How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Here’s how:

(a) Look like Marilyn Monroe/Betty Grable/Lauren Bacall
(b) Dress as if you were already married to that millionaire
(c) When asked the definition of scruples, open those baby blues wide and say “Huh?”
(d) Be very, very lucky
…which more or less sums up the `strategy’ the three protagonists of this film use to try and hook great (read wealthy) husbands for themselves.

Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall in How to Marry a Millionaire

The hard-headed and very mercenary Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall) is the brains behind this three-woman enterprise. Schatze’s already been through a bad marriage with a gas pump jockey, leading to a divorce which has left her poverty-stricken, bitter and determined to set about finding herself a rich husband as soon as she possibly can.

Schatze thinks up a plan to get a rich husband

Schatze’s accomplice in this venture is her friend and colleague, Pola (Marilyn Monroe). Pola’s got the looks of—well, Marilyn—but she’s not the sharpest pencil in the pack. What’s more, she’s blind as a bat and can’t even distinguish between a wall and a closed door when she doesn’t have her glasses on. Since she’s well aware of the old adage about men vis-à-vis girls who wear glasses, she makes sure she doesn’t have them on whenever a man’s in the vicinity.

Pola pitches in too

Schatze decides that they can only began attracting millionaires if they have a classy address in town. She therefore leases a beautifully (and expensively) furnished apartment. The agent tells her that the owner, Mr Denmark (David Wayne), got into some trouble with the income tax department and has had to flee. The girls can, if they so wish, stay on for as long as a year, maybe even more if Denmark doesn’t return.

Schatze leases a flat of the absconding Mr Denmark

To join their venture, Pola invites another girl, a colleague at the fashion house where both Schatze and she work as models. The new girl, ‘Loco’ Dempsey (Betty Grable) is pretty nutty (that’s why the nickname), but she’s very enterprising. For example, when Pola asks her to get them lunch, Loco isn’t fazed by the fact that she has only a quarter. Instead, she manages to make friends with Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), another customer at the deli; she manages to get him to pay for the vast quantity of food she’s bought; she even manages to get him to help her bring it up to the girls’ apartment.

Loco gets Brookman to help

Brookman is obviously quite taken up with Schatze, but she shakes him off. As she later tells Loco and Pola, she can recognise a gas pump jockey a mile off, and Brookman is definitely one. And she’s never going to fall for that again.
The girls get started on their `snag-a-millionaire’ enterprise. The first thing Schatze does is to sell off Denmark’s splendid piano, followed gradually by the rest of the furniture, until the apartment contains just the bare essentials.

The girls empty the flat to get some money...

Unfortunately, the results aren’t very satisfying: they aren’t able to get acquainted with any millionaires… until one day, when Loco gets another man to help her bring home her shopping. This one, the suave and elegant J D Hanley (William Powell) is a far cry from the hobos the girls have run into till now. It turns out he’s an oilman, with some cattle stock as well—and he’s in town for a convention. When he invites the girls to the convention and assures them that most of the men there will be either oilmen like him or bankers, they jump at the idea.

Loco brings J D Hanley home

Before the evening’s out, Schatze has discovered that J D, as he’s called, is a lonely widower. And he’s undoubtedly charmed by Schatze.

J D falls for Schatze... in a sweet old way

Pola, meanwhile, has found herself in the company of J Stewart Merrill (Alexander D’Arcy), a rich one-eyed bachelor whose offhand bragging about his frequent trips to Arabia, the private jet he owns, and other unsubtle indications of his substantial wealth soon have Paula starry-eyed and salivating to lay her hands on all that moolah.

...and Pola finds Merrill's money very impressive

Loco too has found a moneyed admirer, Mr Brewster (Fred Clark), though her dreams are shattered when she discovers he’s married. Brewster’s currently very peeved with his wife and numerous female relatives, and cribs about them to Loco. When she learns that he’s headed up to his lodge in Maine, Loco is suitably enthusiastic (“I adore lodges!”), and Brewster, sensing an opportunity for some canoodling, invites her to accompany him—an invitation she accepts.

Loco gets an invitation to a lodge

What Brewster doesn’t know is that the sort of lodge Loco expects is the type she accompanied her mother to the previous year: a convention, with hundreds of members and lots of fun. What she gets, to her shock, is a log cabin deep in the snows. What’s more, she starts feeling very ill.
The driver’s son Eben (Rory Calhoun), who’s stood in for his dad to drive Mr Brewster and Loco to the lodge, soon figures out that Loco’s got measles and will need rest for at least a week.

...gets the measles...

By the time that week’s over, Loco’s recovered and now Mr Brewster has the measles—but Loco is being taken around the sights by Eben and soon the two of them are deeply in love.
This love, at least as far as Loco is concerned, is strengthened when one day, looking out over the surrounding hills, Eben points out the area as “all his.” Right across from one end of the panorama to the other, all rich stands of timber—Loco is ecstatic. Brewster may have turned out to be a damp squib, but Loco’s found her millionaire, all right.

