The elegant humor of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’

How do you like your comedy? You can have it with the broad strokes of slapstick, the fast-paced dialogue of screwball, a slash of darkness with a black comedy and a dash of romance with a rom-com.

Or you could enjoy the subtle laughter of a subdued, elegant comedy like “How to Marry a Millionaire.” While the plot doesn’t sound like a comedy – three ambitious gold diggers set their sights on bagging a rich hubby in New York City –  in the capable hands of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and a great ensemble cast, the movie will keep you smiling and laughing from start to finish.

That’s why this 1953 film is a favorite film of mine and my choice for “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” the theme of the 2021 fall blogathon from the Classic Movie Blog Association.

Setting the scene

Our female trio played by Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall aren’t shallow and underhanded as they appear on the surface, but insecure and hurt. They each have distinct personalities with endearing qualities that bring comedic elements to their roles whether it’s Bacall as the cool and collected Mrs. Page, Monroe as the daffy Pola or Grable as the unfiltered Loco.

After a more than 5-minute musical prelude, we meet the resourceful and sophisticated Mrs. Page (Lauren Bacall) as she’s renting a gorgeous Sutton Place penthouse fully furnished with a gilded grand piano and a patio with stunning Manhattan views.

Although it’s a deal at $1,000 a month (that’s about $10,000 today) because the owner is having income tax “problems,” it’s more than they can afford.  (The owner is Freddie Denmark, played by the wonderful David Wayne.)

But they need the penthouse. Mrs. Page – call her Schatze – is joined by Pola Debevoise (Marilyn Monroe) and “Loco” Dempsey (Betty Grable) in a plan to attract rich gentlemen by living the part in a swanky penthouse, gorgeous gowns and luxurious furs. (They are all upscale models which is the only explanation for their fantastic wardrobes.) The ladies even arrive in fancy cars by taking test drives in Chryslers (with gold trim) when they don’t have taxi fare.

They dream of marrying a Rockefeller or Vanderbilt. Is there a Mr. Cadillac or Mr. Texaco, they wonder? Schatze, burned by a quick marriage to a “gas-pump jockey,” still hopes to wed again but asks her friends what they would choose if they had their pick between marrying for love or money.

“It’s your head you’ve got to use, not your heart,” she tells them.

Schatze (Lauren Bacall, right) judges Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) by the patches on his elbow and lack of necktie despite him helping Loco (Betty Grable) buy groceries.

So when Loco (or Lo for short) arrives with four bags of groceries paid for by a stranger at the deli counter, the handsome Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), Schatze won’t have any of it. She marks him as one of those poor gas-pump jockeys and sends him away. (Viewers quickly learn the truth about Tom, so we can knowingly smirk each time Schatze declines his invitations.)

Skip ahead three months. They’re still single – not yet even engaged – and have hocked most of their furniture to pay bills. Only a tiny table, folding chairs and cots for sleeping remain, leaving Schatze to quip, “Where are we going to sit next week?” (The sight of the empty luxury penthouse is funny on its own.)

But their luck is about to change. When Schatze told her friends that you “don’t meet rich guys at the deli counter, but in the fur department at Bergdorf,” Loco listened. That’s where she met the kindly, older gentleman from Texas, J.D. Hanley (William Powell) who carries her packages back to the penthouse.

Do nice guy J.D. Hanley (William Powell) and Schatzy (Lauren Bacall) have a shot at happiness in “How to Marry a Millionaire?”

He invites the ladies to an Oil Institute reception that night and it’s payday. Pola meets mysterious oil tycoon J. Stewart Merrill (Alex D’Arcy) and Loco meets grumpy rich guy Waldo Brewster (Fred Clark). Meanwhile Schatze and J.D. hit it off.

The men are all loaded, but complications arise.

Waldo turns out to be married. While Loco doesn’t date married men (she’s not that type of girl), she naively goes to his lodge in Maine which she has mistaken for a convention of eligible single rich guys. Instead, she finds a shack, a handsome park ranger (Rory Calhoun) and a case of the measles.

Pola, who refuses to wear her glasses (“You know what they say about women who wears glasses.”), knows little about her smooth-talking guy. She can’t even see his phony eye patch which is a big clue. He talks big multi-million dollar deals and wants her to meet his mother – who lives in Jersey.

How blind is Pola (Marilyn Monroe) without her glasses? She doesn’t know she’s reading a book upside down as she sits next to Freddie Denmark (David Wayne) on a plane.

