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By Patricia McIvor
Memorial Day and the start of vacation season are just around the corner, and if you’re like me, you’re getting that itch to hit the road. If you’re stuck at home this summer, however, you can still enjoy the novelty of new places with some classic travel movies. In that spirit, let’s begin our vicarious vacation with some films featuring glamorous transoceanic cruises.
For a comedic trip, check out Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell star as Lorelei and Dorothy, two best friends who cruise to Paris as part of a ploy to get Lorelei’s boyfriend Gus to propose. On the ship, unrepentant gold-digger Lorelei passes the time by flirting with hapless diamond baron Sir Francis Beekman (Charles Coburn), while Dorothy unwittingly falls for Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), a detective hired to investigate Lorelei on behalf of Gus’s skeptical family. When Malone’s report leads to the cancellation of their line of credit, Lorelei and Dorothy return to their showgirl roots in order to make it on their own in Paris.
Based on the 1925 novel and subsequent Broadway show, this light-footed musical comedy is genuinely fun. Russell and Monroe have great sorority chemistry, and their time on the ship highlights their bond as they continually get each other in and out of trouble. The cruise also gives Dorothy and Lorelei plenty of interesting passengers to meet, dine, and occasionally sing with—besides Beekman and Malone, the ladies spend time with the American Olympic team and juvenile millionaire Henry Spofford III—and the ship’s close quarters ensure that the characters keep meeting each other, whether they want to or not. This ship-as-mixer effect not only leads to more songs (Dorothy gets a great number with the Olympians in the ship’s gym), but also generates some great physical comedy (Lorelei resorts to climbing through a porthole in order to avoid someone).
For a dramatic crossing, try Now, Voyager (1942).
After years of repression at the hands of her controlling mother, Boston Brahmin Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) suffers a nervous breakdown and takes a cruise to South America as part of her recovery. While onboard, she meets and falls in love with Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid), a married architect who helps restore her confidence and self-esteem. After a brief detour in Brazil, Charlotte returns to Boston reenergized and ready to take charge of her own life.
Based on the 1941 novel, this film presents travel as a means of personal growth as well as rest and relaxation. Traveling on an ocean liner takes Charlotte well out of her comfort zone, as the former shut-in must learn to mingle and socialize with strangers. Over the course of the voyage, Charlotte transforms from wallflower to social butterfly, so much so that her own family can hardly recognize her upon her return. The value of this cruise therefore lies not in visiting new places, but rather in meeting new people, which in Charlotte’s case is absolutely essential. After years of familial bullying, Charlotte rediscovers her spirit and self-worth through new friendships, particularly her brief but significant relationship with fellow traveler Jerry.
Where would you like to go on vacation? Email me your dream destinations at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next month we’ll disembark in France and continue our imaginary vacation with films set in the City of Light: Paris.