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.”
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.
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.