Poor J.D. is a sweet and charming widower who sees through the ladies. He grows to love Schatze but thinks their age difference isn’t fair to her. Meanwhile, Tom continues to call the seemingly uninterested Schatze.

As Schatze, Bacall is cool and collected, confident in her plan to marry for money after she was left with a broken heart. She stands tall and firm as she keeps her friends in check with the plan, but we can see the cracks in her armor.  There is humor each time she denies her feelings for time, telling him “After tonight, I never want to see you again.” Sure, Schatze, sure.

Marilyn Monroe’s natural comic abilities shine in “How to Marry a Millionaire.” Here, she sheepishly looks at her oil-tycoon date (Alex D’Arcy) after she walks into the back of the maitre’d because she’s not wearing her glasses.

Monroe, as we know, is a gifted comic actress. Pola’s refusal to wear her glasses sets up numerous comedic moments for Monroe as she walks into walls, bumps into people and doesn’t always know who she is talking to. The embarrassed smile she gives after her gaffes is endearingly funny. Her insecurities in wearing her glasses – which she looks beautiful in – also sets up my favorite sequence as she blindly boards an airplane to New Jersey.

As the extravert Loco, Grable portrays the energetic life of the party who wears her heart on her sleeve and can’t help but tell you how she feels. Her description of Waldo: “Mine is loaded, but he’s a real yawner.” She’s also the only who raises her voice, but it’s usually in frustration with herself as she knows what’s really in her heart.

In another funny scene, Walter Brewster (Fred Clark) makes Loco (Betty Grable) sit apart from him in an empty train car to protect “his” reputation in “How to Marry a Millionaire.”

Humor is even found in cranky Waldo. Played by familiar face Fred Clark who does charmingly grouchy as good as anyone, he makes it easy to laugh at his character. Waldo is a hapless chap in a miserable marriage who is afraid of getting caught and goes to extremes so he isn’t. An unhappy Loco and nervous Waldo sitting rows apart in an empty train car so one thinks they are together is one of those understated humorous moments the film does well.

“How to Marry a Millionaire” is a winning film in many ways. It is funny, irresistibly charming and an entertaining feel-good film that looks fantastic in vibrant Technicolor and Cinemascope.

It’s my movie prescription in the “Laughter is the Best Medicine” blogathon.

Trivia

The costume design is by Travilla who dressed Monroe in eight films including her iconic ivory pleated dress in “The Seven Year Itch” and the red sparkly gown in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Other versions:
Nunally Johnson adapted two stage plays for this movie, “The Greeks Had a Word for It” by Zoe Akins  (1930), which was made into the 1932 film of the same name,  and “Loco” by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. (1946)

The film was adapted into a 1957 TV series starring Barbara Eden, Merry Anders and Lori Nelson. It ran for two seasons.

A made-for-TV remake 2000 “How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale” turned the tables as a trio of guys – John Stamos, Joshua Malina and Shemar Moore – looked for rich women.

The blogathon

You can find links to other stories in the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s “Laughter is the Best Medicine” blogathon here.

A scary October: TCM’s schedule of classic horror films

The annual month-long Halloween horror film celebration hosted by Turner Classic Movies has returned with a packed schedule from Karloff to Kong, mad scientists to Satanists, and plenty of films starring guys named Lee, Cushing and Price. Multiple days have themes including the poetic horror of Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton (Oct. 4), Hammer films (Oct. 21) and killer animals (Oct. 26).

Here is the schedule of horror films airing on TCM in October 2021 with descriptions.

Friday, Oct. 1

6 a.m.: “King Kong” (1933). The original beauty and beast story.

8 a.m. “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932). Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong are targeted by a big-game hunter who preys on humans. Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack.

9:15 a.m. “The Vampire Bat” (1933). A village is terrorized with thoughts of vampires when bodies show up drained of blood in this film with frequent co-stars Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill.

12:45 p.m. “White Zombie” (1932). Bela Lugosi is a witch doctor who menaces a newlywed in what is considered the first zombie film.

The two faces of Frederic March in his Oscar-winning role(s) as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

2 p.m. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932). Fredric March won an Oscar for playing the dual roles in Rouben Mamoulian’s version of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

3:45 p.m. “Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933). Michael Curtiz directs Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill in one of his three horror films.

