2012 continues with more Marilyn (remember when this was only supposed to take a month?) in the 1953 film How to Marry a Millionaire. This movie should be tailored made for me as it stars both Marilyn and Lauren Bacall who I ADORE! Ever since The Big Sleep, I’ve relished Bacall in movies, she’s up there with Marilyn as the most drop-dead gorgeous woman out there and they don’t make them like that anymore. Regardless, I was left a bit tepid with How to Marry a Millionaire. There are elements of this movie that are good, mainly Marilyn and Bacall’s plots, but the film as a whole felt a bit odd.
The movie follows three women who dream of marrying wealthy husbands. There’s Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) who ends up stranded in a mountain lodge with a married man. Pola Debevoise (Marilyn) is blind as a bat but refuses to wear her glasses because of the mixed up adage “Men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses.” Schatze Page (Bacall) has married for love before and been burned so she sets her sights on older widower J.D. Hanley (William Powell).
First off, what is up with the names of these women? I mean Pola is okay but Schatze and Loco? I don’t know if this was based on any source material but right off the bat you’re introduced to the unconventional ways of director Jean Negulesco who is a Marilyn veteran in this blog as he directed “The Last Leaf” segment of…you guessed it O. Henry’s Full House (for a film that contained Marilyn for a second it sure does continue to make appearances in this area). I hated “The Last Leaf” with its melodrama and heavy-handedness and I could feel that this movie was a tad quirky and off-kilter much like that segment. The fact that the movie opens with a five-minute segment of an orchestra playing, as if this were a movie musical which it isn’t, shows that the director is defying expectations and making this far more than it should be.
It’s not that the movies bad, but aside from the opening the women are never fully together in a room until the end. On top of that I didn’t enjoy Grable’s story that much. Her character lacked any quirk or depth, she was just the girl who Pola brings into the group. She’s sweet but I kept drifting off whenever she arrived. Her relationship with the married man could have really gone into some dark territory but instead they both get the measles and she runs off with “ranger” Eben (Rory Calhoun). Each woman gets involved in some miscommunication with their respective paramour and Loco and Eben are just bland. He’s a forest ranger and she doesn’t catch on that, assuming he “works with cattle” and even I had to agree with Eben when he said “That’s what you thought!” She comes off dumber than Monroe as Pola.
Marilyn is adorable as the dimwitted, blind Pola. There’s something so fun about seeing Marilyn in big cat’s-eye glasses that makes you love her even more. It’s been said that audiences loved Marilyn because men wanted to date her and women saw her as a friend, not necessarily competition. In this movie you don’t see Marilyn as a sex-kitten, but a sweet girl who is flawed because she needs glasses. And honestly she’s just as beautiful with the glasses as without as proved by the love that blossoms between her and the equally bespectacled Freddie Denmark (David Wayne). Every line she delivers is just comedic gold from not understanding that her date has an eye patch (because she doesn’t wear her glasses in front of men) but instead believing he’s been punched. When she meets Freddie on an airplane it’s the third time they’ve met. Freddie is evading the IRS and the girls are living in his apartment, he keeps breaking in trying to get a check and every time Pola meets him and assumes he’s there for Schatze. When they meet on the airplane they recognize each other and Freddie asks Pola if she wears glasses because she’s reading a book upside down. Their relationship is one of mutual respect and admiration because they’re both flawed. It feels far more genuine at times then either Schatze’s or Loco’s relationships.
Bacall is also fantastic as Schatze. I find it intriguing that the actress was 29, playing 25, and trying to get a man (Powell) who is 56 to fall in love with her. The script does include a sly aside about Schatze loving older men “look at that old fella, what’s his name in The African Queen” which is obviously a reference to her real-life husband Humphrey Bogart. By the way, I cannot stress enough seeing The Big Sleep which is where Bogie and Bacall first met. I might trot out my Bogie and Bacall box set although the only two I truly recommend out of the four they did is The Big Sleep and Key Largo. Any who, Schatze is definitely the strong-headed one of the group, a role that Bacall excels at. Her constant refrain of “I don’t ever want to see you again” to Tom (Cameron Mitchell) the guy who wants to marry her, always feels genuine yet you can see her armor continuously deteriorate. I must admit I do wish she had married William Powell’s Hanley if only because he is Nick Charles.
Powell himself was on the downside of his career, at this point playing the butt of the joke that Schatze could be his daughter. While Powell wasn’t nearly as dashing and attractive (no offense) by this point he’s still quite charismatic in this film.
I don’t know what it was about this movie but I only mildly enjoyed How to Marry a Millionaire. It’s obviously a continuation of Monroe’s similar role as a gold digger in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, only lesser. I think the addition of a third woman drags the film out, especially since Loco is not nearly as interesting as the other two women. I can understand that they didn’t want to make this identical to Gentlemen, but it was a weaker effort overall.
Housekeeping: 2012 aims to be a big year for the blog! Thanks so much to everyone who has liked posts including my WordPress bloggers who I will be adding to my Blogroll as a thank you! I will be keeping tabs via IMDB of my progress towards two goals I wish to accomplish. I want to see 100 movies for the first time and keep an overall view of the movies/television I watch in a year. If you want to keep tabs on my progress you can do so here http://www.imdb.com/list/NdFOpE314eI/ and http://www.imdb.com/list/ShnCG5v9lus/. Keep in mind I won’t have in-depth analysis on these lists, that’s what the blog is for. I will be trying to post up reviews of my 100 First-Time Movies and How to Marry a Millionaire is my first so it’s pulling double duty. Thanks to everyone who’s reading and please turn in suggestions on any movies you’d like to me to watch and review! Happy 2012!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.