"DO YOU want to have a loveless marriage?"

"Me? Loveless?!"

"Yes, because if a girl's worrying all the time about the money she doesn't have, how can she ever settle down and fall in love?"

"Has it ever occurred to you that some people just don't care about money?"

"Stop now, we're talking seriously."

So goes one of the many exchanges between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the 1953 20th Century-Fox musical comedy, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." (A friend of mine recently gifted me with a dazzling DVD of this delicious slice of cinema. The winter drags on, I watch movies at home!)

BASED on the Anita Loos book, "Blondes" had been big on Broadway starring Carol Channing with music and lyrics by Jule Styne and Leo Robin.

For Monroe onscreen, it solidified her burgeoning stardom in the role of a lifetime, the role indeed she was born to play. But it was seen as lightweight, transitory entertainment. Only one writer, Monroe's first serious biographer, Maurice Zolotow, assessed the film's impact correctly: "Twenty years from now, the critics of the art-film quarterlies will discover that 'Blondes' was one of the excellent works of its time, for it was completely true to its genre. It crystallized a viewpoint, a style ... it will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art and studied by scholars." History has sided with Zolotow.

"Blondes" remains Monroe's most totally entertaining film -- one that is free of the poignant, semi-autobiographical bits that leaked into her later work. It is also the great Jane Russell's best. And a revelation in terms of director Howard Hawks, not known for his deft hand at musicals. (It ranks higher, in my opinion, than some of the strenuously "arty" musicals of MGM.)

"BLONDES" tells the tale of two gorgeous best friends -- dreamy/wily blonde Lorelei Lee and majestic, realistic brunette Dorothy Shaw. Miss Lee seems blithely unaware of certain realities, but is smart as a whip when it comes to money, men who have money and all the goodies and comforts cash can afford. Dorothy, on the other hand, is a hothouse of lusty passion -- she wants "big muscles and red corpuscles," as she sings later in the movie's most startling number, set in a gymnasium -- "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?"

Lorelei is engaged to Gus Esmond Jr. (Tommy Noonan) the scion to a fortune. His family disapproves. When plans fall through for the pair to sail off on the Ile de Paris for marriage and a honeymoon, Miss Lee declares she's going to Paris. "With or without Mr. Esmond. And when we're in Europe, where his father can't call him every five minutes, well..." Russell counters with, "Sometimes your brain amazes me." (In an earlier scene, Monroe plants a kiss on Noonan that puts him into a trance. Russell observes: "I don't know how you do it, honey, unless you're putting Novocaine in your lipstick!"

The girls board the boat -- "Excuse me, but what is the way to Europe, France?" inquires Lorelei -- and their adventures begin at breakneck pace. There's not a wasted moment, or a snappy comeback that doesn't hit home.

I WON'T detail every sequence, but suffice to say, both ladies find male companionship. Dorothy scores a man, Ernie Malone, who has been secretly hired by Mr. Esmond's father to spy on Lorelei. (He is bland in the extreme -- Jane Russell deserved better!) Miss Lee tempts a lecherous married lord, nicknamed "Piggy" (a delicious Charles Coburn). She is entranced with his tales of diamond mines. When "Lady Piggy" shows up carrying a tiara in her purse, Lorelei is beside herself, trying to put it around her neck. "It goes on your head, lovey," advises Dorothy. "Ohhh! I just LOVE finding new places to wear diamonds!" Lorelei gasps.

One of the film's choicest scenes has Monroe enticing the tiara away from Lord Beekman. She ends her plea -- "It's only fair I should have her tiara. After all, she has you." Monroe looks wistfully into her lap. Every audience, from every era, applauds. (Give her the tiara -- you don't want that adorable girl to cry!)

Later, Dorothy barges in on Piggy and Lorelei, sending the old roue scurrying. "What were you two doing in here? You weren't doing anything that wouldn't look good in a photograph, something you wouldn't want Mr. Esmond to see?"

"No. Oh, my goodness, yes. He was telling me about South Africa. It's dangerous. Full of snakes called pythons. It seems a python can grab a goat and kill it by squeezing it to death."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Well, Piggy was being the python and I was the goat."

"Oh, Lorelei!"