Fay Wray and Lionell Atwill star in “Doctor X,” one of their multiple films being shown on Turner Classic Movies.

5:15 p.m. “Doctor X” (1932). Curtiz-Wray-Atwill team up again in this story of murders at a medical college. Curtiz made the film compellingly tense, yet it has a comic flair thanks to Lee Tracy as the journalist on the case.

6:45 p.m. “Freaks” (1932). Tod Browning’s landmark 1932 film starring real people with disabilities resonates today with its statement about the idea of physical perfection.

Sunday Oct. 3

2:45 p.m. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945). Hurd Hatfield makes a deal with the devil to stay young. Co-starring George Sanders, Donna Reed and Angela Lansbury.

8 p.m. “The Birds” (1963). Birds attack for no apparent reason in this taut Alfred Hitchcock horror thriller starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor.

10:15 p.m. “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986). Musical remake of the film about a carnivorous plant named Audrey II. With Rick Moranis, Steve Martin.

Monday Oct. 4

8 a.m. “Bedlam” (1946). Boris Karloff commits Anna Lee when she tries to reform the asylum he rules over in this film produced and co-written by Val Lewton.

9:30 a.m. “The Body Snatcher” (1945). Karloff and Lugosi star in this early Robert Wise film about a doctor who buys corpses from a grave robber. Based on a short story by Robert Lewis Stevenson.

11 a.m. “Isle of the Dead” (1945). People are quarantined by a plague on a Greek Island where there also may be a vampiric demon.

12:30 p.m. “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944). This sequel finds the only child of Oliver and Alice from the original film in danger after befriending the ghost of Irena (Simone Simon), her father’s dead first wife.

2 p.m. “The Ghost Ship” (1943). Strange deaths follow a young sailor who joins a new ship. The fifth of Val Lewton’s films for RKO.

3:15 p.m. “I Walked with a Zombie” (1943). When zombie films were poetic – thanks to director Jacques Tourneur.

Kim Hunter, sitting on the floor, discovers a Satanic cult in “The Seventh Victim.”

4:30 p.m. “The Seventh Victim” (1943). A student (Kim Hunter in her film debut) looks for her missing sister and stumbles upon Satanists in this intriguing horror mystery noir.

6 p.m. “Cat People” (1942). Simone Simon as the innocent newlywed haunted by a family curse in this gorgeous film by Jacques Tourneur.

Wednesday, Oct. 6

12:45 p.m. “Forbidden Planet” (1956). More sci-fi than horror, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen.

2:30 p.m. “The Invisible Boy” (1957). Robby the Robot makes his second film appearance as he helps a 10-year-old try to save the world from a super computer.

4:15 p.m. “The Terminal Man” (1974). George Segal undergoes surgery to stop violent seizures – but the implanted microchips have an unexpected side effect. Based on the Michael Critchton novel.

6:15 p.m. “Deadly Friend” (1986). Another film about implanted microchips gone wrong, this time a lovestruck teen tries to bring his pretty neighbor back to life. Wes Craven directs.

Saturday, Oct. 9

4:45 a.m. “Schizoid” (1980). A woman must figure out who is killing fellow members of her therapy group.

6:15 a.m. “Dementia 13” (1963). A scheming widow trying to get the inheritance from her husband’s death is stalked by a killer in this first feature directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

11:30 p.m. “A Look at the World of ‘Soylent Green’ ” (1973). Short 10-minute documentary goes behind the scenes of sci-fi film.

Sunday, Oct. 10

10:15 p.m. “It’s Alive” (1974). Larry Cohen’s cult classic about a murderous infant. Yes, you read that right.

Vincent Price and his beloved Marie Antoinette in “House of Wax.”

Thursday, Oct. 14

4:45 p.m. “Eyes Without a Face” (1959). Influential films about a brilliant doctor who sacrifices others to graft a new face onto his disfigured daughter.

6:30 p.m. “House of Wax” (1953). Vincent Price stars as a gifted sculptor whose hands were burned in a fire. Look for Charles Bronson as lab assistant Igor.

Friday, Oct. 15

6:15 p.m. “Carnival of Souls” (1962). A woman who survives a car crash is haunted by the dead.

Saturday, Oct. 16

6 a.m. “Ghosts Italian Style” (1969). For something lighter, watch Sophia Loren and Vittorio Gassman as  husband-and-wife caretakers of a haunted castle in this ghostly farce.

