I documented a few months back how The Flower and I were not really Marilyn Monroe fans. We didn’t get it, as they say. Some Like It Hot made believers out of us, and so we eagerly attended this Monroe double-feature instead of going to see the increasingly rarely-screened Blazing Saddles. (Eat-See-Hear is showing Saddles outdoors on their giant screen this year so I hope the tide is turning on hyper-sensitivity.) I, personally, have always had a hard time separating the first film in our double-feature How To Marry A Millionaire with the second, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes which I am going to attribute to the fact that both were released in 1953, and both are centered around the idea of attractive women using their looks to bag rich men for husbands.
And both feature Marilyn Monroe, of course.
In HTMAM, we have three top-flight honeys (as The Flower and I call them), Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Our story begins when Schtaze Page (Bacall) finagles her way into a penthouse (or at least very high up) apartment, recently vacated by a guy named Freddie Denmark (the once ubiquitous David Wayne) who’s on the lam from the IRS. Her plan is simple: She wants to bag a rich man, and she’s not going to find a rich man unless she hangs out in places where rich men hang out, hence the apartment.
The problem is, she can’t even remotely afford it. She calls in pal Pola Debevoise (Monroe), and Monroe calls in Loco Dempsey (Grable) who proves her bona fides by managing to buy a formidable lunch for the three of them with only a quarter.
None of the girls have any money, but they’re game to the plan. There are some issues, of course. Roadblocks, as ’twere. Pola’s suitor (Alexander D’Arcy, in an eyepatch) is an obvious phony, hoping to get her alone in some isolated spot for a weekend or so. Loco’s guy (the choleric Fred Clark) is married, and simultaneously irritated by her and any insinuation that he would be doing anything untoward while simultaneously doing everything untoward, or at least setting up everything in a particular way. Schatze is spurning the attentions of young, handsome Tom Brookman, played by Cameron Mitchell—which is kind of fun because the Red Letter Media kids have discovered late-era Mitchell in their “Best of the Worst” series, which we’ve been enjoying lately.
Here, though he’s young and handsome, Schatze spurns Tom because he’s a gas-pump jockey. She knows because she’s attracted to him, and that’s apparently sure sign of a gas-pump jockey. She’s divorced from one such specimen at the moment, and this is what spurs on her whole “marry a rich guy” quest. Her target is the very wealthy J.D. Hanley (William Powell) and he’s too savvy to fall for it: Not because he’s not attracted (duh) but because he feels the age difference, if not an issue now, would become one later in life.
Things heat up in the second act, when Loco flees from her married suitor into the arms of rich, rugged and handsome Eben (Rory Calhoun, speaking of guys with colorful end-of-life careers). All the timberland between this peak and that peak, he says, are his. But this turns out to be “his”, in the sense that he watches over them. ’cause he’s a park ranger living in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere.
Meanwhile, Pola keeps running into Freddie, who sneaks back to the apartment several times (there are many good gags around this) and when she gets on a plane to go visit eyepatch-guy, ends up sitting next to Freddie. The running gag with Pola is that she can’t see without glasses, which she doesn’t wear because she doesn’t want to look like an old maid. The movie plays this up appropriately. And in a not-too-surprising twist, J.D. realizes “Hey! Lauren-Freakin’-Bacall!” and heads back to marry her while Tom (who is clearly rich and hiding it) becomes increasingly annoyed with Bacall’s insistence on a rich husband. Even though he’s pretty hung up on her.
There’s a lot of good material here and the honeys, as mentioned, are top-flight. Now, Bacall, at 29 is really starting to show the effects of her smoking. Grable is cute, but she’s 32, which is a little long-in-the-tooth to play the ingenue—especially for the day—and she seems a little tired. She basically retired after this, remarking to Marilyn “You can have it” or something like that. The 26-year-old (third billed) Marilyn is perfect, and it’s no big surprise that they pulled her in after this for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
It’s a solid comedy with solid characters and a lot of fun bits, though it’s generally ranked well below Blondes. The Flower preferred this, however, both for the humor and the sheer quantity of honeys, especially Bacall. The Boy reluctantly would prefer Blondes. I…dunno. Both were terrific. And at 90 minutes, you can watch both in less time than the trailer for a Peter Jackson film.