A Comparison and Contrast between the novel and the film version of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” Essay
A Comparison and Contrast between the novel and the film version
of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”
“Kissing your hand may make you feel very good but a diamond bracelet lasts forever”.
This quote from the novel “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” which was written by Anita Loss succinctly encapsulates the ambition of Lorelei Lee, the heroine of the story. Similarly, the 1953 movie version “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” produced by 20th Century Fox has this line of thought. This and more are the similarities of the novel and the film yet there are noteworthy differences.
This essay attempts to put forth the comparison and contrast of the two versions based on the intertwining elements of fiction and film such as setting, characters, plot, theme, point of view and cinematography.
Let us first point out the similarities between the novel and the film. The story begins to unfold in New York where Lorelei Lee, the main character, has moved in from her hometown, Little Rock, Arkansas. Likewise, the characters like Lorelei, Dorothy, Mr.
Gus Eisman/ Esmond, Mr. Francis “Piggie/Piggy” Beekman, Lady Beekman and Mr. Henry Spofford/ Spotfard exist in both the novel and the film. Third, there are events in the novel that are similar to the events in the movie. These are: Lorelei and Dorothy spend time with each other and they form a strong bond of friendship. Mr. Eisman/ Esmond sponsors the trip of Lorelei and Dorothy to Europe where Lorelei and Mr. Eisman would meet to be married. Lorelei meets Mr. Beekman who gives her a diamond tiara. Lorelei meets Mr. Henry Spoffard/ Spofford. Another similarity is the theme of the story. They both talk about a woman’s means for a man to give her what she needs and wants and a man’s ways to get a woman’s love and make her his own. Correspondingly, the cover page of the novel and the poster of the movie both show a woman/women or a part of a woman’s body which are the legs like in the Liveright Paperback edition of the novel. Lastly, both can be considered comical and entertaining.
If the two versions agree in some elements of the story, there are also many differences between the novel and the movie.
Primarily, the original story in the novel does not just happen in New York, it spans through London, Paris, Europe and goes back to New York. Meanwhile, the setting of the story in the movie is located at New York and is routed to Paris.
Secondly, the differences in terms of the characters of both film and novel are distinguishable. One is, the last names of some of the characters do not have the same spelling. Mr. Gus Eisman and Mr. Henry Spotfard III in the novel are Mr. Gus Esmond and Mr. Henry Spofford III, respectively in the movie. Next is the absence of some secondary characters in the movie as compared to the novel. These characters are Lulu, Lord Cooksleigh, Mr. Jim Conrad, Mr. Lamson, Mr. Bartlett, Robert, Louie and Mr. Gilbertson Montrose. Likewise, the character of Mr. Malone in the movie cannot be found in the novel. The characterization of Mr. Beekman and Mr. Spofford in the novel is no longer alike with that in the movie. Most importantly, the character of Lorelei has become different in the movie from what can be inferred from the novel. Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee is just perfect for her because she portrays a woman who is naïve about her looks attracts men. Yet Lorelei Lee in the movie is no longer similar to how she is characterized in the novel. In Anita Loos’ novel, Lorelei is a thinker, respectful, appreciative, but temperamental, impatient and easily disappointed. She does not want to become a mandolin musician as her family wishes, instead she wants to be a “cinema star”. She also writes regularly in her diary though not everyday. In the movie, Lorelie who is portrayed by Marilyn Monroe is a lounge singer while she is seen as a writer and an actress in the novel. On one hand, Lorelei, in the novel can be considered conservative in the way she deals with men and even if she might have a hidden motive for giving in to the wishes of rich men who have fallen in love with her, she does not make it too obvious unlike what is demonstrated in the movie.
In the light of Mulvey’s essay, Monroe who plays Lorelie in the movie evokes the “scopophilic instinct” of the men in the story and in the audience. This instinct, according to Mulvey refers to the “pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object (p. 492).” Human beings are eternally fascinated with the human form. Therefore, Lorelei and even Dorothy, represents the “erotic object” which gives pleasure “for the characters within the screen story” and “for the spectator within the auditorium (p. 488).” Furthermore, Monroe is suitable for the “star system” that Mulvey has cited in her essay because she produces “ego ideals” as she acts “out a complex process of likeness and difference (p. 487).”