Sunday, Oct. 17

8 p.m. “Poltergeist” (1982). A family terrorized by malevolent spirits who kidnap their daughter calls in paranormal experts. One of the best ghost stories on film.

10 p.m. “Burnt Offerings” (1976). Supernatural forces target a family that moves into a countryside mansion. Directed by Dan Curtis with Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis.

Christopher Lee makes multiple appearances as Dracula throughout October on TCM.

Thursday, Oct. 21

7:45 a.m. “Dracula – Prince of Darkness” (1966). The second of seven times Christopher Lee played Dracula. This time he doesn’t speak and he’s without Peter Cushing but it’s still very much worth watching. Directed by Terence Fisher for Hammer.

9:30 a.m. “Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967). Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) puts the soul of a murdered man into the body of his lover who then seeks vengeance for his death.

11:15 a.m. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” (1969). Dracula may have died in “Dracula: Prince of Darkness,” but he’s accidentally brought back to life here. Directed by Freddie Francis.

1 p.m. “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” (1970). Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) blackmails a young couple into a kidnapping to help him perform a brain transplant.

2:45 p.m. “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970). Once again Dracula is accidentally resurrected. This time it’s by three businessmen who kill one of his followers and he’s not happy. Christopher Lee returns for the fourth time in the title role.

4:30 p.m. “Crescendo” (1972). Stefanie Powers plays a young music student whose life is in danger when she travels to France to research a dead composer.

6:15 p.m. “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972). Lee and Cushing together again. In 1972 London, Dracula feeds off a group of devil-worshiping swingers including the granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham) of Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

Vincent Price is caught up in murder in “The Bat.”

Friday, Oct. 22

4:45 p.m. “The Bat” (1959). Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead star in a horror mystery set in a big old house that was once the scene of murders.

6:15 p.m. “House on Haunted Hill” (1958). A millionaire tempts five strangers with a big payday if they stay overnight in a mansion in this William Castle film. Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart are entertaining as the bickering rich couple who set it up.

Saturday, Oct. 23

6 a.m. “The Mummy’s Shroud” (1967). Hammer Studio’s third “Mummy” film finds a team of archaeologists yet again ignoring warnings as they mess with the tomb of a boy pharaoh.

Noon, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Victor Fleming directs Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Berman and Lana Turner in this remake of the 1931 film adaptation.

Sunday, Oct. 24

8 p.m. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” (1962). The only film pairing of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford works off their off-screen rivalry. An actress torments her wheelchair-bound sister in this acclaimed film that is part thriller, part black comedy from Robert Aldrich.

10:30 p.m. “Strait-Jacket” (1964). Joan Crawford is released from a mental hospital for committing a double murder, only to be the prime suspect in a series of axe murders. William Castle ramps us the suspense.

Monday, Oct. 25

12:15 a.m. “The Monster” (1925). Silent horror comedy about a meek amateur detective who investigates strange happenings in a mental asylum run by Lon Chaney.

Giant ants attack in the first of the big-bug movies “Them!”

Tuesday, Oct. 26

6:30 a.m. “Razorback” (1984). A giant wild boar is killing people, including a child, in the Australian Outback.

8:30 a.m. “The Swarm” (1978). Disaster king Irwin Allen turned his sights on nature for this killer bee film. Another great cast including Michael Caine, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Ross and Patty Duke.

11:15 a.m. “The Pack” (1977). Packs of dogs abandoned on a vacation island terrorize visitors.

1 p.m. “Rattlers” (1976). Rattlesnakes go on a killing spree in the Mojave Desert.

Giant killer bunnies go on the attack in “Night of the Lepus.”

2:45 p.m. “Night of the Lepus” (1972). The greatest film ever about killer rabbits must be seen to be believed.

4:30 p.m. “Killer Shrews” (1959). Giant rat-like creatures attack a group of people stranded on an island during a hurricane.

6:15 p.m. “Them!” (1954). The first – and still best – of the big-bug movies stars James Arness and James Whitmore who track giant killer ants.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

8 p.m. Carl Laemmle (2019). Documentary about the film pioneer who not only founded Universal Studios and brought us the Universal Monsters, but also helped save 300 families from Nazi Germany.

9:45 p.m. “Dracula” (1931). Bela Lugosi in his most famous role.

Thursday, Oct. 28

1:45 a.m. Carl Laemmle (2019). See Oct. 27.

3:30 a.m. “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925). Universal’s silent version with Lon Chaney features the greatest unmasking in film.

