How to Marry a Millionaire is a terrible movie, and under regular circumstances I would skip reviewing it, but right now I feel like I need a little amusement in my life. In the case of this movie, it’s a good thing they don’t make them like they used to because there’s a whole host of problems with this one, from the original concept, to the casting, to the script, and to the direction. Despite what should be a reasonable cast, the whole the picture is just incredible dumb.
How to Marry a Millionaire‘s title doesn’t promise a deep, thought-provoking film, but when I decided to watch it I thought at least it might give me a laugh. Well, I got a couple, but most of them were me laughing at the film rather than with it. The story follows three models, played by Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and Betty Grable, who try to marry rich husbands. To this end, they rent a very expensive apartment in New York that they can’t actually pay for, and sell of the furniture to get by. Thus follows a series of misadventures in which the various women try to meet men, figure out how rich they are, then try to marry them if they turn out to make more than six figures a year.
Surprisingly, the biggest issue I have with this film is not the ridiculous plot that would make anyone with even a single feminist bone in their body vomit; it’s Lauren Bacall. Now, that may sound weird to some of you because Bacall is an icon and great actress, in fact, she’s way too good for this movie. Lauren Bacall is supposed to be playing the “smart one” in the movie, but the fact of the matter is, her character isn’t written very smart, just slightly smarter than the absolute dunces played by Monroe and Grable. These two actress both carry off their stupidity wonderfully (and I at least know that Monroe can play smarter characters than she does here), but Bacall is another story. Bacall not only seems smarter than everyone in the movie, even when her character is supposed to be a couple steps behind, but her character has zero subtlety when trying to convince men to date/marry her. Bacall’s character will basically flat out ask men how much they make a year, and that leaves the audience being like “come on, we all know you’re classier than that.” So Bacall is the one thing that saves this movie because she’s at least bearable to watch, but she doesn’t fit in with the larger tone and spirit of the film (stupidity).
It goes without saying that having a plot revolve around three clueless women trying to marry millionaires is not going to represent the pinnacle of equality among the sexes, especially made in 1953. The whole film is incredibly shallow, even though the end lesson is supposed to be money isn’t everything. First there’s the idea that the only way a woman can amount to anything is to attach herself to a man, but that was something, though obviously objectionable, I was able to get past fairly quickly because I expected it to be there. The main problem is that the women are all so dumb. They all set out to do this, then end up getting completely derailed and marrying whoever they want, which is fine obviously, but it seems to happen almost by accident because all of the characters are just so stupid.
Another complaint with the film that may seem strange: it should have been a musical. The score, the set, and the direction of the film all felt like something that should be a musical, and had they put some singing and dancing in, the film’s asinine plot may have been more tolerable. There is literally a moment in this film when Monroe comes out of a dressing room, modeling this bathing suit, and the announcer lady says “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” It’s like they were very obviously setting up a song there, but then they didn’t go with it, because this isn’t a musical for some reason. There are other times where we get these musical cues like someone’s going to start a musical number, but no, this isn’t a musical. Finally Negulesco (who has made musicals; I looked it up), has these Vincente Minnelli-esque flourishes (the furniture vanishing over time to the music, Bacall’s quick succession of dates) that are more at home in a musical (though it’s not like you can’t use them in a non-musical).
So I think it’s safe to say that How to Marry a Millionaire is a complete failure of a film. The best it could hope to be is a light entertainment, but it doesn’t even succeed at that. It’s just not funny enough, though there are a few laughs. Lauren Bacall is totally miscast, and just can’t play her character as dumb as she is. Finally, though this seems a unfair criticism I’m going to stand by it, the film should have been a musical. Add some singing and dancing in there to distract from the characters and the plot, and the film might have been slightly enjoyable.
Though Lauren Bacall does have this line, which almost makes the whole ordeal worth it:
“I’ve always liked older men. Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at that old fella what’s his name in The African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him!”
Long story short: 1.5/4 stars