How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

So this is why Marilyn Monroe is a star. As predicted in my previous review, I am indeed kicking myself for thinking she was nothing special. But Monroe is not alone in carrying this otherwise run of the mill rom-com.

How to Marry a Millionaire begins with Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall) signing a lease for an expensive New York apartment she definitely can’t afford. Schatze invites her two model friends Pola Debevoise (Marilyn Monroe) and Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) to live with her, in the hopes that one of them can nab a millionaire and pull the rest out of relative poverty. The cynical Schatze believes that if they talk the talk, eventually they can walk the walk (down the wedding aisle). Eventually the women meet three millionaires, but for various reasons none of courtships seem to pan out. Pola and Loco ditch Schatze’s plan, unable to resist falling in love with two men who are modest in wealth (David Wayne, Rory Calhoun). In the meantime, Schatze is courted by Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) who she refuses to believe is anything but a greasemonkey. When Schatze’s millionaire beau, J.D. Hanley (William Powell), returns to town she finds herself to be the only one of the trio who is actually engaged to a millionaire. In spite of Schatze’s stubborn cynicism, she can’t bring herself to marry J.D. and elopes with Brookman. In a twist for the ages (that everyone saw coming except Schatze), Brookman turns out to be even richer than J.D. The end.

My overall impression of How to Marry a Millionaire was that it was a cute romantic-comedy. It was by no means revolutionary, but I did enjoy watching it just the same. This was largely due to Bacall, Monroe, Grable and Powell’s performances. Actually, now that I think of it, every aspect of the film that I enjoyed was directly related to each actors’ charisma. Bacall was cool as ever (in both senses of the word) as she led the cast through a very basic screenplay. Grable (The most famous pin-up girl of WWII, known for her million dollar legs!) was served with Loco – probably the worst character in the script. She made a character that was both outspoken and stupid almost endearing to viewers…almost. Monroe’s character, Pola, was the classic “dumb blonde” and man, did she play the crap out of it. She was doe-eyed in every scene, her voice like whipped cream and of course, lovably insecure about her glasses. I think I finally get the Monroe hype. Lastly, Powell’s J.D. was kind and mature in a really nice way. (Almost like Lundy from Dexter if that rings a bell for you.)

I don’t feel I’m well acquainted enough with movies of this era to make a valid comment on the plot itself, but in general How to Marry a Millionaire was very cheesy and predictable. The fact that the entire film literally revolves around three women trying to get married isn’t the best either. It also wasn’t a particularly funny movie. I think sometimes modern viewers get so wrapped up in the novelty of an older film that they forget that these films still have a duty to entertain audiences. And yes, if a movie is genuinely good and destined to be remembered, I do believe its humour should be timeless. Monroe’s Pola did have a few slapstick gags related to her poor vision, but the jokes themselves were stale. It took Monroe to breathe life into them.

How to Marry a Millionaire is inoffensive enough to allow its stars to overshadow a mediocre plot. If you like the actors – watch it. If you want to watch a 5-star rom-com, worth its place in history? Maybe reconsider.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953): 7/10



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