proved herself as a comic actress and steals every scene. With William Powell, David Wayne, and Rory Calhoun. Jean Negulesco directed. (8/28)

In Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It (56), Jayne Mansfield, the most successful of Monroe's imitators, plays a moll whose gangster boyfriend (Edmond O'Brien) wants to make a star. Ewell is the press agent assigned the task. Julie London sings "Cry Me a River." Little Richard, Fats Domino and The Platters also perform. (8/29)

Gay playwright William Inge's Bus Stop (55) gave Monroe the dramatic part she long sought. As Cherie, a no-talent singer, she's touching. Don Murray is the cowboy who assumes she'll marry him. With Hope Lange, Betty Field, and Eileen Heckert. Joshua Logan directed. Gloria Grahame was the kinkiest blonde of the 1950s. In Fritz Lang's magnificent The Big Heat (53), she's a moll who helps cop Glenn Ford. Vengeful hood Lee Marvin scalds her beauty with hot coffee. She gets even. With Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister) and, in a bit, Carolyn Jones. (8/30)

Jean Harlow (1911-37) was the first "blonde bombshell." In The Public Enemy (31), she's rising gangster James Cagney's girl. Both show why they became major stars. With the always-welcome Joan Blondell. Fast direction by William Wellman. In the rarely seen The Burglar (57), petty crooks Mansfield and Dan Duryea rip off a fake spiritualist who's inherited a small fortune.

Douglas Sirk's glossy Written on the Wind (56) highlights  unacknowledged homoeroticism  between Robert Stack, son of a Texas oilman, and hired help Rock Hudson. Bacall is the woman they ostensibly love. Dorothy Malone earned an Oscar for her steamy, unsuccessful pursuit of Hudson. As Madame X (66), Lana Turner was an aging, carefully photographed bombshell. This remake of the hoary melodrama about a woman who gave up her son for adoption only to have him, now a brilliant attorney, defend her in court, is a great guilty pleasure. With Keir Dullea, John Forsythe, and Constance Bennett, once a bombshell herself. (9/1)

Mansfield repeated her Broadway triumph asking Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (57), a broad satire of Madison Avenue. Tony Randall will lose his job unless sex symbol Mansfield endorses a lipstick his agency is promoting. She's willing, for a price. Frank Tashlin directed. With Blondell. In Three for the Show (55), widowed musical comedy star   Grable marries Gower Champion only to learn first husband Jack Lemmon is still alive. What's a girl to do? With Marge Champion. Based on a play by gay author W. Somerset Maugham. Songs by gay composer Cole Porter and the Gershwins. H.C. Potter directed. (9/2)

In Some Like It Hot (59), musicians Tony Curtis and Lemmon witness the St. Valentine's Day murders in Prohibition-era Chicago and, disguised as Josephine and Daphne, join an all-girl band whose singer, Sugar Kane, is Monroe. Wilder's rapid-fire, hilarious comedy is innocent yet knowing about the fluidity of sexual attraction. With George Raft, Pat O'Brien, and Joe E. Brown, who delivers one of the most famous closing lines in film history. Curtis' deft impression of Cary Grant, and Monroe's attempted seduction of him, hinted at Grant's rumored homosexuality. In stills, Carole Lombard suggests a Dietrich-like sultriness, but she was warm and funny on screen. In My Man Godfrey (36), she's a rich nitwit who wins a scavenger hunt in Depression-era Manhattan. The prize, living in a Hooverville (a homeless shanty), is William Powell, who becomes her eccentric family's butler. Stunning, statuesque Gail Patrick is Lombard's brunette sister, Eugene Palette is her exasperated father, and Alice Brady her ditzy mother. A landmark screwball comedy directed by Gregory LaCava. (9/3)

Harlow dazzles as a social-climber in gay director George Cukor's Dinner at Eight (33). Wallace Beery is her coarse husband. The great Marie Dressler, as aging actress Carlotta Vance, brilliantly delivers the film's hilarious last line. With John Barrymore as a fading matinee idol, Lionel Barrymore, and as the flustered hostess, the splendid Billie Burke. Myrna Loy is a Libeled Lady (36), a funny look at journalism. Spencer Tracy runs the newspaper being sued, and Harlow is his impatient fiancee. Powell comes to their rescue. Jack Conway directed. (9/4)

As their marriage was ending, Arthur Miller wrote The Misfits (61) for Monroe. She's a sexy Reno divorcee in love with aging cowboy Clark Gable. He's reluctant to surrender his independence. Both are haunting in their last movie, as is Montgomery Clift. With Thelma Ritter and Eli Wallach. John Huston directed.

Harlow is the Platinum Blonde (31), Frank Capra's romance about an independent reporter (Loretta Young) in love with colleague Robert Williams. After investigating a society scandal, he marries heiress Harlow. Will it last? The film would be more logical if the naturally aristocratic Young and Harlow had switched parts, but it's still good. (9/5)

 






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