Monday, December 21, 2015

Gwen Verdon in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes

After the 1953 success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as showgirls Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, United Artists bought the rights to But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, the 1927 novel written as a sequel to the original 1925 book by author Anita Loos.

Jeanne Crain was signed to do the movie (retitled Gentlemen Marry Brunettes) with Richard Sale directing and Mary Loos (his wife and niece to the book's author) writing the screenplay. The novel's continuing adventures of storyline was dropped in favor of a completely new story about the Jones sisters rise to showgirl prominence in Paris. When Jane Russell's contract with Howard Hughes expired in 1954, she and her husband, Robert Waterfield, decided to form their own production company Russ-Field. The couple was courted by United Artists and offered a six picture deal - with the caveat that Jane star in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.

Jane didn't like the idea of doing the sequel nor did she like the script but she agreed because United Artists allowed Russ-Field to join Sale and his company, Voyager, as producer although they had little say in the project. Among their concerns were the film's big Cinemascope and Technicolor budget (with Travilla gowns and location shoots) and how they were going to bring in the customers. Jane liked her co-star Jeanne Crain immensely but she was also aware that Crain was no Marilyn Monroe at the box-office; this left UA dependent on Russell to make the picture a financial success.

Ultimately Jane was greatly disappointed in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes and considered it a mess. And after viewing it, I can see she was right. Her pixie haircut makes Russell look old, the cannibal/blackface production number of Ain't Misbehavin' is just too weird for words and Crain is no foil for Russell. Inexplicably Russell plays the dumb showgirl and Crain the smart one; the film might've worked better had the parts been switched to more closely resemble the Gentlemen Prefer Blondes chemistry. Audiences of the day agreed with Russell's opinion and the (jukebox style) musical did poorly at the box-office when it was released in the fall of 1955.

Amidst all of this Gwen Verdon was hired to play a sexy French maid and had one scene in which her sexy moves were considered too obscene; the scene was cut and re-shot with a non-musical performer. This 25 seconds is the only glimpse left of Ms. Verdon's sexy moves in the 1955 film.

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