How To Marry A Millionaire Review
How To Marry A Millionaire is significant for one reason and one reason alone. It was the first film to be made in Cinemascope, Fox's super widescreen system which was unveiled in 1953. It wasn't the first Cinemascope film to be released - that was the equally mediocre The Robe - but it was the first to be completed. That is absolutely the only original thing about the film since it's a weak variation on an ancient theme that would have been better forgotten. That it's worth watching at all is largely due to the gorgeous Technicolor photography and the star quality of three legendary actresses, all of them on good form.
There is so little plot that a detailed summary would be pointless. Lauren Bacall, looking stunning, plays Schatze Page, a would-be socialite who arrives in New York with the express intention of bagging a millionaire to ensure her lifelong financial comfort. She rents a high-class apartment in order to get the 'right' address, not worrying that she can't actually afford to keep the furnishings as she has to sell them to get enough cash to go to the 'right' places. she invites two of her friends to join her on the hunt; Marilyn Monroe's short-sighted Pola Debevoise and Betty Grable's decidedly annoying Loco Dempsey. In short order - but not short enough - they seem to find their men but fate has a few twists and turns in store, as fate invariably does in this sort of thing.
If this sounds more than a little like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes then that's not really very surprising. Hawks's film - a far superior work to this - was already in the can by the time this entered production and the opportunity to exploit Marilyn Monroe in a similar context must have been hard to resist. She was handled far better in the earlier movie, not least because it had a reasonably witty script and a decent director. Here she has a plodding collection of cliches cobbled together by the otherwise fairly talented Nunnally Johnson from a big hit of the thirties, The Greeks Had A Word For Them with Joan Blondell. She does her best with the material and her comic flair - and chemistry with Lauren Bacall - just about carries her through but it's yet more of the demeaning claptrap which she had to put up with during her time with Fox. Bacall is excellent and makes her idiotic lines sound halfway decent. Betty Grable isn't quite so lucky, given a character who is so irritating that you wish the skiing accident she suffers were a fatal encounter with a snow plough instead. She has the good fortune to play most of her early scenes with Fred Clark, a veteran comic performer who makes his scenes seem funnier than they are. It sounds, in outline, vaguely progressive - three strong women who know exactly what they want and go out to get it - but it's really the misogynist 'gold digger' stereotype in which women have one purpose - to get married - and one motive - to be rich - until true love erupts into their lives and they decide that all they really want is a nice man to keep them happy. At least there was some wit and satiric steel in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, some of it coming from the original material by Anita Loos. Here, similar material is sloppy, sentimental and totally unconvincing.
In a sense, however, the film deserves to be seen for what it is - the first major colour film to be released in the wide 2.55:1 Cinemascope ratio. Negulesco, never much more than a hack who sometimes got hold of good material (as in his best film, The Mask Of Demetrios) was encouraged or possibly forced to make the most of the wide ratio by including an irrelevant fashion show and some more relevant and genuinely stunning shots of New York. The whole film looks fabulous in fact, even during the talky scenes when he is clearly shooting for 4:3 by grouping his stars in the middle of the shot. On other occasions, the three ladies are spread out in careful order across the whole width of the frame - when this happens you can't help wondering whether it's really practical for them to communicate when they are so far apart. Kudos must go to the cinematographer Joseph MacDonald for making this very average film such a pleasure to look at. The richness of the colours in particular points forward to his best work, the cinematography on Nicholas Ray's masterpiece Bigger Than Life. But the slack plotting and slow pacing of the film mean that you have much to long to debate whether the wide screen is actually adding to or detracting from the film and whether, a couple of years earlier, more effort might have been put into making the screenplay tighter instead of making it all look so nice.
All the actors, with the exception of Grable (personal taste this, a lot of people love her), put on a good show with the standout turn coming from William Powell, an actor who could look stylish in a boiler suit. His relaxed charm comes across very appealingly in a film where the comic has been confused with the noisily hysterical. Cameron Mitchell is pretty good too, as a millionaire who is dismissed as a fake by Bacall because he was standing around "the cold cuts counter" instead of the mink department. David Wayne gets a few good moments as well, playing a tax attorney. But the overall problem of the film is its screenplay and the actors can't hide the fact that they are engaged in trying to resuscitate a corpse. A better director might have helped but in the circumstances, this is interesting more for historical reasons than artistic ones.
Incidentally, when you put the disc in you may be surprised to see a four minute concert sequence at the beginning, featuring the Fox Studio Orchestra playing "Street Scene". This was intended as a showcase for the stereophonic soundtrack and has no bearing on the film whatsoever. Some might say it is more entertaining than the main feature.
This is another of the discs in the Fox Marilyn Monroe Collection and it's technically very good indeed. Supplements are, to put it kindly, limited but the picture quality makes this worth a look.
The film is presented in the original Cinemascope ratio of 2.55:1. This is a little wider than your customary Scope film but the anamorphic transfer is sheer pleasure to view. Painstakingly restored to its original glory, there is nothing I can find to criticise. The picture is clean with no visible damage at all, the level of detail is superb and the colours are glorious. Full marks for this as one of the best restorations I have ever seen.
The soundtrack is in Dolby 4.0 and is a very acceptable version of the original Cinemascope four channel track. There is some directionality here with a spread across the front channels for the sound effects and the music and a small amount of use of the rear channels. Dialogue is, typically, mostly monophonic. This is, again, a very nicely restored track which is very easy on the ears.
The extras on the disc are limited. We get three trailers, all anamorphic, for the film - all identical but in three different languages; English, German and Italian. Rather strange really and possibly included because they were there to fill up the disc. The trailers accentuate the "miracle" of Cinemascope and the attractions of the three female stars. There is also a brief restoration featurette demonstrating the work done on restoring the film. We also get a 1 minute fullscreen newsreel clip of stars arriving at the premiere of the film in 1953. Added to this is the usual stills gallery.
Although the film leaves a lot to be desired, this DVD is worth a look as a shining example of how beautiful a fifties film can look when it's restored properly. As part of the Monroe boxset it serves its purpose but I doubt whether it would be an attractive purchase on its own merits.