14 January 2010

How to Marry A Millionaire

How to Marry A Millionaire Charming, Sassy and Witty
By Kristin Battestella

Although everyone magically knows and loves Marilyn Monroe, her iconic beauty status, and her ability to sell lots of pretty things; I’m making a point to get to know her films again. Instead of spending too much money on that MM knickknack, spend the night with the real thing via 1953’s How to Marry A Millionaire.

Wisecracking model Schatze (Lauren Bacall) rents an upscale New York apartment with her dimwitted friend Pola (Monroe) and funny gal Loco (Betty Grable). All three ladies have one thing in mind: bag a millionaire husband before the end of the summer. Unfortunately, finding Mr. Rich-er Right isn’t as easy as the girls planned. Lowly Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) is after Schatze; Pola can’t wear her glasses, for ‘Men aren't attentive to girls who wear glasses’; and Loco, well she gets a case of the Measles!

Yes, it’s a silly premise-fairly standard and nothing new, in fact. Director Jean Negulesco (The Best of Everything, Three Coins in the Fountain) and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (Grapes of Wrath, The Three Faces of Eve) take from The Greeks Had a Word for It by Zoe Akins (Camille) and Loco by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert (Leave it to Beaver) and spin a hip fifties charmer. Our gals are able to laugh at their prospects, both in slapstick and witty sarcasm. Maybe some of the comedy is too highbrow and subtle in some parts for modern audiences-some viewers might not even get any older references. Nevertheless, the nostalgic feeling in How to Marry A Millionaire adds to the charm. Today, we tend to see or think of some slutty groupie bitches aka gold diggers who marry, fester, ruin, destroy, and then move on. It’s not really a subject of amusement, is it? Negulesco sticks too the fifties innocence onscreen, keeping the ironic misunderstandings and the ladies’ futilities bemusing.

How to Marry a MillionaireOf course, Ms. Monroe (Niagara, The Seven Year Itch) gets us in the picture’s door with her statuesque charm and grace, but she’s made to be the stupid, semi ugly blonde here with her horrible horn rimmed glasses. For starters, you’re going to need a lot more than ‘specs’ to make her ugly! In fact, the emphasis makes Pola even more endearing. Today we’d call it stunt casting if the pretty girl was put in the movie to play blind without her glasses and bump into walls, but Monroe’s critical comedic timing and strategic clumsiness nails every cue. Her goofy lines and dumb questions have just enough marshmallow in the delivery. You wouldn’t expect a starlet to willingly play dumb, actually trip, or really bump into doors. In real life, we’d hate that annoying, dorky girl chasing the most eligible men. Marilyn, however, has the talent and charm-not just good looks- to win our hearts.

We may place Monroe above her now, but How to Marry A Millionaire is largely Lauren Bacall’s film. She’s a wise dame on her match making game after being burned by gas jockeys previously. We see her intelligence, charm, and beauty, and enjoy her millionaire conundrum. Scatshze’s not so flashy in her ploy, but streetwise like the rest of us. In many ways, Bacall (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep) has the timing, wit and onscreen comedic style of her off screen love Humphrey Bogart. Her being able to laugh at the relationship onscreen also adds a tongue in cheek nod, “Look at that old fella what's his name in The African Queen!” Did I mention Bacall also looks dynamite in Technicolor?

Unfortunately, in the teaming of such a trio of dynamite ladies, you inevitably end up with the leader Bacall, the pretty one Monroe, and then the other funny one Betty Grable. Once the pin up girl of World War II thanks to those famous legs, Grable (Tin Pan Alley, Down Argentine Way) doesn’t really get a chance to pass the torch onscreen to the it girl Monroe in How To Marry A Millionaire. She seems pushed to the side, with an isolated storyline and more off camera hijinks that don’t let Loco fully shine. Grable’s deadpan reference to her famous husband Harry James also doesn’t hit home for modern audiences who most likely don’t know who he is, sad as that may seem to us in the know. Likewise, the largely caricature men Cameron Mitchell (Carousel), Rory Calhoun (Capitol), and David Wayne (Ellery Queen) take a backseat to the main ladies. Each has their moments, but none of them looks quite right with the ladies. Only William Powell (The Thin Man, My Man Godfrey) stands out as the classy gentleman who sees right through the girls’ game.

Perhaps because it’s lacking some big, famous, iconic song and dance numbers like Gentleman Prefer Blondes, How to Marry A Millionaire seems a little unloved. This just shouldn’t be. Technical lovers can enjoy the visual and sound innovations here. Fashionistas will notice the Oscar nominated classic styles-from muffs and pillbox hats with netting to the gloves, fur, and those pointy bra shapes. Monroe isn’t as sexed up naturally, but she’s still dressed younger and with more skin than either Grable or Bacall’s much more modest skirts and gowns. The colors, however, are dynamite-as is the CinameScope picture. It’s so great to see so many habits of old, too- the slang, the cigarettes and drinks. The music and score by oft-celebrated Alfred Newman (The King and I) also captures the humor and bright lights and big city heyday of New York. Sadly, in many ways, it’s a New York that no longer exists. How to Marry A Millionaire is a little bittersweet in retrospect. This is Grable’s swansong, Bogie and Bacall’s height before his 1957 death. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were everywhere amid America’s good ole days-but we know how that turned out. This is the delight of classic movies, to capture these joys on film forever young and untouched by real life turmoil.

Fans of Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, or Betty Grable can pick up How to Marry A Millionaire affordably enough, namely is several Monroe sets and collections. Comedy understudies and classic film lovers can also enjoy this nostalgic tale again and again. There’s nothing offense here beyond scandalous fifties innuendo, so young folks interested in old school fashion and fun can enjoy with the whole family, too. Get some tips from How to Marry a Millionaire today.


Anonymous said...


Kristin Battestella said...

Spamming the classics is just wrong.

Anonymous said...

Every why has a wherefore.........................................

Kristin Battestella said...

Oh please! Stop with your scams and do something worthwhile.