[Cinema Sunday] ‘How To Marry A Millionaire’ – A Comedy Trifecta

How to Marry a Millionaire

You know, of course, that diamonds are a girl’s best friends. This is our proof of it.”Pola Debevoise.

January is wrapping up, so it’s time to close the chapter of Cinema Sunday’s Marilyn Monroe Month. And to send it off in style, this final Marilyn pick is an extra special one. That means it’s time for a little trip back to the year 1953. This was the year that saw Dwight Eisenhower sworn in as the 34th President of the United States, Elvis Presley cut his first albums with Sun Record Company and the first time the Academy Awards were broadcast on television. Over in the movie industry, 1953 graced audiences with a heartfelt romantic comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall. Jean Negulesco’s hit film How To Marry A Millionaire is still one of the best romantic comedies there is, thanks in no small part to Marilyn.

Jean (right) on set with Marilyn

Jean Negulesco is a name not many people will know or even remember, but that doesn’t mean his mark on movie history is lessened. During the course of his career as a director, Jean oversaw 38 different films, several of which were nominated for Academy Awards including How To Marry A Millionaire. It is clear from seeing the film, that Jean and Marilyn worked well as director and actress. He helped bring her character of Pola to life, helping her to stand alongside established stars Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. In fact, it is safe to say that Marilyn’s character is one of the great things about this hilarious movie.

Marilyn’s star was shining bright by the time she starred with Betty and Lauren. Thanks to the success earlier that year of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her marketability as a talented actress was without question. Pairing her with Grable and Bacall only helped enhance the overall appeal she generated to studios and audiences. The character of Pola Debevoise is an amusing and well-rounded one. A shy and a touch naive model living in New York City, she sets out with her roommates Loco (Betty) and Schatze (Lauren) to marry well-to-do millionaires. This path to prosperous marriages is laced with hi-jinks and hilarity courtesy of these three leading ladies. Along the way, Marilyn’s character not only finds love, she finds it in the most unusual way.

A line used several times by her throughout the film is, “Men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses.” As she traipses her way through the story, her first love is not what he seems to be. Alexander D’Arcy plays J. Stewart Merrill, a crooked speculator posing as a millionaire oil tycoon. He wines and dines Pola, but of course there’s nothing genuine there. And then the funniest thing happens. Getting on the wrong plane lands her next to Freddie Denmark (David Wayne), whom they are renting their apartment from. Freddie likes Pola, especially with her glasses on, and thinks she’s “quite a strudel.” In the end, Pola marries Freddie, and while he’s not rich, he makes her happy and that’s what matters.

While it can be said that over the course of Marilyn’s Hollywood career she worked with some big names, none quite tops working alongside Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. Grable and Bacall were and still are two of Hollywood’s sensational names. All three of them on-screen generates a lot of laughs because of how well they work together. Especially in the early scenes of the movie as they plot to land rich husbands.

At the time of its release, one wouldn’t think a movie such as this, even with high caliber star power, would go well with audiences. However, it not only did well, it exceeded the expectations, earning over $8 million dollars worldwide and being nominated at the 1954 Academy Awards for Best Costume Design.

Technologically, this movie represented a hallmark for Twentieth-Century Fox. It was the first of the company’s movies to be filmed using the CinemaScope wide-screen process. The success of How To Marry A Millionaire allowed Fox to market the process to other film studios including Columbia, Universal, MGM, Warner Bros., and Walt Disney Productions.

Its reviews also played a part in its financial windfall and nomination. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said of it:

Around a frivolous story of the maneuvering of three dumb blondes to hook themselves wealthy husbands, regardless of the usual ardent urge, the Fox boys have tossed the imposing wrapper of their new wide-screen CinemaScope and put the whole thing forth as an opportunity in entertainment that you can’t afford to miss. Within the mammoth dimensions of their giant-economy-size screen, they have dribbled a moderate measure of conventional, wise-cracking fun. As premiums, to take up the air space, they have put Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. And that constitutes the bargain package. It is obtainable at Loew’s State and the Globe.

January is on its way out the door, and this is saddening. It’s been a fun month looking back at Marilyn Monroe, her career and some of the great films made in the course of it. She was a queen of the silver screen, an actress who could command a powerful presence both on and off camera and was to so many, larger then life. And it is a huge hope that those who partake of these ribald articles find some small enjoyment in reading about the stars of yesteryear and the pictures they acted in. So to see off January and Marilyn in style, take time out of the day to enjoy How To Marry A Millionaire. It’s Marilyn at her finest, loaded with laughter, and is sure to guarantee no small amount of smiles and sighs at seeing such a wonderful happy ending.