How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Director: Jean Negulesco
Writer: Nunnally Johsnon
Cast: Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall.

While I have seen a number of films released before my birth, I am constantly reminded of how many I have yet to watch. Especially with some actors considered huge stars of yesteryear, I could make an effort to see more of the movies that made them famous. When it comes to Lauren Bacall, for example, all the movies I have seen were released after 1990. I have only seen a couple of Marilyn Monroe’s films, in spite of her iconic status. I had never seen a single Betty Grable film. So when this movie came up as a Netflix recommendation I decided to watch it. I must say that I probably should have opted for something different, because How to Marry a Millionaire left somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s not fair to judge a film by modern standards and sensibilities, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible not to, especially in regards to discussions of gender and representation on film. The story is simple and baffling at the same time: three women rent an apartment in New York City with the goal of appearing glamorous and rich, so that they may be able to score a rich husband. The women’s mantra seems to be that wealth is more important than happiness or love. The women are portrayed as vapid, superficial, conniving, and manipulative. Basically they all need to be taught a lesson, either by life or by a man, either way, though, a change must occur – somewhat reminiscent of a Shakespearian comedy (such as The Taming of the Shrew).

Bacall plays Schatze Page, the more cold and jaded of the trio. Already divorced, she no longer believes in love, but only in practicality and survival. Clearly she is the most problematic of the three and the one who must learn the hardest lesson. Grable is Loco Dempsey (even these names are irritating) and her role in the film is never completely clear, other than being the jolly one who ends up marrying the poor but handsome guy. Marilyn Monroe plays Pola Debevoise, who is shockingly a dumb blonde who also is as blind as a bat but refuses to wear glasses, lest she be an ugly and ghastly four-eyes.

Nothing really happens in the movie. The women try to snag a rich husband in scene after scene. Character development is unheard of. They all end up married by the end, but only god knows how or why, as nothing really is explained. The screenplay, based on a stage play, must have been just a few pages long. The treatment of women is jarring to see, especially in the way the protagonists are spoken to and manhandled. The sets and costumes are fine, but they definitely do not make up for the travesty that is this film whose only message seems to be that women are superficial harpies who must learn their lesson. My recommendation is to skip this film, something I wish I had done myself.

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