Howard Hawks’ comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes became a classic when it hit theaters in 1953. The film centers around two showgirls, gold digger Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and her sassy partner-in-crime, Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), who hop on board an ocean liner to meet Lorelei’s wealthy but dopey fiancé (played by Tommy Noonan) in France. The girls stir up hijinks on the way, partying with Olympic athletes, attending fancy dinners and singing fun musical numbers. Things turn sour when Lorelei attempts to woo another older, wealthy man, and Dorothy realizes that the man she has been crushing on (played by Elliott Reed), has actually been hired to spy on Lorelei by her fiancé. Things only get worse when they dock in France, when Lorelei is accused of theft and is sent to court; of course, since this is a comedy, Dorothy ends up impersonating her friend in front of the judge to buy them enough time to fix their problems. Malone, the detective, ends up saving the day, and the film ends in a double wedding: Lorelei marries her wealthy fiancé and Dorothy marries Malone. With catchy musical numbers like Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Two Little Girls from Little Rock, a wacky plot, and iconic stars, this classic film is a must-see for any film buff.
Since this movie was filmed at an indoor set in a Hollywood studio, there were no drastic changes in lighting throughout the film. For the most part, the lighting was not very dramatic or dynamic. However, the bright lighting works well for this type of film; after all, it is a comedy. The lighting sets the tone for the film: it’s lighthearted and fun. One scene in which the lighting does change dramatically is when Lorelei sneaks into Malone’s room to steal his camera, with which he took incriminating photos of her. This scene is rather tense, since Lorelei only has a limited time to get in and out of Malone’s room, and the lighting reflects that. It creates shadows all around the room, and an almost vignette-like effect at the edges of the frame. As Lorelei moves across the room, her shadow follows her, creating a dynamic image. This scene contrasts well with an intercut scene in which Dorothy distracts Malone over dinner. The Dorothy and Malone scene is more comedic, so it is better lit and warm, whereas the scene with Lorelei in the bedroom is cooler and shadowy. This dramatic lighting continues when Lorelei gets stuck in the porthole and is confronted by her older “friend,” Piggy. The continued shadows highlight the suspense of her cover nearly being blown.
Finally, the musical numbers are lit much like they would be on a stage. Some of the musical numbers, such as Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Two Little Girls from Little Rock, are actually supposed to take place onstage, so this lighting is very fitting and creates a sense of realism. It makes the audience feel like they are watching Lorelei and Dorothy perform onstage. In Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, the costumes and set design are all shades of red and pink, and the warm lighting in that musical number creates an aesthetically pleasing performance.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a great example of a classic studio film — it’s comedic and fun, and is lit so that the actors hijinks drive the film forward.