...and falls in love with Eben

In the meantime, Pola’s encountered Mr Denmark, the on-the-lam owner of their apartment. Denmark’s been trying to get to his safe, which is in the girls’ wardrobe. Every time he sneaks into the apartment, his efforts to reach his safe are foiled by a completely unwitting Pola, who (without her glasses) thinks he’s a friend of Schatze’s.

Pola meets Denmark and thinks he's Schatze's pal

But Pola’s managed to bring her millionaire up to scratch too. Merrill proposes, and when a delighted Pola accepts, he promises to take her to meet his mother in Atlantic City. At the last moment, an unexpected meeting crops up and Merrill leaves Pola to go to Atlantic City on her own.
Pola, being what she is, gets on to the plane to Kansas City simply because she’s not got her glasses on and can’t read the signs. On the plane, the man sitting next to her turns out to be Denmark. When he persuades her to put on her glasses, she finds that not only has she managed to overcome her matogyaliaphobia (Hah! I didn’t know this, though I don’t think Pola’s really got it), she even thinks Mr Denmark is a rather nice guy.

Pola gets chummy with Denmark

And Schatze, of course, is busy trying to grab J D. He’s well on the way to succumbing, though there’s a big obstacle: the very tenacious Tom Brookman, who phones Schatze frequently, asking her out on dates…

Tom Brookman perseveres

…And even comes to the fashion store and looks over various dresses modelled by the girls (and has a closer look at the one Schatze’s modelling).

...even as far as the fashion house where Schatze models

But Schatze won’t have anything to do with Brookman. He’s a gas pump jockey, she’s certain about that; and she won’t fall for that again. Of course, what Schatze doesn’t know is that Brookman is the Brookman, a very, very wealthy man who owns corporate empires, has a building named after him, and is generally rolling in the stuff.

Will the girls’ plans work out? Will Schatze’s carefully calculated how-to strategy work? Or will fate play a strange hand in all of this?

What I liked about the film:
Actually, nothing that I can pinpoint… oh, yes: Marilyn and Betty Grable are lovely and Rory Calhoun is handsome. And there are some funny lines here and there, but nothing that made a lasting impression or was a laugh out loud moment.

What I didn’t like:
So much. So unfortunately much, because I’d heard such high praise for this film. As a romantic comedy, it lacks a lot: the romance is pretty minimal, and the comedy seems to depend largely on the sheer ignorance and stupidity of Loco and Paula.

I can forgive Loco and Paula being downright dumb, but what I simply hated was Schatze’s character. She is mercenary, hard and cold; but even worse than that, she’s outright contemptuous of the very girls she calls her friends: behind their backs, she refers to Loco and Paula as ‘bubbleheads’ and passes other derogatory remarks about their intellects. She’s right, of course, but whither loyalty and good old-fashioned niceness? And if she’s so very smart, then how come it never occurs to Schatze that a down-at-heel gas pump jockey wouldn’t walk into an upmarket fashion house and have them bowing and scraping and literally begging for his custom?

With three protagonists whom I couldn’t identify with—two irritatingly dumb, the third a nasty female dog—this wasn’t a film I could bring myself to really like.

This is all right for a one-time watch: pleasant in parts, and at least not depressing. But that’s it. Not worthy of a repeat.

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10 thoughts on “How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

  1. matogyaliaphobia ” hahaha… Wonder if I can develop it? But no, I am blind as a bat without glasses and unlike Marilyn, I’m more likely to bump into my lab laser than millionaires, without them!

    I remember finding this quite amusing inspite of all the problems with Marilyn. Mostly, I remember being very irritated with Marilyn’s dumb blonde act, but all three women were such stereotypes and rather annoying on that count alone. On the other hand, I was sooooo glad to see William Powell, that it did distract me enough from the annoyances!

  2. Oops, that was supposed to read “inspite of all the problems with the plot” not “inspite of all the problems with Marilyn” – looks like I had more problems with her than the others! ;-)

  3. Haha, Freudian slip, huh? ;-)

    Yes, Marilyn was probably among the most annoying of the lot, but at least Pola and Loco, though they were the quintessential dumb blondes, were sweet people otherwise. Schatze really put me off with her nastiness. I guess it was meant to be sassy and smart, but it came across as out-and-out meanness.

    And William Powell was certainly a breath of fresh air! He was (as always) so good.

  4. Yes, it’s definitely not a great film. I had heard about this so much that I was expecting crackers. But, it started and finished and I didn’t have enough reason to laugh. It’s just about agreeable and pleasant. And, Monroe is not very good in acting at all . Nice post :)

  5. Another three-girls-out-to-get-married film is Three Coins in the Fountain. I liked that much better than this one! (Of course, the fact that two of the men in question are Rossano Brazzi and Louis Jourdan, tilts the scales) ;-)

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