How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953, 20th Century Fox. Starring Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, William Powell. Directed by Jean Negulesco. Color, 95 minutes.
Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall), recently divorced, has joined with fellow models Loco Dempsey (Betty Grable) and Pola DeBevoise (Marilyn Monroe) to lease a high-class apartment for a year. Schatze, perhaps more than the others, is determined to bait and catch a millionaire, not the “gas station jockies” she typically falls for.
The situation is looking bleak when J. D. Hanley (William Powell), a widower of indisputable wealth, begins courting Schatze. While she’s genuinely fond of the older gentleman, she’s also being pursued by charming Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) a man she’s quite certain is too poor to be considered.
In the meantime, good-natured Loco finds herself falling for a man she believes to be well off, but in fact, is merely a park ranger. Pola, who can’t see a foot in front of herself without her glasses, literally bumps into the man of her dreams, someone with an odd connection to all three women.
How the women resolve what they’re seeking with what they’re finding is as fun and classy as the film’s three stars.
This was the second to the last film Powell made before retiring from films in 1955. True to form, he plays the debonair millionaire with grace and ease, acknowledging through his character he is no longer the star he had been twenty years earlier.
Bacall later recalled Monroe’s reliance on others for reassurance and her somewhat annoying tendency to demand take after take when she was insecure about her performance. Still, Bacall said both she and Grable liked Monroe and sought to build her trust.
Filming began only a few months after Bacall gave birth to her second child, and the production schedule required her and husband Humphrey Bogart to be apart for the first time in their eight-year marriage. However, she recognized the importance of How to Marry a Millionaire to her career, and both accepted the distance between them during filming.
This was one of the first films shot in CinemaScope, a wide-screen process owned by 20th Century Fox. Bacall recalled that filming required a number of changes to the usual production routine, such as placing actors further apart on the set to fill up the screen and filming an additional five or six pages of script with each scene. She found the latter to be more like stage work, something she appreciated.
How to Marry a Millionaire is light fare done well, with three stars who share the screen — and their scenes together — in a compatible manner, none dominating the others. Monroe’s sexuality is downplayed but evident, Grable’s effervescence is contagious, and Bacall is pitch perfect as the take-charge Schatze who’s upended by her own desires.