"How To Marry a Millionaire" played last night as part of The Essentials series on Turner Classic Movies, and, having never seen it, and spurred on in part by the recent death of Lauren Bacall and by an ever-abiding interest in Marilyn Monroe, we settled in for a Saturday Night at the Movies to watch this one.
The premise of this movie is probably one that could not get made in 2014: three attractive, but poor, models, set themselves up in a swanky New York City apartment in the hopes of attracting, snagging, and marrying rich men. Essentials co-host Drew Barrymore admitted that she, as an actress and producer today, found the concept that "a woman needs a rich man to survive in the world" made her a bit squeamish, but that the dialog and the performances of the three stars, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall overcame her misgivings over the premise.
(As an aside, I initially agreed with Barrymore on this point, and thought that this is a movie that would never get made in 2014, but then I thought - throw in some raunchy language and some occasional gratuitous nudity, and what you have here was the early 1950's version HBO's "Sex and the City", but I digress.)
Anyway, I am not sure I'd call this movie a "classic" but it was frothy and fun and the performances off the three leads were quite good. In his introduction to the movie, Robert Osborne made some interesting points:
- This was the first movie that Bacall, 29 at the time, made in color, and that while she was third billed, she was perhaps the catalyst of the trio, and delivered her comic lines perfectly.
- The movie represented a passing of the torch of Hollywood glamor girls from Grable, 36, to Monroe, 27. It has been said that during the filming Grable said to Monroe, "Honey, I've had mine, now you go get yours!"
- The movie cemented Monroe's stature as a comic actress, and she was brilliant in it.
The movie also featured William Powell as one of the rich millionaires upon whom Bacall sets her sights. Powell was 61 years old when this movie was made, and still terrific in a comic role as the wealthy sophisticate, a la Nick Charles of the "The Thin Man" franchise. Powell would make only one more movie after this one, "Mister Roberts" in 1955, before retiring from the movies.
There were a couple of funny "inside" lines in this one. In one scene, Grable listens to music on the radio and mentions that its a recording by that "dreamy Harry James" and Bacall, in talking about how she likes older men, mentions that she is even crazy about "that old guy in The African Queen". The historical timing wasn't quite right or I am sure that Monroe would have been given a Joe DiMaggio line to deliver as well.
I mentioned that the movie made Monroe's reputation as a comic actress, and I will point to one scene in particular to emphasize this. One of the gimmicks in the movie is that Pola, Monroe's character, needs to wear glasses, is "blind as a bat" without them.
Of course, she never wears them because, as she puts it, "you now what they say about girls who wear glasses". This leads to such goofy things as her holding a book upside down while pretending to read, but the best scene occurs while she is wearing this spectacular dress:
In this scene, the three girls meet and strategize in the Ladies Room of a posh night club. Monroe primps and checks her hair and make-up, and the lines of her dress in the mirror, removes her glasses, and then walks right into a wall when she tries to exit the ladies room. Simple, but very funny when done right, and Monroe did it right in this scene.
There are time lapses and plot holes in the movie that one could drive a truck through (for example, how does Grable get back with her ranger, after she and Fred Clarke are photographed on the George Washington Bridge?), but who cares? As I said, it was frothy and fun, and it answers the question, When it comes to finding true love, is money really all that important?
This one will turn up again on my DVR Alerts.
Oh, in a specially taped introduction to The Essentials opening, Robert Osborne paid special tribute to Lauren Bacall, and mentioned that TCM will be devoting the entire day of September 15th to her with a twenty-four hour marathon of her movies. Something to watch for.