Lately, I’ve been trying to adopt this more professional, less conversational tone for my film reviews. I’ve been reading my New York Times 1000 Greatest Movies book which features the original views and I’ve been trying to learn lessons on how to write movie reviews better. I dislike this film so intensely that I’m going to have to abandon that pretense for now (not that I’ve been great at keeping up with it lately anyways). I’ve mentioned several times on this blog about how I think that old comedies age significantly better than their dramatic counterparts (whose strict adherence to the Hays code mean that they are almost hopelessly naive and simple compared to modern, more morally complex affairs). How to Marry a Millionaire, the supposed classic starring Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall, is not one of those comedies that’s aged well. Sexist enough that it should have outraged female audiences of its own day, How to Marry a Millionaire is a soporific and deeply unfunny “classic.”
With the express intent of marrying rich men, New York models Schatze (Lauren Bacall), Pola (Marilyn Monroe), and Loco (Betty Grable) rent a glamorous high rise apartment (which was abandoned when its owner had to go on the lam for tax evasion) to set what Schatze calls a “bear trap,” to ensnare rich men. If you make less than six figures, you need not apply. Unbeknownst to Schatze, one of the first men they meet (Cameron Mitchell) is a hundred millionaire, but Schatze sends him off because she thinks he’s a schlub. Pola, who is blind without her glasses (but doesn’t wear them for vanity’s sake), tries to woo a one-eyed con man. Loco goes off on a disastrous trip to Maine with a married oil man while Schatze successfully woos the aging and incredibly wealthy J.D. Hanley (The Thin Man‘s William Powell) despite not having any feelings for him. However, the women quickly learn that love and money aren’t the same thing.
Almost everything about this film is an abject failure. The only time that I laughed that was more than a slight chuckle was when Lauren Bacall was trying to convince William Powell that she liked older men. After name dropping Roosevelt and Churchill, she mentioned “that old guy inThe African Queen” which is, of course, a fourth-wall leaning joke about her relationship with Humphrey Bogart. Other than that, only Marilyn Monroe’s character Pola’s complete stupidity was able to make me even smile. The jokes fell flat. There was far too much expository dialogue without any real jokes, puns, or gags. And other than poking some slight fun to Pola’s blindness, physical humor was completely absent from the film. When Betty Grable attempted to be funny, she just came off as more annoying and shrewish than a comedic leading lady (although none of the women in this film were at all likeable except for Pola).
I love Lauren Bacall. She had a mature and sizzling sexuality that belied her years (and the era when she was a star) that was on fully display in To Have and Have Not. She was able to show off her commanding and imposing presence in How to Marry a Millionaire but she never had an actual chance to be clever or funny. Even her snarky one-liners (which were Bacall’s specialty) fall totally flat. I’m not sure if we were supposed to root for Schatze (cause despite the film’s ending where love triumphs, it’s still an overwhelmingly greed and materialism driven film), but I know that I found her to be entirely unsympathetic. Marilyn Monroe is an awful actress even though she was the only one to make me chuckle besides the Bacall Bogie joke. Thankfully, the character required her to be fairly brainless so it wasn’t exactly a stretch. She’s gorgeous and she had a certain sexual presence, but her acting chops are non-existent.
This film had to have set the feminist movement back to the 1800s. Lauren Bacall’s character is obviously intelligent, but her grand scheme in life is to marry a rich man and not have to work the rest of her life. For shame. She’s one of the most commanding leading ladies ever and the role is beneath her. Katharine Hepburn would not have approved (since it’s essentially the opposite of her character in Woman of the Year). Even by the end of the film, the ladies didn’t learn to be independent. They just learned that the men they could rely on didn’t have to be millionaires (even though two of them have money). The greed on display was disgusting as well. Maybe that’s me allowing my liberal political inclinations to affect my writing, but there was nothing in the film that came down hard on their materialism and desperate desire for wealth. It just said love was stronger. It didn’t say their greed was bad. Gordon Gekko would be proud.
I do not recommend this film to anyone. Even hard core Marilyn Monroe fans. Not even big Lauren Bacall fans (of which I am one). There is virtually nothing redeeming about this picture except for Bacall’s natural magnetism (which is crippled by the script). The film’s an hour and a half long, and I still found myself mentally begging for time to speed up to bring this torture to a close. People wonder why the average “bad” score for a movie is a “C+” to “C-.” It’s because of films like this because at least films in that range have one or two things I can recommend (or are just actively mediocre instead of bad in any major way). I just pray that it’s another several months before my list for this blog forces me to sit through something as painful as this.
Final Score: D+