As a lover of classic films, I feel this film needs credit and recognition. Directed by Jean Negulesco, How To Marry A Millionaire is a movie that everyone, at least in one point in their life, can relate to. I mean, let’s face it, who doesn’t secretly desire a wealthy significant other? One so wealthy that you wouldn’t have to work, or clean, or do anything displeasing really. It’s a comforting thought, sure – but how realistic is it?
Some might say that I dream impossible things, but I say that I’m a dreamer who understands that though we may not always get what we ask for – “The Universe” has a way of working out in mysterious ways. This movie works hand-in-hand with my beliefs. The story revolves around three models whose dream is to marry…well yes you guessed it, a millionaire, or at least a very rich man. But an unexpected turn of events ensues for each woman and you can’t help but laugh at each situation, It eventually warms your heart though and you allow yourself to root for them in the end.
The first scene displays an array of musicians from a large orchestra all in position. The conductor initiates the musicians to perform and a chaotic, yet at times, mellow song loudly plays. I understand that movies in the 1950’s entirely different from movies nowadays, but I’m confused on the purpose for this display. Perhaps to show us, the audience, that all the music the film is being played by a live orchestra. Definitely a dramatic approach, and a most worthy one at that considering it really packs a punch! Behold the power of music…
In the heart of New York City is where we begin our story in a very lavish apartment flat with a deal being struck between the landlord and Schatze Page (played by Lauren Bacall). In this moment, the landlord confesses that the flat belongs to a man named Freddie Denmark, who is known from time to time to leave for months (or a year) due to his shady accountant causing him problems with the IRS. She pays upfront for the first and last months rent and sends the landlord away after settling on a one year lease. Immediately she calls up Pola Debevoise (played by the lovely Marilyn Monroe).
Upon Pola’s arrival, the two decide to call up the newest recruit to their troupe, Loco Dempsey (played by Betty Gable), who Pola highly recommends claiming she’s a girl of class like themselves. With only a quarter to pitch in, Loco is initiated when she strolls in with a hunk carrying multiple grocery bags who apparently just helped pay her grocery bill since she claimed she had “only a quarter”. She has quite a knack for swindling men, always using her charms to entice gentlemen to do her bidding. Which means every day she brings home men carrying her loads of goods that she convinced them to buy, and she introduces them to her two girlfriends before he leaves. This hunk named Tom Brookman (played by Cameron Mitchell), seemed nice enough but Schatze wasn’t having any of it, and off she rushed him out the door without an introduction.
Speaking of the door…I find it bothering. A door twice as wide as a normal door with the door handle being in the center. No peep-hole as well. What’s the point? So not only do these women not have background checks on the men they date, but they have no way of even knowing who wishes to enter their domain! These women are already setting themselves up for failure unfortunately. They are the epitome of “city girls” who are at times completely clueless to the situation each one throws themselves into. I feel like the goal was to convince the audience that the “love is blind” theory stands true. Wish I could agree, but I can’t. To state that we are blind to an emotion that every animal is capable of feeling – is ludicrous. It’s not blindness, it’s unwillingness that can prevent one from experiencing such a powerful emotion. The mind can be in denial all it wants, but the heart knows what the heart feels. But in any case, they were blind as bats when it came to happiness – true happiness.
The ringleader of the trio, Schatze, has convinced herself and her “bubbleheads” (as she calls them) that marriage is “the biggest thing you can do in life”. Pretty hard to believe on a serious level since the only investigations they do involve asking a million questions about their personal life. That’s a recipe for disaster! For all they know, any one of those men could be con artists! I have to remind myself that times were different then, and people seemed to be not only courteous and respectful, but seem honest on most occasions. A rare thing to see these days…
Unlike Schatze, the two blondes (Pola and Loco) have never been married before so they appear as amateurs in this game of love according to their ringleader who had a failed marriage to a low-life. Although I do wonder if being brunette has anything to do with brains. In my opinion, the whole “dumb blonde” persona wasn’t even a thing until Marilyn invented it – or at least she capitalized on it. So I do believe to an extent that the director, Jean Negulesco, was trying to point out this “blonde” theory. Marilyn wins the crown on that title as usual. Her character, Pola, had eyesight that was so impaired that she would consistently run into things or go in the wrong direction unintentionally. She owns glasses but fears that “men aren’t attentive to girls with glasses” so she wears them only in secret, and in mere moments.
