A Movie A Week: HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) Look at that old fella… what’s his name in The African Queen...
Published at: April 27, 2009, 6:26 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the first entry of A Movie A Week, the slightly less demanding version of A Movie A Day. For those who followed along with the AMADs, the rules for AMAW will be the same. Each film will be connected to the one before it via a common thread, either an actor, director, writer, producer or some other crew member. Each film, pulled from my DVD shelf or recorded on the home DVR (I heart TCM) will be one I haven’t seen. Let’s get started!
I’m shamefully ignorant on many of Marilyn Monroe’s films. Sure, I’ve seen pieces here or there of her more famous movies, but it all goes back to my childhood. I like romances and chick flicks, but nobody in my family was an old film lover, with the exceptions of the Leone Westerns and Bonds. My exposure to vintage film has mostly been on my own, with a lot of help from the Alamo Drafthouse and Harry and Jay Knowles.
That said, I have still pecked away at Monroe’s films from time to time. SOME LIKE IT HOT, ALL ABOUT EVE, CLASH BY NIGHT, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE to list off some I’ve seen. But that still leaves a whole lot to uncover, many of which we’ll be hitting in this column.
While gearing up for this new column I ran through the THIN MAN box set last week, so I figured the best thing to do was use that warm-up as the lead-in to the new column. We follow Nick Charles himself, Mr. William Powell, over to one of his final films HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE co-starring Monroe, Betty Grable and the sultry Lauren Bacall.
I’m sure this film was a template for SEX AND THE CITY with a group of females gathering together in NYC on the hunt for husbands. Of course in the newer, freer era they can be on the prowl for sex and not marriage.
Bacall is the ringleader, renting a ritzy, fully furnished apartment (its owner is on the lam for income tax evasion) as a means to nab a rich man. She has enough for the security and first month’s rent and ends up selling the furnishings as a way to make the incredibly steep $1,000 a month rent.
Her scheme has her gathering at least two pretty girls to room with her and between the three of them they will surely nab a multi-millionaire that can set up all of ‘em.
Monroe plays the breathy Pola, who is blind as a bat, but refuses to wear her diamond-studded horn-rimmed glasses because she’s certain no man wants a woman in glasses. Naturally, she’s the most blatant comic relief of the movie, constantly bumping into walls.
Pola brings in her friend, another model, named Loco (Betty Grable) to be the third. The first time we meet her she’s asked to bring lunch for the three as Bacall essentially interviews her for this scheme. Grable only has a quarter and somehow talks a nice guy (Cameron Mitchell) into buying all her groceries, showing up at the apartment with him carrying the bags filled with champagne and all sorts of rich stuffs.
That gets Grable into the club and also gets Cameron Mitchell’s Tom Brookman in the door, going ga-ga over Bacall. Bacall pegs him for a gas-pump attendant because she’s attracted to him, too, and she only ever seems to be attracted to poor gas jockeys. Which is funny because he’s actually the richest person in the story, he just won’t admit it.
The three girls waste no time getting into polite society, ultimately each bagging three likely millionaires. Monroe gets a mysterious character wearing an eyepatch and seemingly in control of millions, all oil money, Grable latches on to a married man, also wealthy, and Bacall has her sites set on a real nice older guy, played by William Powell.
Powell brings a lot of charm to the movie, which it needs. As hot as they are, Bacall, Monroe and Grable are still playing shallow gold-diggers. Powell is the key to their humanity, especially for Bacall, the coldest of the three.
The other two hopefuls are shady, amoral rich fucks. But Powell is a genuinely nice guy. He’s not a liar or a cheat, just a lonely widower who falls for Bacall.
Naturally, fate throws all three women together with the right guy for them, even if its not who they expected to fall in with. I particularly like Monroe’s final grab, someone who isn’t exactly an angel, but immediately accepts her for who she is, not who she’s trying to be.
The flick is cute and strangely meta. The sub-head quote I picked, for instance, comes from Lauren Bacall as she’s trying to convince William Powell that their age difference doesn’t matter to her. She finds older men attractive, always has. “Look at Roosevelt! Look at Churchill! Look at that old fella… what’s his name from The African Queen.” Of course, that’s in reference to Humphrey Bogart, Bacall’s main squeeze in real life. There’s also a line as Monroe is modeling a hot little red number with diamond clasps referring to her famous DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND song from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, which came out mere months before the release of this particular film.
Final Thoughts: Like I said, the flick is cute, but didn’t really hit me dead center. I think it’s a bit too breezy to really get me crazy-enthusiastic, but I can’t complain about spending an hour and a half with 1953 Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe in glorious Technicolor. HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE isn’t a film I fell crazy in love with, but I liked it a lot, especially the last act where Bacall actually becomes a human being and not a money-hungry beast.
Upcoming A Movie A Week Titles:
Monday, May 4th: PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER (1952)
Monday, May 11th: HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964)
Monday, May 18th: TOO LATE THE HERO (1970)
Monday, May 25th: THE BEST MAN (1964)
Next Monday we’ll hit PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER via common screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (who also contributed to a few AMAD flicks, such as MOONTIDE and BLACK WIDOW). The film stars Shelley Winters, Bette Davis, Michael Rennie and Keenan Wynn. See you folks next week for that one!
Follow Me On Twitter