Monroe, Bacall, and Grable show you... How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Happy first day of June! But more importantly, happy birthday to that little-known actress...oh, what was her name? Oh yes, Marilyn Monroe. Like all her fans, I grieve at the "shoulda, coulda, woulda's" of Monroe's life and career, but I'm immensely grateful for what we do have and I will always celebrate the marvelous films she left behind, one of which I decided to give special attention to today. In honor of Marilyn, let's dig into that supreme Cinemascope creation, How to Marry a Millionaire.

Schatze Page (Bacall) gets out of a cab and enters a high-rent apartment building. A cute little man shows her a beautiful, spacious apartment, assuring her that the place can be hers since its previous owner, Freddie Denmark, is evading the IRS for a year's worth of unpaid taxes. As soon as the deal is done, Schatze calls up her girlfriend, Pola Debevoise (Monroe), who races over. She has a tough time seeing her way to the door, but once she's inside, Schatze chastises her for not wearing her glasses. Finally able to see, Pola is amazed at the apartment and wants to call her friend, Loco Dempsey. Immediate alarm bells for Schatze: "I can't shack up with a dame I've never met, and she's crazy!" Pola tells Schatze to give Loco a chance, so they invite her up and ask her to stop somewhere and bring them lunch. Schatze is even more skeptical of Loco, though, when she informs them that she only has a quarter on her. "Now, there's a fine contribution to a million dollar proposition--one whole quarter!" "Maybe, but she's awful clever with a quarter," Pola beams.


Schatze needn't have worried. We cut to Loco (Grable) coming off the elevator with bags of groceries, along with a handsome man helping her to carry them. It seems that Loco "forgot" her purse and this nice gentleman, Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), offered to pay for all her things. Schatze rather brusquely shoos the man out the door, advising the ladies that a suitor who can't even bother to wear a necktie doesn't deserve their time if they want to catch millionaires. Plus, a guy who picks you up in a drugstore isn't likely to be worth millions, unlike a man in the fur department at Bergdorf's. Cut to Brookman exiting a taxi and going into a building with large lettering that spells out Brookman Building. Oops.

Back at the apartment on the terrace, the ladies sip champagne and discuss their ultimate plan: to snag wealthy husbands. Schatze is motivated by a failed marriage to a jerk ("I was absolutely nuts about that guy, and you know what he did to me? First off, he gives me a phony name. Second, it turns out he was already married. Third, from the second the preacher said 'Amen,' he never did another tap of work"), and her ideas put stars in the other girls' eyes. With a great apartment like this one, they'll be more likely to meet rich men. But how are they going to keep paying for this joint with just their modeling jobs? Schatze's got it covered--piece by piece, they sell their furniture until the whole place is practically empty. Pretty clever, if you ask me.

 Fast forward three months later. The girls are getting low on funds and they haven't even hooked one single rich guy. "You don't have to catch a whole herd of them. All you need is one nice, big, fat one," Schatze laments. As if on cue, Loco comes home with J.D. Hanley
(William Powell), a millionaire she got to pay for her stuff at Bergdorf's. Schatze is practically salivating, especially when Mr. Hanley invites the ladies to a dinner the Oil Institute is throwing. As Pola says, "Sounds just creamy to me." The women put on
gorgeous gowns and one by one, they bail on the boring dinner and go to a nice restaurant with their dates. It's pretty funny to see Loco, Pola, and Schatze pepper their dates with questions--they're so obvious, but think they're so subtle. Well, except for Loco, who flat-out asks her date (Fred Clark) "Are you married?" By the end of the evening, Schatze clearly has the best prospect. J.D. is a sweet, lonely widower, and he genuinely likes Schatze, although you get the feeling that he knows what she's after. Loco's guy is rather harsh towards women ("I'm the most married man in the U.S.A.") and, as Lo points out, he's a square. Pola's date never shuts up as he talks more and more about expensive items and wealthy people he knows. His eye patch, though, tips you off that he might be a phony. Later that night, the girls dream of their futures with their husbands' magnificent money. Well, except for Lo, who is dreaming of a hot sandwich. Girl's got priorities.

Although Loco's date, Waldo Brewster, is married, she decides she's got nothing better to do, so when he asks her to go his Maine lodge with him, she accepts. Only she thought that when he said "lodge," he meant a convention in a big hotel, not an actual lodge. The two quickly became disillusioned with each other, which is exacerbated when Lo becomes very ill with measles and she's forced to stay in bed with Brewster taking care of her. I love how she knows she's sick: rum smells like a carnation. Eben (Rory Calhoun), a guy who Brewster hired to pick them up from the train station, helps nurse Lo back to health. When Brewster winds up with the measles too, Eben and Lo have fun skiing and playing in the snow, until they quickly fall in love. Thinking that Eben owns acres of Maine property, Lo is thrilled; her bubble is soon burst, though, when he tells her he's just a forest ranger. As soon as Brewster is healthy again, he and Lo go back to New York, leaving Eben plenty bitter. It isn't until the end of the film that we find out Loco had gone back to Maine as soon as she arrived in New York and she married Eben, all off-screen.

