You Wanna Catch A Mouse, You Set A Mouse Trap: How To Marry A Millionaire (1953)

The classic Hollywood films are forever hip and fun.  They are certainly problematic in their portrayals of class, race and gender; yet on occasion films seem to transcend their problems to offer a great viewing experience.  A fine example of this is Elia Kazan's film Pinky, which certainly portrays images of race questionably, yet manages to standup as a narrative and cinematic piece.  Another example of this is Jean Negulesco's How To Marry A Millionaire.  Despite dealing with the female sex rather frivolously, viewers are given a genuinely funny movie that manages to offer a sincere commentary on love without taking itself to seriously.  Furthermore, despite becoming an iconic film for star Marilyn Monroe, the film offers up a narrative centered entirely around three women, a rather unusual practice, not including the stereotyped women's films of a decade earlier.  From the opening and closing scenes of the 20th Century Fox orchestra playing, it is a laugh riot that is as fashionably sensible as it is nostalgically sweet.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of three women sharing a New York high-rise with the hopes of snagging a rich man for his money.  It is a tripled version of the classic gold digger storyline.  Despite casting Marilyn Monroe to play the near-sighted Pola, How To Marry A Millionaire, concerns itself primarily with the experiences of Schatze Page (Lauren Bacall).  Schatze leads the trio, which also includes Loco Dempsy (Betty Grable) through the best methods to assure trapping a wealthy gentleman.  Schatze's rules are at times elaborate, often using large parties to gather suitors, or selling grand pianos to allow the financial freedom to remain unemployed.  However, Schatze's most steadfast rule is that her suitors must be of an older generation, because she is steadfast in the belief that no young man is wealthy.  This is humorous for viewers, because her most adamant suitor is a young man named Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) who Schatze dismisses because she assumes him to be a gas jockey.  Yet, as viewers are shown, Tom is quite wealthy and simply hides it from her in order to make her love him for his personality and not his wealth.  Similarly, both Pola and Loco come to realize that their quest for rich suitors is futile and end up falling for men whose wealth is less than stellar, Pola for an equally visually impaired man evading tax issues and Loco for a forest ranger whose wealth comes from his love for nature.  Through a multitude of laughs and lavish moments, the girls realize that love trumps financial success, and that if one desires to be happy over rich, they can obtain the latter both figuratively and literally.

Despite being funny and positing a sweet notion of love, the film is undeniably problematic in its portrayal of women.  Each of the women represents a stereotyped female, whose character evolution is nonexistent and irrelevant to plot advancement.  Pola, despite being one of Marilyn Monroe's more unconventional performances, is a klutz whose poor vision results in her tripping over herself, running into doors and generally failing to assess situations.  The film unfairly correlates her visual disability with a lack of brains using her refusal to wear glasses a plot extension in which she incorrectly reads signs leading to her missing multiple chances at marrying a rich man.  Similarly, Loco is depicted a bombshell whose modeling ability outweighs any possession of common sense.  Schatze constantly berates Loco for attempting to find men at the local grocery, arguing that they will either be poor or of a lower class mentality.  Furthermore, Loco is shown as a woman who is preoccupied with self-indulgence, notably in regards to eating, making it seem as though she is incapable of human interaction on a significant scale.  Finally, Schatze proves the most problematic in that she represents a sort of hybrid between the femme fatale of film noir and a disillusioned widow whose only desire is self-preservation.  Schatze has multiple suitors yet seems indifferent to each, including those with wealth, because to her they represent an oppressive state in which she loses her freedom.  While this at first seems transcendent of feminine stereotypes, her character obviously and openly equates freedom with finance.  Furthermore, in Classic Hollywood fashion, she settles down and marries, making her quest for freedom futile and ultimately irrelevant.

So I have made it rather apparent that this film has problems, but with that being noted, I still loved this film.  The movie must be viewed contextually, it is one of the better Monroe films I have seen and it makes me want to delve into the other lush Hollywood films of the fifties.  Sadly, no blu-ray exists at this point so a regular dvd copy will have to suffice.

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