Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How to Marry a Millionaire

The choice for this week of film viewing adventures with Nathaniel gave me pause. Each week we’re put (willingly) under quasi-duress to choose our favourite shot from a movie of our congenial host’s choice. This week, in celebration of Marilyn Monroe’s death anniversary, the film under discussion is the 1953 How to Marry a Millionaire. A film I saw once some time ago, and didn’t care much.

For some upfronts, I’m not particularly fond of Monroe. I’m not exactly cold on her, but I’ve never volunteered to see a film because of her presence. It’s the odd way I feel about a startling number of the female stars of the eras. Not dislike, but a strange case of apathy. It’s as if I missed a generation of Hollywood divas. I’d have seen this and probably loved it in the 30s when it starred Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne and Carole Lombard or in the 70s when it starred Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway and Diane Keaton. I mention two sets of stars because How to Marry a Millionaire is the sort of harmless comedy which depends little on the actual plot of the story and more on the draw of the performers. And, the performers are lovely but I find it difficult to get truly invested in their shenanigans.

The scheme goes thus: three eligible young ladies, the scheming Schatze (Lauren Bacall), the cheerful Loco (Betty Grable) and guileless Pola (Marilyn Monroe) rent a penthouse they cannot afford in order to attract and marry millionaires. Of course, over time, the ladies will come to realise that true love is of more significance than dollar bills even though Schatze is the only one who seemed certain of the opposite initially. The film is directed by Romanian Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda, Three Came Home, and significantly the 1976 The Pleasure Seekers which bears significant resemblance to How to Marry A Millionaire). I’ve not seen enough of Negulesco’s to uncover a potent style in his directing but I’ll offer of the five I have seen his films are modestly directed. To his vast credit here, though, when the film clicks it clicks not for its writing, but more for Negulesco’s panache. The awkwardness of the story loses its edges when mounted so easily and it’s not directed funnily per se but it is humorous.

None of the “funny” moments really demanded a citation for best shot, though, and what intrigued me most was the composition of the shots with the three women in them. Like this one.
It’s the first time they’re all together and it reveals such subtle things about their personalities. Bacall is the in the most upright position revealing her typical go-getting personality, Grable is in the most comfortable position (from my vantage point) indicative of her general resilience and Monroe seems removed from the conversation the two are having. She’s just happy eating her hotdog. (Which raises one of the oddpoints of the movies. Not only am I unconvinced Pola would be friends with Schatze, I’m curious why she even seems interested in finding a rich husband since her desire for wealth or upward mobility is specious at best.)

Consider that shot of three with this shot of three.
Monroe is positioned like an actual model. Like so many of her screen incarnations Pola is somewhat ditzy. She’s so easily distracted and seems completely invested in her model persona here. Baccall is annoyed (a persistent suitor is in the audience, the object of her disaffection) and Grable is just happy to be there. Then compare those two to my favourite one.
My Best Shot
The three have just been alerted to a part of oil-men to be attended on the morrow with a slew of potential rich bachelors to swindle. In the background is their empty apartment (they’ve been selling off furniture to pay rent). Then there’s the painting of the city behind – there are a slew of gorgeous city shots interspersed throughout. And even the positioning of the women amuses me. They’re all facing us almost, just almost, as if they’re breaking the fourth wall. Each reacting differently to the “promise” ahead. Loco is in her sensible brown (if pushed she’s the most rational of the three) with that net over face – as if to underscore the way she’s oddly ready for whatever comes at her. She’s looking ahead with a small smile as if to say, bring it on and she’s eating her biscuits because she does love her stomach. (There's an extended dream sequence later where the two other girls are dreaming of richness, but she’s dreaming of a plate plate of food.) Then, there’s Schatze. She’s looking off-screen, almost greedily, just thinking of all the potential money bags she could meet, her hand is at the ready as if just waiting to grab. And something about her ensemble seems so constricting. And it looks even more constricting because of the tension in her shoulders (so overcome with possibility?) I’m not sure if it’s the sweater, the long sleeves, or the scarf – which is placed around her neck almost as if it could asphyxiate her – so confined by her narrow perspective on romance is she. (The same scarf is done up in a more flattering manner in the final scene.) And, then, Pola. The epitome of iconic sex, Monroe is clad in a robe and towel oh, so subtly, suggesting of what she must have been doing before she put them on. The spectacles deliberately seem at odds with the ensemble. And her hands, clasped so placidly - really, Pola is just here for the ride. But it’s her expression which kills me. It reiterates, again, the way Pola doesn’t seem too invested in the main scheme of the film’s title, she’s so easily distracted it’s difficult to imagine she’d have the consistency to do so. Both other women are looking ahead, but Monroe is looking off to the side. Heaven knows what she’s distracted by, but the sanguinity of her expression intrigues. Does she espy a more pleasant film off right-stage?

Head over to Chez Nathaniel later tonight for a slew of Best Shot-ty posts on How to Be a Millionaire, I'm sure everyone else loved it more.


Tim said...

I have nothing of substance to add - like you, I find Negulesco's directorial style awfully plain - but I adore your description of Monroe's facial expression in your last paragraph there.

Jose Solís said...

I kept remembering that shot you hated on Mad Men (with all the partners standing in front of the windows) because these ladies always seemed to be posing.

Also, was this the only time Marilyn was seen eating onscreen?

MovieNut14 said...

I really liked this movie. Might watch it again soon.

By the way, I tagged you for a Liebster Award. Details here:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

tim and the expression, i'm sure, is just marilyn being marilyn or "marilyn" and not a direction from negulesco which even in my "best" shot sort of underscores how little control he seems to have over his actual film.

jose good call, and it probably makes me seem contradictory because this is my favourite shot here but it "works" here for me because the entire scenario is about them playing deliberately and being silly so the overly precise way of having them so posed is part of the joke. but weiner seems to be taking himself so seriously in that shot there and it's all so obviously NOT natural which he seemed intent on going for in "the phantom". but, *shrugs* you know me and mad men.

anna err, thanks?