How to Marry a Millionaire

Written by:
Karen Berk
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Now released in a restored version of the classic 1953 original, (the first movie to be filmed in CinemaScope), How to Marry a Millionaire was written and produced before the age of women’s lib and bra burning. It will strike a chord in the psyche of those who lived or grew up in that era. Women may have gained some independence when their husbands went off to war in the early forties, but, by and large, they remained subjugated in their marriages.

The film begins, even before the credits have rolled out, with a lengthy performance by a full symphony orchestra, supposedly to introduce and demonstrate the new wide-screen technology. However, because the piece is so long, it is apt to confuse viewers who do not realize it has been included for a specific purpose.

The plot of this skillfully-written, albeit implausible, comedy gives us a peek into the lives of three beautiful models, all eager to find a rich husband.Mrs. Page (Lauren Bacall), is the savvy and cunning mastermind of a scheme to snare husbands for herself and for her two cohorts, Pola (Marilyn Monroe) and Loco (Betty Grable).Pola is the ultimate dumb blonde and Loco is equally ditzy and dimwitted, but she is also a bit more resourceful.With all this in mind, all three agree to pool their funds and rent an expensive Manhattan penthouse in order to represent themselves as women of wealth. However, why Bacall takes up with this unsophisticated and clueless duo is somewhat of a mystery, as neither of the other two seem to be in the same league with her.

At the outset of this ill-conceived caper (the women end up having to sell the apartment owner’s furniture when their money starts to run out), ringleader Bacall tells Monroe and Grable “he done me wrong,” relating to them the woes of her first marriage and the mistake she made in hooking up with a ne’er do well gas station attendant.She admits that she wants to wed again (for no woman could possibly be happy without a husband), but this time she will seek out someone of means, using her head instead of her heart.Mired with a hackneyed and predictable plot, the film ends with a twist; but, ultimately, all three women marry for love instead of money.

Playing the clueless Pola, Monroe is at her finest, demonstrating impeccable timing and comic talent. Her sense of vanity, which precludes her from wearing eyeglasses in public, accounts for some of the movie’s funniest scenes and running gags, as she continually bumps into things and mistakes other people’s identities.Writer and producer Nunnally Johnson has also saved some other very hilarious scenes for Grable.When she’s invited by a date to join him for an illicit weekend at his “lodge” in Vermont, she accompanies him with the notion that they are going to an Elk’s Lodge. The action is well-paced, with the scenes switching back and forth from one character’s adventures to the other’s, as they move towards the culmination of their efforts to find a husband.

The Academy Award-nominated costume design by William Travilla is dazzling, and other than the wide-screen visual effects made possible by the newly created CinemaScope, is probably one of the most notable production features of the film.Travilla has created a stunning array of ‘50s fashions and has all three stars modeling his clothes, enabling Gable to bare her famous legs and Monroe to strut her perfect derriere. All three women wear tight sweaters over pointed breasts and skirts with elasticized cinch belts, which were all the rage in the early ‘50s.And on more than one occasion, they sport little fur stoles; Bacall even wears one while dining at a coffee shop counter with her suitor, Tom Bookman (Cameron Mitchell).Because all three women play models in the film, their figures, in keeping with the times, are more hourglass than svelte, and there is no hint of boniness anywhere.

Today’s moviegoers, and certainly their progeny, will most likely find the sets and backdrops in this film quite archaic. The new wide-screen technology effectively shows off the New York skyline, but the footage itself looks stiff and “canned.” Additionally, the automobile rides, with their stage set drivers, remind us of how far films have progressed since the ‘50s.

Some of the charm of this frivolous remake of the 1933 film, The Greeks Had a Word for Them lies is in the ongoing synergy among Bacall, Grable and Monroe.Perhaps not a classic film in the truest sense, How to Marry a Millionaire provides an enjoyable escapist experience.

– Karen Berk

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