A major stoke of luck happens for these ladies when Loco brings over an older man named J.D. Hanley (played by William Powell), but is highly approved by Schatze, invites them all over to a party gathering with his business associates involved in the oil industry tomorrow night. Can you imagine it? A ritzy room full of rich men…and three desperately driven beautiful dames. Progress! On a side note, I praise the costume designer, William Travilla, for all three of these women always look fabulous, even in their sleep! The gowns are simply gorgeous and their makeup is never flawed.
At the event, each woman finds a suitor and each pair finds themselves in the same snazzy restaurant. Loco finds a rather bitter man, Waldo Brewster (played by Fred Clark) with a manly moustache and bald spot on the top of his head. Pola finds an Arabian gentleman with an eye patch and an interesting accent, J. Stewart Merrill (played by Alexander D’Arcy), while Schatze ends up with J.D. A conversation begins between each pair, and our ladies begin the investigations – asking questions of any marital relationships, job descriptions, and all the while trying to flirt and seem interested in their conversation.
Loco discovers Waldo is married and owns a lodge in Maine. Not great news to find, but her reaction to the news of his lodge delights him so much that he invites her to accompany him there in two days, which she accepts. Pola seems rather bored of her date, that is until he mentions the “millions” he’s made bringing a huge grin to her face. Meanwhile, J.D. puts Schatze in a damper mood with every girl’s name he mentions – only to find that he is talking about his daughter who is soon to be engaged. In fact, he’s divorced and both his kids are full-grown and moving on, which he’s admitted has made him lonely.
Over time, each pair gets to know each other well enough and things begin to take a turn. First, Schatze goes on multiple dates with J.D., which goes surprisingly well actually. So well in fact that he admits that the best thing for him in life would be to marry her, but it’d be the worst for her. As they talk, a rather strange man wearing glasses and a trench coat sneaks his way into the flat without their knowledge. Moments ago this same man was seen talking to one of the employees in the apartment building claiming that he’s Freddie Denmark, the owner of the flat the ladies are staying in. But to his dismay, he enters to find all his furniture gone which doesn’t seem to bother him a whole lot surprisingly. I can’t say I would react the way he did, but his attention was focused on the safe he is trying to open. However with Schatze home with company, it throws him off of his groove and so he aims for a stealthy exit. As he opens the door, in walks Pola, who assumes he is a friend of Schatze’s. Of course he plays along and bids her adieu.
In the kitchen, where Schatze is trying to seduce J.D., but is interrupted by Pola walking in, he informs them both that he’ll be leaving the next day and says his goodbyes. Just then the phone rings and a man asks for Ms. Page. Schatze recognizes the voice as Brookman and her attitude comes full-blown. Her problem with him, besides his persistence to win her affections, is in her mind she sees him a regular Joe with a non lucrative career. She denies his request to see her without hesitation and hangs up the phone. Poor guy. Luckily he’s a man who doesn’t give up easily. I find him rather funny for being so devoted to pursuing her, and a suiting fit to her snarky attitude for he’s got one to match.
Pola and her suitor make plans to visit his mother in Atlantic City on Saturday to announce their engagement, but when she calls him up for the details, he informs her of some unexpected business he must tend to which will delay their plans. So he proposes that she go alone on a flight and he will meet her there at Atlantic City. Suspicious if you ask me. He enlists the exact flight he wishes her to take, and as he says this he lifts his eyepatch to reveal a perfectly good eyeball. Remember how I said earlier that any one these men could be con-artists? Well this proves my point!