Meanwhile, the apartment's owner, Freddie Denmark (David Wayne), sneaks back into his place incognito. It's funny to watch him as he confusedly searches his apartment and finds most of his furniture gone. He's forced to hide when Schatze and J.D. arrive from an evening out. J.D. tells Schatze that it's clear the girls are in financial trouble. There never was a maid or a cook who were conveniently never there when he was, the furniture isn't out to be cleaned, and looking at their empty fridge and cupboards tells him that they can't afford to buy much food. Because he's such a lovely guy, before he goes back home to Texas, he buys back all of the girls' furniture. It's not the marriage proposal Schatze was working for, but she'll take it. Denmark hightails it out of there before he can get caught, only to run into Pola. She assumes he's a visitor of Schatze's and he is able to leave without suspicion. Pola excitedly tells Schatze that she's engaged to Mr. Eye Patch! Always the cynic, Schatze isn't that enthused.

Some time later, Denmark makes another attempt to get to his safe in the apartment (this time he's surprised that all the furniture is back). He succeeds until Pola catches him again. Still thinking he's a friend of Schatze's, he's able to get away without a problem. Pola's fiance calls just then, telling her to get on a plane to Atlantic City, where they'll meet up to get married after he finishes business in Washington. On the plane, she finds herself seated next to none other Denmark. Over the course of the flight, the two become fast friends; he helps her get over her insecurity regarding her glasses and she sympathizes with him when he tells her how a crooked accountant pocketed the money for his taxes instead of paying them. Now he's on his way to Kansas City to confront the bastard. Wait, Kansas City?! Not Atlantic City? Without her glasses on, Pola boarded the wrong plane. But honestly, she doesn't care now that she knows Freddie.

Back in New York, Schatze has to hold down the fort while her girlfriends are out gallivanting. She starts selling the furniture again, and when Tom Brookman calls her up for a date, she's bored enough to say yes. In a great scene, Schatze, all dolled up in red and a fur coat, dominates a huge hamburger with a million toppings while Tom tells her he sees right through her snooty upper-class facade: "Trouble with you is you're a hamburger with onions dame and you won't admit it... I just don't believe you're the kind of girl you pretend to be at all." Schatze doesn't really care, she just wants another burger--with chili this time.

Despite repeatedly telling Tommy she never wants to see him again, we get a montage of their dates, which include bitter fighting over money and passionate kisses in taxis. Schatze still has to pay the bills, though. Say goodbye to the pretty furniture again! She's in for a surprise when J.D. suddenly walks back into her life. Despite his hesitancy over their age difference, he proposes and Schatze is all too quick to forsake Tommy for J.D. Before you know it, it's their wedding day. Pola and Loco return with their new husbands, but Schatze is aghast at her friends' choices. Lo married a "fireman" with no dough, and Pola married a blind guy who's on the lam. (It doesn't help that when Freddie confronted his accountant, his glasses fell off and the accountant put him in a neck brace. That's gotta hurt your ego.)

Although she thinks the girls have made mistakes, she realizes how happy they are. She walks down the aisle, but before the preacher can get very far, she asks J.D. to take her back to her room where she tells him that she can't go through with it. He's disappointed, but he understands. Side note: can I marry J.D.? He's kind of the best. He sees through his ex's anger towards her friends and gets her to admit that she's in love with Tommy, who she still assumes is a gas pump jockey because that's all she seems to fall for. J.D. informs her that he saw Tommy in the living room, and despite Schatze acting like she's furious about it, J.D. reunites them.

Now husband and wife, Schatze, Tommy, and the rest of the gang feast on burgers and hot dogs at the diner from earlier. As a joke, each husband says what they're worth. Eben is good for $14, "give or take a nickel," while Freddie can't even get his hands on anything. When it's Tommy's turn, he gives everyone a good laugh with his answer of "about $200 million," mentioning all the stocks, properties, and businesses he owns. They all think it's a gas until he pays for the check with a $1000 bill, just one of a huge roll. The girls promptly faint, and the men toast their wives.


The apartment all furnished...
As you may know, HTMAM was the first film to ever be shot in Cinemascope, although 20th Century Fox released it as their second Cinemascope film, The Robe. Thanks to television, every studio was scrambling to find ways to entice
the apartment as the girls start selling.
audiences back to the big screens--Cinemascope, stereophonic sound, drive-in theaters, and 3D were just some of the concoctions created. I like that HTMAM is a simple romantic comedy with a relatively small cast, yet it was put through the same process as giant epics with scores of extras and wildly extravagant sets. Of course, HTMAM has its own stylish sets and magnificent costumes, courtesy of Lyle Wheeler and Leland Fuller (art direction), Walter M. Scott and Stuart Reiss (set decoration), and Charles LeMaire and Travilla (costumes). If I could live in any cinematic world, I would definitely want HTMAM's as an option. I also think that director Jean Negulesco did a fantastic job filling the lens. Even in scenes with just two people, the screen utilizes the space very well, even if it's just a random lamp or chair. It's definitely a feast for the eyes.

