27/05/2013

How To Marry A Millionaire (1953)


Shot immediately after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with an extremely similar plot intended to further capitalise on the abiding mood of Monroemania, this prehistoric and utterly predictable sex comedy finds Marilyn and Betty Grable joining in Lauren Bacall's cynical scheme to nab a swish Manhattan apartment and turn it into a bear trap with which to ensnare wealthy suitors. With husband-hunting the only game in town, Bacall and her coven of room mates are desperate to make the trade up from gas station attendants to oil tycoons, having grown tired of stepping out with ordinary Joes unable to guarantee a secure future. The question of advancing their own careers (they're models, naturally) through hard work, bloody-minded ambition and rallying against glass ceilings never comes up, perhaps because these jaded women have long since accepted that the game of life is rigged. Perhaps it's foolish to hope for enlightened attitudes or sexual revolution in a conservative studio picture of this vintage, but producer-writer Nunnally Johnson's film seems particularly hard hearted, lacking any of the breezy, self-deprecating humour of its predecessor, its very premise soaked in vinegar. Bacall's performance hardly helps. She is simply too intelligent a presence for this sort of fluff and too stern, steely and calculating to believe as a dear friend of Monroe and Grable's dumb blondes.


Despite all that, there are at least two good jokes. One is this surprisingly post-modern exchange, which finds Bacall insisting to William Powell that she really could love an older man: "Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at old fella what's his name in The African Queen". The other is Monroe, playing short-sighted, finally daring to put on her glasses in front of a man (David Wayne) and wondering how she looks. "I've never seen anybody in my life that reminded me less of an old maid", he replies after a well-judged pause. Powell's stately Texas cattle baron, incidentally, is exactly the sort of female dream man that Rock Hudson would send up so expertly in Pillow Talk six years later. The film contains some attractive tourist shots of New York monuments and the snowy hills of Maine courtesy of Romanian director Jean Negulesco and an amusing character turn from Fred Clark as Waldo Brewster, an emasculated businessman bemoaning his plight as "the most married man in the United States". How To Marry A Millionaire's Hollywood premiere must also have been quite an evening. Otherwise, Grable's character is poorly defined, especially in relation to Monroe's, and the whole escapade reeks of commercial opportunism. 20th Century Fox were so keen to show off their new widescreen CinemaScope process that they nailed on a prelude featuring Alfred Newman conducting the studio orchestra in a five-minute performance of his own Gershwinesque composition 'Street Scene', which is nice enough but serves little purpose other than showcasing the wide framing and is typical of the film's marriage-of-convenience approach. Johnson apparently hammered together two old plays to form his script, The Greeks Had A Word For It (1930) by Zoe Adkins and Loco (1946) by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert, and, quite frankly, both could have done with a dusting down first.

2 comments:

  1. Its amusing too how Loco (Grable) comes back with bags of groceries paid for by the guy she met at the deli, whom Schatze (Bacall) soon gets rid of ... and Pola's reaction with Wayne tells her (Monroe) that she is reading the book upside down when they are on the plane ... This was my first experience of Monroe, as a kid - that scene where they model the outfits and she is in that red swimsuit.

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  2. Hey Michael - you're quite right, there's plenty to like here really and it's a great cast to spend time with. As for that red swimsuit (!) how on earth did I forget to mention that?! "Knock-out" does not begin to cover it (and nor does the outfit).

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