The setting is New York City in 1953. Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable play three models who live together in a posh apartment in the city. Their mission: end world hunger and implement universal peace by 1954. Okay, I jest. They live by the mantra, which is also the theme of the movie, that it is a best “to meet a man in the mink section at Bergdorfs.” A wealthy, old catch.
Marilyn Monroe’s character is practically blind, but she refuses to wear her glasses in public or around eligible men. “You know what they say about girls who wear glasses,” she laments. Yes, we do, at least in the ‘50s. They don’t make passes at you. It is much better to refuse to wear your glasses and instead run into people, walls, go the wrong way, talk to plants and other inanimate objects and basically cause detriment to your eyesight. Better to be thought of as daft than as unattractive.
Her nighttime dreams are filled with being handed jewels from a treasure chest. Shhhhesh. She dates a guy with an eye patch that she calls Stuart and thinks is rich in oil.
However, Eye Patch is not her true love, as Monroe’s character keeps bumping into a character played by David Wayne, including on a plane where he butters her up and encourages her to wear her glasses, telling her how great she looks. This must be true love if he thinks she looks great in glasses – of course, Wayne’s character is having money/IRS issues.
Betty Grable’s character does, indeed, pick up a man at the mink section of Bergdorfs. Oh glee. That he is already married is immaterial. They have a strange conversation (perhaps appropriate in the ‘50s) about how he disinherited his daughter because she married a “gigolo.” Grable pretends to enjoy dinner with him and encourages him to invite her to a place he calls “ his lodge in Maine”. She does go to the lodge with him, but is outraged to find out it is not a lodge in that sense of having tons of members, like a country club, as she had envisioned, but rather a plain ole cabin. She and the older guy have a strangely platonic relationship where he says nice things about his wife, while Grable ends up in a romance with a younger driver/skier/ranger (played by Rory Calhoun).
At first Grable thinks the Calhoun’s character is rich, but then finds out he is just an ordinary guy. They even have an odd discussion about her mistake in thinking he is rich.
Lauren Bacall’s character seems to be the brains of the outfit. She’s been duped by men in the past and she’s a little jaded ( having just returned from Reno (implying a quickie divorce?) and complaining about a philanderer and a bigamist and an all-around liar). So this time, she’s not going for love or anything – she’s purely looking at the wallet and the portfolio of a man. She dates one that is 30 years older, lies about her age to make him thinks she’s older, but ultimately he feels that the relationship will not work – he tells her he is too old.
Bacall’s character continually turns down offers of romance from a more age-appropriate male (played by Cameron Mitchell) because, of course, he doesn’t appear to be loaded – she thinks he pumps gas for a living.
Bacall and Mitchell have a discussion that, in stream of conscious (my ode to Faulkner), goes something like this:
money isn’t everything- do you have money- I have a little-I don’t want to see you again if you don’t have any money.
Cold. “If you’re not loaded, you already have two strikes on you,” Bacall snobs. Really cold.
But she does keep seeing him. They enjoy eating hamburgers with cole slaw and going to the Statute of Liberty and making out in the back of a cab until . . .dilemma. . . the old, rich guy comes back for Bacall. Will she choose love with Mitchell’s character or material comfort the old guy (“he’s worth 30 million,” as Bacall brags to Grable, then she tells Monroe he’s got “50 million give or take a million”)?
She starts making out with the old guy, and soon he has the marriage license and she’s wearing a wedding dress. But she’s bored. They are just ready to say their vows when Bacall bows out.
Happy Ending Alert: Bacall’s in love with Mitchell’s character, the guy she thinks pumps gas for a living, but in reality is the richest one, worth about 200 million. Oh happy day. See, it really does pay to follow your heart. Sigh.
Disturbingly, throughout the movie, the three models describe the men in their lives as “loaded” and “old” and “unopinionated” and a “yawn.” These are the men they continue to date and see. If I were a part of the Men’s Movement, I would write a scathing review of this movie, pointing out how it objectifies men based upon their earning potential and bank accounts, and oppresses men to continue working in jobs they hate or in high-stress positions just to afford such a woman.
But I am a feminist, so I will stick to my usual rant about how it makes women look like shallow, cold-hearted, gold-diggers. And also how it objectifies women, as all three are models and forced to appear scantily clad in various scenes.
The creepy part of the movie is that it isn’t really an allegory or parable or any kind of moral tenet about how this behavior is wrong. It really accepts the behavior at face value, even though the ending is tidy as the women supposedly follow their hearts and end up with the ordinary, average guys (Wayne, Calhoun), and Bacall gets a surprise when the ordinary Mitchell ends up being extraordinarily wealthy. Shouldn’t we at least be privy to a line or two about how being shallow and gold digging ruins your health or something?
It’s movies like this that make me ever thankful for the cultural explosion/rebellion of the ’60s. It was all too necessary.
I like this movie only for the fact that it shows us how far we have truly come in society and on film since 1953. I also find it really incredible, and encouraging, that Bacall is still alive and acting all these years later.
However, I don’t recommend the movie, unless you happen upon by chance, as I did, on some little known cable station and you’re bored out of your mind or procrastinating from doing something more important.
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