How to Marry A Millionaire

How to Marry a Millionaire. 20th Century Fox 1953
How to Marry a Millionaire. 20th Century Fox 1953

Before watching the movie:

You couldn’t make this kind of movie today (I hope). Three women make it their top goals to marry into money. This will probably be a fun little romantic comedy romp running on outdated gender values, which isn’t in itself a bad thing, as long as one keeps in mind that it’s no longer considered healthy.

I was kind of looking forward to this until I put on my feminist glasses.

Anyway, three powerhouse ladies of the golden age of cinema in a story about taking control of their lives by manipulating anybody in reach with a thick enough wallet.

Maybe I should just get on with watching it.

After watching the movie:

Schatze Page rents a lavish penthouse apartment in New York with two other models, Loco and Pola, with the scheme to get rich husbands by posing as already rich. After a few months of unsuccessful hunting and selling off the furnishings that came with the place to make rent, they find themselves a set of marks. Schatze courts a widowed Texas cattle baron, Pola a man who claims to have oil concerns in the Middle East, and Loco butters up a married man hoping to get to his more eligible friends. But this mercenary plot is put in jeopardy by humans’ annoying tendency to have emotions.

This is certainly a product of its time, or at least more natural in its time than in the present. While there are those who date and marry for money, it isn’t as gendered a concept as these women deciding to exploit their only asset society deems valuable in order to marry the wealthiest man they can catch. I think today it’s more just a get rich quick scheme that happens to work better for one gender than the other. I think the movie is overall progressive for its time, supporting the women’s agency while also reinforcing the idea they do need a man, just not the rich men they try to lure. The other two girls aren’t as devoted to this worldview as Schatze, who hatched the plan after a divorce where “the woman came in second”, which the others are surprised can happen. Pola has a subplot about how she’s blind without her glasses, but refuses to wear them when she might be seen by a man, which I think is meant to be supportive of accepting women wearing glasses, but there is exactly one man we see encouraging her in her appearance with them, so it might be merely to show who the right man for her is.

Bacall puts in a great performance as a jaded, no-nonsense woman, though I think she plays much older than the 25 her cattle baron pegs her at. The cattle baron is a benevolent late middle aged man played memorably by William Powell, who expertly portrays the moods of that time of life, and the wisdom won in it. Meanwhile, Fred Clark plays a very much contrasting man not much younger than him, pompous, self-serving, and  more short-sighted than he thinks. I had a little trouble telling apart Grable and Monroe’s characters sometimes, since they’re both a bit ditzy, but in different ways. Playing extreme myopia, Monroe gets to do some physical comedy of a type she’s not really known for, and it plays well.

There’s an unusual feature to this movie where it starts with an entirely unrelated musical number. I’d read beforehand that this happens and that it was customary at the time to do this to give the audience time to settle down, but I was expecting a loosely-justified song or an overture playing over static imagery or the credits. Instead, the studio’s orchestra just sits on a sound stage and plays a piece from their repertoire for over five minutes. It’s an interesting approach, since while I did want to get on with the show, it’s nice to see the musicians get some on-camera recognition.

Funny, subversive but not extremely so, and at times tender, this is a fun experience beyond the time capsule of 50s gender politics, rolling along to a not too predictable outcome.

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