Now on the way to Maine, where we see Loco with Waldo riding the train apart from each other since he’s made it clear that he cannot be seen with any woman who is not his wife. He fears that he’ll be recognized and it could jeopardize his marriage since he’s a big name. They exit the train together and enter a car where the driver assists them upon arrival. To Loco’s surprise, the driver is a tall, dark, handsome stud, named Eben (played by Rory Calhoun), who happens to be a Ranger. Traveling down snowy roads they reach the lodge, only to discover a small log cabin unlike the luxurious Elk Lodge that she was expecting. Her disappointment sets her in an emotional state that she ends up sick with the measles. Of course this ruins their time together in a major way and sets their return date back quite a few days considering Waldo got sick after she recovered.
Now our unexpected turn of events begins with Loco. As Waldo was recovering in his bed, warm in the house, Loco wasn’t getting hot and heavy, per se, but things were getting steamy with Eben. A simple snowball fight ends up in a make-out session, and needless to say they begin to fall for each other. In time, she comes to realize that Eben is not the Texas Ranger she presumed him to be. He’s actually a Forest Ranger. She finds this unsettling at first but eventually her feelings overrule her judgement. Upon returning to New York City, Waldo and Loco are spotted on the drive there for being the 50 millionth Cadillac on the George Washington Bridge, and a crowd engulfs them for camera shots. I’m sure Waldo will think twice before he decides to tempt another woman again…
Secondly, we have Pola on her flight when a gentleman wearing glasses sits next to her. He glances at her, only to do a puzzled double take at the book she was peering at. Immediately he asks her, “Didn’t you bring your glasses?”. Confused, she pretends to act like she doesn’t wear glasses. The two converse more and Pola reveals that she thinks “men aren’t attentive to girls with glasses”. He convinces her to put on her glasses and they hit it off right away. Turns out he’s Freddie Denmark, the owner of the apartment, and the same man who snooped there days ago! He was on his way to hopefully catching his crooked accountant when he revealed they were on their way to Kansas City – not Atlantic City, as Pola had misread. However the case, their luck brought them closer together…
Lastly we have Schatze, where last we saw she was upset from J.D. leaving for good. But low and behold her admirer, Brookman, took this opportune moment to woo her. Every date he was with her, she would always say, “I never want to see you again”. But he knew better, for her predictable ways didn’t sway him and she eventually gave in to despite her “never wanting to see him again line” that she repeatedly used. Unfortunately an appearance by J.D. at her doorstep asking for her hand, sets her on a course for marriage to him. At the wedding, Schatze gets surprised by both Pola and Loco when they both arrive with their newlywed husbands. Both are enamored by their husbands and both are content with their inadequate lifestyles and incomes. Schatze is deeply bothered by this. As she stands at the altar she claims her ankle is injured and she must return to her room at once. J.D. confronts her and she admits that she does love someone else, some young, gas-pump kind of guy. He finds it in himself to retrieve this man, who just happens to be at the wedding, sulking in a corner, drinking away his affections for her. J.D. leads Brookman to her room and then leaves them alone to reconcile. Can you guess what happened next? Yep you guessed it. They get hitched!
Next we see all our gals sitting happily with their husbands inside a diner, when everyone starts joking about how much each one makes in finances. Brookman casually mentions little by little what fortune he has. No one of course believing in his ridiculous claims. That is until he asks for the bill, pulls out a thousand dollar bill from a thick wad of bills, and tells the waiter to keep the change. THUD! All the women collapse to the floor and the men make a toast to their wives.
Love prevails yet again! I’m delighted that all the ladies followed their heart, because truly that’s where happiness comes from. The heart – not the mind. A quote by Eric Mabius: “You do have to follow your heart, otherwise you’re living a false life.” Remember how I said “love is blind”? Well, in this case they were but only because their mind inhibited their ability to realize what would truly make them happy. Good fortune is nice and everything, but nothing compares to freedom that a true connection with someone brings. As they say, ‘Love is the key’…
Fun facts to know:
- Movie is based on the plays: The Greeks Had A Word For It by Zoë Akins and Loco by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert.
- First film ever to be photographed in the new CinemaScope wide-screen process, although it was the second CinemaScope film released by FOX after the biblical film The Robe (1953).
- “Creamy” was a slang word commonly used in the 1950’s to refer to something or someone as excellent or first-rate.