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Three New York models, Shatze, Pola and Loco set-up in an exclusive appartment with a plan: tired of cheap men and a lack of money they intend to use all their talents to trap and marry three millionaires. The trouble is that's it's not so easy to tell the rich men from the huxters and even when they can, is the money really worth it? Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Writer and humorist Dorothy Parker's famous quip that "men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" was purposely bobbled by screenwriter (and producer) Nunnally Johnson for Marilyn Monroe's character Pola to assert to David Wayne (as Freddie) that "you know, men are seldom attentive to girls who wear glasses." See more »
When eating hamburgers in the coffee shop, the cigarette in Brookman's left hand changes into a napkin between shots. See more »
First, a warning. 'How to Marry a Millionaire' comes prefaced by an apparently random five minute orchestral performance of 'Street Scene', a Gershwin-lite piece treated with the full pomp and ceremony of, well, Gershwin. Sitting through it takes some patience. If you have the DVD, rest assured, you can skip forward. You won't miss anything.
The film itself is one of the perpetual disappointments of 50's Hollywood, a movie so bolstered by major star-power, opulent mise-en-scene and perfect high-concept that failure seems inconceivable. The title alone is perfect. Generation after generation, however, are forced to ask themselves - how is this so limp? The script is an albatross about the production's neck, a dead, smelling thing that chokes everything and everyone before they can really spark to life. There are no comic situations, just isolated moments that play for laughs. Whenever an actual comedy scene threatens to develop, the movie quickly moves on to other, less interesting things. A case in point - the scene where the three leading ladies each bring a date to the same fancy restaurant. One of them, short-sighted, refuses to wear her spectacles out of vanity. One of the dates is married. A classic Hollywood farce set-up, surely, complete with mistaken identity, angry wife, and probably a pie in the face for somebody? Well, no. Instead, we cut between the three dates as the ladies react 'comically' to things their partners say. Hit the punchline, and cut to the next limp joke. If in doubt, have Marilyn walk into a wall. Where's Billy Wilder when you need him?
The three stars are almost a perfect diagram of the life cycle of the classic Hollywood screen goddess. This was one of Marilyn Monroe's breakout films, and the camera just eats her up, even though the script gives her nothing to do. She's so luminescent she almost seems newly hatched. Lauren Bacall, on the other hand, had been a major star for nearly a full decade, and she knows how to dominate the screen even when in frame with Monroe. She gets the only thing passing for a real role, and delivers the few good lines with a cynical snap - given the right material, she could have brought this thing to life. She's a curiously ageless actress - when she lies about her age in the film and claims to be forty, it isn't instantly ridiculous - and far less girlish than her co-stars, giving her a convincing authority. Betty Grable was far from ageless, and had a good eight years on her co-stars, putting her near the end of her Hollywood career. There's an air of desperation about her at times, stranded on screen with nothing but a toothpaste smile and a few scraps of comic timing, unable to play her real age but fooling no-one as a contemporary of this new, sharper generation of actresses, relying on the same old schtick that had served her throughout her career (for Marilyn-doubters, seeing the two juxtaposed in this movie helps to throw Monroe's subtlety and - yes - intelligence into sharp relief). She's also lumbered with the dead wood in terms of male co-stars (although all of the men - even the great William Powell - are guilty of lazy performances); she's unable to strike any comic sparks off them. Better to have given her role to the under-utilised Monroe, who could be funny all by herself, and left Grable with the repetitive Mr. Magoo routine.
That the movie is as enjoyable as it is can be put down to the luscious Hollywood production, the sort that renders even the twee likes of 'By the Light of the Silvery Moon' watchable. But somewhere, buried beneath the flabby jokes and professionalism, lies the rough outline of a sharp, cynical comedy about the business of marriage that Bacall could have made sing - and new generations of movie viewers will sit down with 'How to Marry a Millionaire' in expectation of that movie, ready to be disappointed all over again.
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