Wise: Oh, Werth...
Werth: Is it just me, or is the whole world high on matrimony?
Wise: We’re snorting weddings like cheap cocaine.
Werth: Will and Kate just headed off on their crown-sponsored honeymoon, gay marriage ads are popping up on television, last week my dream-husband John Krasinski opened in the by-the-wedding-book rom-com Something Borrowed—
Wise: —and don’t forget Judd Apatow’s Bridesmaids walks down the aisle today.
Werth: It’s like a betrothal zeitgeist. And the worst part is I haven’t been invited to a single wedding this summer.
Wise: Cheer up. Maybe one of your Kansas relatives will require an unexpected shotgun wedding.
Werth: I think I’ll just curl up on my couch with a box of buttermints and a classic movie with a wedding in it—wait—not just one wedding, but three!
Wise: I love your over-achievement.
Werth: 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire follows three department store models who figure the best way to get ahead in life is to find a rich man and marry him.
Wise: Because nothing says traditional marriage like gold digging.
Werth: Loco, Pola and Schatze (you can’t make this stuff up, kids) pool their money to rent a luxury apartment in New York in the hopes of springing their mantrap on any eligible tycoons, heirs or lottery winners that they can find. And their bait was the best Hollywood had to offer.
Plucky Betty Grable and her legs had been a staple of the cinema and soldier’s lockers since WWII. Lauren Bacall’s sophisticated beauty had nabbed Bogey’s heart and everyone else’s in such film noir classics as To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946) and Key Largo (1948). And rounding out this cast of man-hungry beauties was the new mink in Twentieth Century Fox’s closet, Marilyn Monroe. Her hands still sticky from being immortalized in the wet cement of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Monroe was riding high on a wave of superstardom caused by her popular performance earlier that year in Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953).
Wise: Jiminy. Grable, Bacall and Monroe? That’s like the bombshell version of Sophie’s Choice.
Werth: Exactly the kind of quandry Twentieth Century Fox execs wanted. So to give the audience as much female perusal as possible, director Jean Negluesco shot Millionaire in Cinemascope, making it the first movie made in the new wide-screen format. (The Robe (1953) actually went to theaters first, but it was shot second.) In addition to the grandiose buffet of cans, kissers and gams, the acting styles of these three actresses complimented each other fantastically. Bacall’s droll, smart-mouth sophistication tempered Grable’s feisty “chorus-girl” spunk, and Monroe—well for anyone who thinks all Monroe ever did was play dumb blondes, Millionaire is a perfect example of how intelligent a comedienne she really was.
The well-proprotioned Pola has a manhunting handicap—she can’t see without her glasses. And since men don’t makes passes at girls who wear glasses, she takes them off whenever she’s working a room. Monroe gets to trip, stumble and grope her way across the screen, literally searching for her millionaire.
Wise: Like a pair of glasses would keep any red-blooded male away from Marilyn Monroe.
Werth: You have to suspend disbelief, but it gives Monroe the chance to strut her stuff as the adept physical comedienne she truly was. This performance goes a long way towards explaining why she was such a big movie star.
Wise: Do all three gals nab a Rockefeller for a husband?
Werth: Twists and turns abound with the male assistance of David Wayne, Rory Calhoun and William Powell, but let’s just say, nobody leaves the movie single.
Wise: Well not to one-up your three weddings, but one of my favorite wedding flicks has four weddings in it.
Werth: Are you going to review Big Love?
Wise: No, but I do have a big love for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). Following the misadventures of a close-knit group of singleton Brits as they navigate an unending season of weddings, the movie became a surprise hit when it was released, becoming the top-earning British film to date and nabbing an Oscar nom for best picture. Directed by Mike Newell and written by Richard Curtis, it delightfully captures all the pratfalls, misunderstandings, and exhilarations of falling in love. These guys have had a hand in just about every movie you guiltily watch rainy weekend afternoons: Love, Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, Enchanted April. It’s like they invented an entirely new genre of movie: the feel-good tear-jerker, British edition.
Werth: Which also describes frequent star of those films, Hugh Grant.
Wise: Four Weddings created Hugh Grant and his shambling, charming, floppy-haired persona. He was the It boy of the 90s, and much of his subsequent career has been playing either to or against this type. But he wasn’t the only star to emerge. Kirsten Scott Thomas, who was spot-on as the love-lorn Fiona, went on to an Oscar nominated turn in The English Patient.
Simon Callow, who played vest-loving Gareth, has been in innumerable films often playing similar grandiose characters. Plus he’s written well-received biographies of Charles Laughton and Orson Wells. And John Hannah, playing sensitive Matthew, turned this early screen role into a string of delightful performances in everything from Agatha Christie TV movies to action-adventure in The Mummy to the sword and sandal shenanigans of TV’s Spartacus.
Werth: I notice that you haven’t mentioned Andie MacDowell. Is it because she’s not British?
Wise: It’s because she’s kind of forgettable in this role. Don’t get me wrong. She’s perfectly lovely and believable as long as the camera simply lingers on her ethereal beauty, but once she starts speaking, it’s over for me. To be fair, she’s really playing a symbol while the rest of the cast indulges in a carnival of emotions. Still, she’s more scenery than screen siren.
Werth: So it’s not ‘til death do you part with Andie?
Wise: I would not get to that church on time.
Werth: Then let’s just leave her at the altar. Tune in next week when we say “I do” to more Film Gab!