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Retrospective film review: How to Marry a Millionaire

Sunday 19 February 2012
Words Spindle

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Marilyn Monroe,  Betty Grable & Lauren Bacall

Shatze Page (Bacall), Loco Dempsey (Grable) and Pola Debevoise (Monroe) are three young models sharing a New York penthouse, and getting by on their womanly wiles.

Now, alas, the methods in this film are not going to help you make a quick buck. I’ve tried hanging around the first floor in Marks & Spencer looking (without success) for a sugar daddy, and no one has ever offered to pay for my weekly shop in Morrisons… Maybe it’s a New York thing? Or perhaps I should consider becoming a bottle-blonde?

Anyway, though the film is not, as its title would suggest, an instruction manual for attaining the confortable lifestyle I (and, I’m sure, you) deserve, it is nonetheless an amusing and entertaining comedy of errors. The three women, hell-bent on securing millionaire husbands, find themselves in several compromising trysts, which includes one of them suffering from measles while snowed into a cabin in Maine.

How To Marry a Millionaire was the first film shot on CinemaScope, which 20th Century Fox invented the same year, and takes full advantage of the format. The apartment set is sprawling and elegant, and the (somewhat unconvincing) New York skyline outside is charming. The colour, too, is vivid and graphic, typical of early 1950’s Technicolor, and it goes some way towards making the film such a visual treat.

But the performances, too, are thrilling. Bacall plays against-type in her first comedy role and Monroe puts in the type of performance she could do with her eyes closed – including my personal favourite line: “Men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses” – and though Grable’s character is perhaps the least interesting of the three, there is little that can be said to fault her.

So, I suggest you settle down for an hour and a half and watch some gloriously frothy 50’s farce. Seriously, do it quickly before Nicole Kidman’s remake goes into production and tramples all over this classic.