Lauren Bacall’s Millionaire-Marrying Racket

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Lauren Bacall gives William Powell the marriage Sales Pitch. Image: Living in Cinema

How to Marry a Millionaire is our go-to comedy. This 1953 technicolor confection stars Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall as three models who pool their resources to rent a way-too-expensive Manhattan penthouse.

The women have moved into this upscale residence because they’re hunting millionaires.

We’re aware this film has been accused of being a shallow, spare-no-expense fashion show. So what? It was one of the first feature films made in CinemaScope, which was crucial in showcasing William Travilla‘s stunning wardrobe design.

How to Marry a Millionaire has a witty script, charming characters and first-rate comedic performances by Grable and Monroe. But our favourite character is the tough-talking Bacall.

Bacall’s character is recently returned from Reno where she obtained a divorce from “a gas-pump jockey”. She’s back with a new plan for marriage, one where neither her bank account nor her heart are at risk.

Bacall is smart, skeptical and has learned how to sniff out a rat. For example, when Monroe announces her boyfriend is taking her to Atlantic City on a Saturday to meet his mother, Bacall is immediately suspicious.

Bacall: “I think we oughta put a check on that one.”
Monroe: “Why? I don’t know what you mean.”
Bacall: “Nobody’s mother lives in Atlantic City on Saturday.”

Bacall coaches Marilyn Monroe. Image: Fan Pop
Bacall coaches Marilyn Monroe. Image: Fan Pop

The best part about Bacall’s character is that she talks like a gangster. She refers to the penthouse as “a joint like this” and calls their scheme a “racket”. She’s essentially Edward G. Robinson in a designer gown and beaded clutch.

But she can be as smooth as cashmere. When she meets a rich widower from Texas (William Powell), she’s demure and flirtatious. Over a drink at a cozy table, she leans into his conversation, chin in hand, sporting an encouraging smile. Her voice has polished charm, but soon she derails herself, telling Powell she always gets taken in by gas-pump jockeys, most notably her ex-husband.

Bacall: (contemptuously) “This one handled a pump for Standard Oil.” (brightly) “You don’t own that, do you?”
Powell: “No, Standard Oil is one of the interests of a man, I believe, named Rockefeller.”
Bacall: “Is he a friend of yours?”
Powell: (deadpan) “No, I’m afraid not.”

Bacall sees more than a fat wallet in Powell; she also sees a kind-hearted man whom she genuinely admires. Even so, she has a rough time convincing Powell she’s wild about older men and hates the younger set.

Cameron Mitchell romances Bacall with hamburgers.
Cameron Mitchell romances Bacall with hamburgers.

She’s lying, of course. Bacall meets a handsome and savvy young man (Cameron Mitchell) who, unlike Powell, talks like he’s never read a book in his life. She’s immediately attracted to him, but because she believes he’s part of the dreaded gas pump crowd, she refuses to associate with him. Mitchell relentlessly pursues her anyway.

“The trouble with you,” he tells her bluntly, “is you’re a strictly a hamburger-with-onions dame but you won’t admit it.”

How to Marry a Millionaire is a delightful film that shows Lauren Bacall’s comedic talents. If you haven’t seen this film, beware: You’ll likely find yourself purchasing it to add to your personal library.

How to Marry a Millionaire: starring Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Written by Nunnally Johnson. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1953, glorious Technicolor, 95 mins.

This post is part of The Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click HERE to see the schedule.




  1. Hey Ruth!

    OMG I loved this passage: “The best part about Bacall’s character is that she talks like a gangster. She refers to the penthouse as “a joint like this” and calls their scheme a “racket”. She’s essentially Edward G. Robinson in a designer gown and beaded clutch.”

    Funny stuff, and you are absolutely right!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. My turn to get excited about a film I’ve never seen! I love the quotes you picked.

    “you’re a strictly a hamburger-with-onions dame but you won’t admit it.”

    This film sounds like a must see! All three stars are inimitable in their own way, so I’m with you, who care if How to Marry a Millionaire is also a fabulous fashion show! They balance it out with their incredible memorable style… Loved this post! Cheers Joey


      • I am going to watch some Bacall this week in honor of her birthday. Watched Man with a Horn the other day. Douglas really treated her badly. He knew what he was getting into when he married her, she never lied about her conflicted nature. And I think she did a hell of a job… I’m glad she left the cry baby and went to Paris with the pretty artist!!!! I’ll let you know what I think of the girls wrangling Millionaires… I love it already because of your amazing review!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this review Ruth. I’ve always felt a bit bad about liking it as it seems a bit… unfeminist, but it’s so much fun I’m always sucked in. As you mention, Travilla’s costumes are wonderful and the dialogue is sparkly, but what I really love is the relationships between the women, Bacall and Monroe especially. I have no idea if they got along off-set, but they have a warmth and a realness that’s lacking from so many contemporary female friendship movies.


    • I agree re: the relationship between the women. This movie is like a Park Avenue “buddy film”, no?

      I know what you mean about feeling bad about liking this film. One scene makes me absolutely cringe, and that’s when Cameron Mitchell asks for the exclusive fashion show for his “aunt”. But I love how Bacall runs down Mitchell’s character to her boss afterwards. It makes you feel better about what you’ve just seen.


  4. I already said I’m your fan, and this review didn’t disappoint me. And the film was great, too: I was watching with my mom and she really liked it (specially the outfits). My favorite part is when Lauren says she really likes old men, like that actor from The African Queen. LOL!
    Thanks for the kind comment!


  5. Great tribute to Bold Bacall. She sure was a class apart, a no nonsense girl. Smart, talented & highly intelligent.
    And she was bewitchingly beautiful, especially in her films from the 40’s.
    How to Marry a Millionaire, was a pretty good comedy. Enjoyed it, when I saw it years ago. But my favourite of Bacall roles tend to be besides the man she taught to whistle, Bogie of course!!!


  6. Your review was so great from start to finish, Ruth! I love your observations, like she was looking for “a new plan for marriage, one where neither her bank account nor her heart are at risk” and “she can be as smooth as cashmere.” I think it’s fun looking at clothes in movies so that and many of the other things you mentioned make me want to watch this. Everyone needs to watch a shallow movie once in awhile so we can relax and have a break from the heavy side of life!


  7. I’ve finished my entry for the Criterion Blogathon. I’m not sure how to submit it. I’ve sent the link to Criterion Blues by email (just like this one), but I’m not sure I have an email address for Speakeasy. I trust that either you or Aaron will post this wherever it needs to go.   Here’s the link:  

    Please let me know if you need me to do anything else.   Thanks.




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