In addition, the plot of the story on film involves major modifications from the original plot in the novel. In the novel, one can read that Lorelei and Dorothy are going to travel to Paris “to be educated” as Mr. Eisman would want Lorelei to become “educated”. On board the ship “Majestic”, Lorelei meets Mr. Bartlett who happens to be the lawyer of the Jennings family. It was revealed that Lorelei shot and killed Mr. Jennings, herf former boos, because he has done unthinkable things to her but Lorelei was acquitted of murder. Though Mr. Bartlett dislikes Lorelei at first but he gets to like her and eventually falls in love with her. With this, Lorelei ignores him and turns him down. As the story in the novel progresses, Lorelei and Dorothy reaches London where Lorelei meets Mr. Francis “Piggie/Piggy” Beekman who falls in love with her even if he has a wife. Lorelei also mentions writing a letter to Mr. Eisman to ask for $10,000 to buy a diamond tiara which she really likes. In the later part, Lorelei and Dorothy travel to Paris. On board a train, Lorelei meets Mr. Henry Spoffard, a famous rich American gentleman who falls in love with her. She was also able to meet Mr. Gilbertson Montrose who is involved in moviemaking and who also wants Lorelei to act in his movies. Towards the end of the story, she is torn between Mr. Spoffard and Mr. Montrose. Finally, she makes up her mind to marry Mr. Spoffard and to become a “cinema star” in the movies of Mr. Montrose.
On the other side, the movie shows different events from the novel. It has created its unique plot. First of all, we can see that Lorelei, together with Dorothy, is going to Paris because the relationship of Lorelei and Mr. Esmond is turning out bad due to the objections of the father of Mr. Esmond towards Lorelei as a wife for his son. It is of course, Mr. Esmond who finances the trip of Lorelei and Dorothy and who plans to meet with Lorelei in France in order to be married. On the part of Lorelei and Dorothy, they are going to Paris on board a ship, to find the most suitable husband who can give them the biggest diamond. On board the cruise ship Lorelei meets Mr. Francis Beekman who happens to be the owner of the second largest diamond mine and who is married to Lady Beekman who owns a diamond tiara that Lorelei desires to own. Eventually, Mr. Beekman gives it to her. Malone, a private detective who was hired by the father of Mr. Esmond, knew of this and he reports to Mr. Esmond the matter. With this event, Mr. Esmond leaves Lorelei and Dorothy penniless and stranded in Paris. They have no choice but to look for a job and they ended up as night club entertainers. Lorelei is further entangled with regards to the diamond tiara which is owned by Lady Beekman. She was accused of stealing but Mr. Beekman stole the diamond tiara from her and she was spared from the charge and everything went out fine.
Another basis of the difference between the novel and the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, is the film’s cinematography which is obviously not applicable to the novel. This is an aspect of the film that is entirely unique its own. The photography and lighting of the scenes as well as the artists that perform the role of the characters all play a part in making the novel come to life. People can see the characters and the scenes in the story without having to picture out in their minds what they look like as they are reading the novel. In the movie, the scenes, costumes, make-up and background are all colourful. However, the costumes should not have been long gowns but short skirts with bare arms and legs that is characteristic of the “Roaring Twenties”.
With regards to the point of view, readers of the novel can only see through the point of view of the main character, Lorelei but the movie viewers can see the story in their standpoint as they watch the events unfold, as they observe the actions of the characters and as they listen to their dialogues and conversations. In a film, the camera makes the viewers see every possible angle and look. Based on Mulvey’s essay, “the function of film is to reproduce as accurately as possible the so-called natural conditions of human perception (p. 486).” If this is the case, then the film in examination has definitely performed its function.
In my opinion, I find that the novel is still the more effective version of the story although the movie combines the elements of a good plot, cinematography and interesting characters. The novel remains to be the “authoritative text”, because it is the original version from which the movie was adapted. I observe that the novel starts with the revelation of the dreams and desires of the main character. Thus, it ends with the heroine achieving her dreams and desires. In the movie, bad things are happening to the main character and her companion and they do not really have a happy ending because their dreams and desires have not been achieved. Despite of this, the movie has recreated the story of Lorelei Lee in a way that makes it more appealing, enjoyable and substantial especially with the outstanding performance of Monroe in singing these lines: “A kiss on the hand may be continental, But diamonds are a girl’s best friend. A kiss may be grand, but it won’t pay the rental on your humble flat. Or help you at the automat. Men grow cold as girls grow old, and we all lose our charm in the end. But square-cut or pear-shaped, these rocks won’t lose their shape. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Dir. Howard Hawks. Perf. Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russel, Charles Coburn, Elliott Reid. 20th Century Fox. 1953.
Loos, Anita. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Liveright Paperback Edition. New York: Liveright Publishing. 1998.
Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.