HTMAM was William Powell's second-to-last film, 1955's Mr. Roberts being his swan song. It makes my heart happy to know that the incredible Mr. Powell got to out on top, critics-wise and box office-wise. You may remember Cameron Mitchell as Cyd Charisse's choreographer boyfriend in The Band Wagon, or as the musician Doris Day loves in Love Me or Leave Me. The three leading ladies were each at different career points. Monroe was definitely the rising star, having just released Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Niagara. Bacall had taken a three year hiatus to spend time with her family, and HTMAM was her first comedy, showing that she was great in the genre. Grable had been Fox's biggest star all through the 1940's, but she knew her time was running short, especially since Ms. Monroe was gaining popularity fast. Grable, ever the gracious woman, ceded her top spot to Monroe without grudges, and she only did a few more pictures after HTMAM. It's clear how the studio was shifting towards Monroe when you look at the advertising. Despite Grable being billed first, Marilyn's image is everywhere.

The press tried to insinuate (and even incite) feuds between the three women, but it never materialized--everyone loved everyone. Nunnally Johnson, the producer and writer, wrote in a letter that "Betty Bacall fell in love with Grable and now thinks she's the funniest clown she ever had the pleasure of knowing. Which is not far from true. Miss Grable is a real hooligan, and is a fine salty, bawdy girl, without an ounce of pretense about her. In addition, she's giving a better performance than anything she ever did before." Although there was no fighting amongst the cast, Marilyn did cause some problems due to her insecurity, which would only rise as her career went on. In her autobiography, By Myself, Bacall wrote:
 "Betty Grable was a funny, outgoing woman, totally professional and easy. Marilyn was frightened, insecure--trusted only her coach and was always late. During our scenes she'd look at my forehead instead of my eyes; at the end of a take, look to her coach, standing behind Jean Negulesco, for approval. If the headshake was no, she'd insist on another take. A scene often went to fifteen or more takes, which meant I'd have to be good in all of them as no one knew which one would be used. Not easy--often irritating. And yet I couldn't dislike Marilyn. She had no meanness in her--no bitchery. She just had to concentrate on herself and the people who were there only for her."

When I first saw HTMAM, I was downright irritated by the opening sequence with Alfred Newman conducting "Street Scene." I was glad to learn that it served a purpose--Fox chief Daryl Zanuck wanted to show off stereophonic sound, and introduce it alongside Cinemascope so audiences would get the full impact of what the movies had to offer, as opposed to those little TV screens. I can enjoy the prologue much more now, but it still feels kind of odd. Similar to the widescreen process, musical preludes are usually reserved for pictures on a much grander scale, so seeing it used for a comedy is a bit strange.

I always enjoy watching the classics and trying to discern the songs they play in the background. It's fun and interesting for me. In the restaurant scene with the three different couples, "I Got a Feeling You're Foolin'" can be heard, reflecting the girls' determination to play along with the millionaires to get them. When Tommy watches the small fashion show with the women modeling, the horn section of an instrumental "Sweet and Lovely" is noticeable. This foreshadows the romance Tommy and Schatze will have. The most obvious use of a popular song is "You'll Never Know," which comes to represent Eben and Lo's relationship. It's first heard on the radio in Brewster's cabin, causing a fight between Brewster and Loco over who the bandleader is (she insists it's Harry James, Grable's husband at the time), which Eben witnesses. As they spend more time together, the song takes over the soundtrack and reappears faintly when Lo tells Schatze about her husband. I haven't had this confirmed, but I have a strong feeling that this particular song is used because Grable sang it in one of her previous hits for Fox. For the life of me, I can't remember which movie it was and despite all my online digging, I can't figure it out. If anyone remembers, please tell me or else I'll go crazy.






The Best Quotes:
Schatze giving advice: "If you don't marry him, you haven't caught him--he's caught you."

Pola: "Do you know who I'd like to marry?" Loco: "Who?" Pola: "Rockefeller." Loco: "Which one?" Pola: "I don't care."

Tommy on Lo and Pola's absence: "Haven't they written to you?" Schatze: "How can they? They're illiterate."

Loco: "Now who on Earth ever thought of this? ... Skiing on snow!" Eben: "What else would you ski on?" Loco: "Why, the natural way, like in Florida, on water!"

Schatze when she sees Eben: "Two more pounds and she could be arrested for bigamy."

Pola: "Did you see this fellow I'm with? ... What's he look like?" Loco: "Very nice for a one-eyed man." Pola: "Is that all he's got?" Schatze: "What do you think he's got that patch on for?" Pola: "I didn't know it was a patch. I thought somebody might have belted him."

Schatze trying to convince J.D. she loves older men: "I've always liked older men. Look at Roosevelt. Look at Churchill! Look at that old fellow, what's-his-name in African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him!"

Betty Grable nails her delivery when Brewster asks Loco if she likes lodges: "Simply adore 'em!"

With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. Don't go crazy: "Four Jills in a Jeep" (1944): "You'll Never Know" Betty Grable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Every now and then, I'd think "What is that damn movie?!" Thanks for restoring my sanity! :)

      Delete

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