5 a.m. “Frankenstein” (1931). Colin Clive is the title character – Dr. Frankenstein – and Boris Karloff is his unholy creation.

Friday, Oct. 29

8 p.m. “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971). Vincent Price is wonderful in this glorious mashup of horror genres.

10 p.m. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). If you love zombie movies, thank George A. Romero for the original classic zombie thriller.

Saturday, Oct. 30

Midnight, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978). Director Philip Kaufman’s remake of the alien invaders taking over human bodies stars Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams.

2 a.m. “Hell Night” (1981). Slasher film about four college pledges who spend the night in a mansion where a family was massacred years earlier.

3:45 a.m. “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977). John Boorman directs this sequel to one of the most terrifying films ever made. Linda Blair reprises her role, Richard Burton co-stars.

5:45 a.m. “Creature from the Haunted Sea” (1961). A criminal bumps off his cohorts and blames it on a legendary sea creature – that may really exist. Roger Corman directs.

6:45 a.m. “The Hypnotic Eye” (1960). Authorities try to figure out why beautiful young women are disfiguring themselves. A chance to see Allison Hayes in something other than “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”

8:15 a.m. “Chamber of Horrors” (1966). A killer seek vengeance after he cuts off his hand to escape hanging.

Lon Chaney Jr., right, looks out for three siblings in “Spider Baby.”

10 a.m. “Spider Baby” (1964). Lon Chaney Jr. takes care of three siblings who suffer from a family curse.

11:30 a.m. “The Devil’s Own” (1966). Joan Fontaine stars in this Hammer film about teacher traumatized by a witch doctor who moves to a small English village.

1:15 p.m. “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957). Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star in the first of seven Frankenstein films from Hammer.

2:45 p.m. “The Haunting” (1963). My vote for the most terrifying “strangers spend the night in a haunted mansion” film.

4:45 p.m. “The Tomb of Ligeia” (1965). Vincent Price mourns his dead wife in Roger Corman’s take on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

6:15 p.m. “The Fly” (1958). Things go terribly wrong for a well-meaning scientist. With Al Hedison, Vincent Price.

8 p.m. “Frankenstein” (1931). See Oct. 28

9:30 p.m. “Young Frankenstein” (1974). Mel Brooks honors the spirit of the original Universal films with this genius comedic homage.

11:30 p.m. “Who’s Superstitious?” (1943). Short film on superstitions.

11:45 p.m. “Black Cats and Broomsticks” (1955). Short documentary (8 minutes) examines 20th century superstitions.

The lovely Simone Simon is haunted by a family secret in “Cat People.”

Sunday, Oct. 31

Midnight: “Cat People” (1942). See Oct. 4.

1:30 a.m. “The Leopard Man” (1943). Bodies are discovered around a town after a black leopard escapes. From Tourneur and Lewton.

2:45 a.m. “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” (1971). Strange occurrences happen when a former mental patient moves into a farmhouse that may be haunted.

4:30 a.m. “Carnival of Souls” (1962). See Oct. 15.

6 a.m. “Phantom of the Rue Morgue” (1954). Paris police are baffled in a search for a serial killer in adaptation of another Edgar Allan Poe short story.

7:30 a.m. “Macabre” (1958). A doctor has only hours to find his daughter who has been kidnapped and buried alive in this film produced by William Castle.

8:45 a.m. “White Zombie” (1932). See Oct. 1.

10 a.m. “Cat People” (1942). See Oct. 4.

11:30 a.m. “The Leopard Man” (1943).

12:45 p.m. “Mad Love” (1935). Peter Lorre plays a surgeon whose demented obsession with an actress leads to him to replace her husband’s mangled hands with those of a killer.

2 p.m. “Horror of Dracula (1958). The one that started it all for Hammer Film, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher.

One of the chilling scenes in “The Pit and the Pendulum” with Vincent Price.

3:30 p.m. “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961). Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for this film loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. Starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr.

5 p.m. “Curse of the Demon” (1958). An American professor (Dana Andrews) visiting London investigates a devil worshipping cult. Directed by Jacques Tourneur.

6:30 p.m. “Horror Hotel” (1960). A college student studying witchcraft is lured to a New England town where witchcraft isn’t relegated to history books. With Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson.

8 p.m. “Psycho” (1960). A secretary on the run for embezzling money makes an ill-fated stop at a roadside motel in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films.