Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was based on a Broadway musical that was itself based on a novel by Anita Loos. She did write a follow-up novel called But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, but the filmmakers only borrowed the amended title for this film. Russell plays a different character than she did in “Blondes” and is joined by Jeanne Crain, filling in for Marilyn Monroe. Actually, it’d be more accurate to say the Russell is filling in for Monroe, as her role in this film is much closer to the type of role the Monroe usually played.
Russell and Crain play the Jones Sisters, Bonnie and Connie. They are performing their musical act in a New York club and dealing with the problem that multiple men keep asking Bonnie (Russell) to marry them and she just can’t say “no” to any of them. The ladies are getting packed up to move on to the next gig when a telegram arrives from and American agent in France inviting them to perform in Paris. Well, that’s a no brainer for the Jones Sisters, so they hop a plane for France.
It turns out the agent, David Action (played by Scott Brady) is broke wanna-be agent living with his buddy, aspiring performer Charlie Biddle (played by Mr. Ed’s future best friend Alan Young). The two seem to survive on Charlie doing a variety of odd jobs and lifting bottles of milk off the milkman as he passes in the hall. When David gets word that the Jones Sisters are arriving, he has to ask his buddy Rudy Vallee (playing himself) who they are. Vallee, it turns out, has memories of the girls’ mother and aunt, also known as the Jones Sisters, who took Paris by storm during the 1920’s. This leads to several flashback sequences where Russell and Crain also play their relatives (as blondes) in a variety of musical numbers.
From there, the whole story gets a little silly. I mean, these ladies have absolutely no reason to believe that this so-called agent and his buddy are on the level. They spend very little time trying to get them gigs and awful lot of time focusing on romantic tours of Paris. When they do try to get them work, the club owners are enthusiastic about having them perform…if they will do so in the nude. The girls, of course, will have none of that.
The film does have some interesting elements. Russell is appealing, even if her attempt at doing a Marilyn Monroe impersonation doesn’t completely work. Craig, on the other hand, is pretty dull. The movie was filmed in Cinemascope, which is used effectively photographing the sites of Paris. The musical numbers are a mixed batch, though. One number where the girls sing “I Want to be Loved by You” comes across as kind of funny in light of the fact that Marilyn Monroe famously sang the song in Some Like it Hot. That came three years after this film, but today it comes across as a little bit of a jab at the absent Monroe. Maybe one of the producers had a time machine and knew Monroe would sing that song three years later…ok, forget it.
Perhaps one of the reasons this film has become “forgotten” is the final musical number, which is about as un-PC as they come. Alan Young dons a gorilla suit and sings “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with the girls, surrounded by a chorus of dancers who look like the inhabitants of Skull Island from King Kong. Clearly, a lot of black makeup was employed, and for some reason the dancers have bright red afros with bones sticking out Pebbles Flintstone style. The girls even sing a verse while peeking out of a giant pot boiling on the fire as the natives dance around near a sign that says “Menu: Chicks.” Spike Lee would not approve…let’s just leave it at that.
Ultimately, I guess the idea of trying to do a followup to a Marilyn Monroe movie without Marilyn Monroe was a misguided effort from the start. It’s kind of like that rumor that floated a few years ago of a Beatles reunion with John’s son Julian Lennon filling in for his father…you just don’t go there.