Marilyn and the Women of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’

Writing for Collider, Julia Harari argues that ‘How To Marry A Millionaire Shows Degrees of Femininity, From Monroe to Bacall to Grable.’ (Julia has also written about Marilyn and Jane Russell’s ‘dynamic female friendship’ in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)

“There is a difference between a hit and a masterpiece, as shown in the success of Jean Negulesco’s 1953 film, How To Marry A Millionaire. Written by Nunnally Johnson (yep, real name), the feel-good flick was one of the most successful box-office hits of the year despite being little more than a fluff-fest of beautiful costumes, attractive women, and a chance to watch three actresses marinate themselves in trademark personas. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, because the lack of nuance or, dare I say, purpose, allows the viewer 95 minutes to enjoy Marilyn Monroe nailing dizzy innocence, Lauren Bacall staying in her lane with cool-but-dignified, and Betty Grable bringing an earthy sweetness to the trio …”

Turning to Marilyn’s role, Harari notes that near-sighted model Pola Debevoise’s “hunt for the juiciest bank balance is oddly charming and never at the expense of her innately good nature.”

If her interactions are more about sussing out property portfolios than personality, it’s done with an innocence that has little to do with airs and graces. J. Stewart Merrill (Alex D’Arcy) is the object of her attention, rocking an eyepatch and thin mustache that screams ‘I tie women to railway tracks.’ Apparently the getup isn’t enough of a giveaway for our bachelorette, and it takes a tete-a-tete with her proudly-spectacled landlord, Freddie Denmark (David Wayne) to give her a crash course in reality. Revealing Merrill to be as on the level as an M.C Escher staircase, Pola wastes no time in putting on her glasses (all hail symbolism) and deciding that her near-sighted companion is a bit of cutie patootie. With the relief of a bullet dodged, she rests her head on her soon-to-be husband’s shoulder, a heartbeat away from whispering, ‘That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.'”

Marilyn’s men: Alex D’Arcy (top) and David Wayne (bottom)

“Moving swiftly along to Betty Grable, Loco by name and nature,” Harari continues. “Salt of the earth, bang-up for a chat, and with an insatiable appetite, Loco’s cuddly disposition lures men from Bergdorf’s to Broadway, ready to carry shopping bags and pay for her groceries. It’s clear that her unbridled sunshine isn’t a good fit for Millionaire’s Manhattan elite …” Loco, who ultimately plumps for a handsome pauper over her stuffy (and married) millionaire, was the character Marilyn initially wanted to play. Grable’s name appears first in the opening credits – but as Marilyn’s stock rose, she took the lead in the studio’s publicity campaign.

“Rounding out the trio is Ms. Bacall,” Harari writes. “Not a natural fit for comedy, but using her coolness to good effect, Betty B plays the ringleader of the group, Schatze Page … One also gets the sense she could and would drop the women like hot potatoes, referring to them as ‘bubble heads’ and never once impressed by their ability to lure men into heavy lifting.” Although other critics have claimed that Schatze ‘wins‘ the movie, she nearly loses the game of love.

“It is an odd throuple to be sure, and the idea that this trio could work together, let alone inhabit the same apartment is a greater stretch of credibility … However, it’s not only the women who seem to have been painted with the finesse of a sledgehammer. The men of Millionaire are varying degrees of cad, with even the protagonists falling into boxes of either dodgy or feeble … The notable exception is William Powell, who brings a gravitas to his aging oil baron/ multiple ranch owner … Although he evokes a warmth and sympathy that makes an audience wish for him to get the girl [Bacall], upon closer inspection he may have dodged a bullet.”