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.
i loved your take on the film and Bacall’s character. It was a pleasure to read on a par with the pleasure of watching the movie.
Thanks very much! This film is so much fun. Whenever I’m feeling a little stressed, I watch this film. Oddly enough, it helps me put life back into perspective. 🙂
Love this movie! Bacall definitely steals the show — Schatze is older, wiser, and tougher. And her clothes… wow! Her wedding dress is just incredible. Great post!
Yes, exactly! That wedding dress is gorgeous. Bacall was a perfect choice as Schatze.
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!
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Ha ha – thanks! You just made my day. 🙂
I convinced my daughters, ages 21 and two 15 year olds, to watch this with me via Netflix and they loved it! Such a fun film. 🙂
I’m glad to hear your daughters enjoyed it.
You’re such a good mom, showing these films to your kids.
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
What?! You’ve never seen this film? I am shocked – shocked! – by that. However, you have some good movie watching ahead of you. I’d be interested in seeing this film getting “The Last Drive-In” treatment.
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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!
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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.
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!
Ha ha! That was a witty line, when Bacall said she’s crazy about What’s His Name from African Queen.
Aren’t the clothes gorgeous in this film? Both the women’s and the men’s.
Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I loved reading your article. After reading this, makes me want to pull out the DVD and watch it.
You might also like to check out my contribution for the blogathon. The link is below
It never occurred to me that Bacall’s character talks like a gangster. Great observation. Fun movie. Who cares if it is a little shallow?
Absolutely. With a witty script like this, who cares if the plot is shallow? Sometimes a person just needs a film like this.
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!!!
Yes, I agree. I LOVE seeing Lauren Bacall with Humphrey Bogart. They made some wonderful films, didn’t they?
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They sure did!!
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!
Yes, if you want pure escapism, this is the film for you. Everyone in this movie is so funny – it’s truly a witty script. Thanks for your kind words, Shari. 🙂
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: https://briandanacamp.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/criterion-blogathon-akira-kurosawas-judo-epic-sanshiro-sugata-1943-and-sanshiro-sugata-part-two-1945/
Please let me know if you need me to do anything else. Thanks.
Thanks great! I will add this link to the list. Aaron at Criterion Blues is hosting today (Thursday) and I’ll make sure he sees it.
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