How to Marry a Millionaire

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
How to Marry a Millionaire Movie Poster Image
Classic Hollywood legends sparkle; premise doesn't hold up.
  • NR
  • 1953
  • 95 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A character says early on that "marriage is the biggest thing you can do in your life." This premise is never disputed, nor is any alternative contemplated. It's no surprise that the main message from a Hollywood romance movie of this era is to follow your heart. As much as the woman thinks happiness in marriage requires using your head, she knows she won't truly be happy unless she's really in love with the man she marries.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Setting aside that the story is essentially about three young women on a quest to land rich husbands, they go about it in the nicest possible way. Although the women are always polite, get along while living together, and never want to hurt anyone's feelings, they don't want to make anything more of themselves than society dames enjoying their husbands' riches.

Violence
Sex

Two or three brief kisses are shown.

Language
Consumerism

Steinbock beer, Cadillac, Texaco, and Chrysler are mentioned once each, and a TWA airplane is shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As was typical of the era, the characters are shown drinking (champagne, rum, and beer) in social situations and smoking cigarettes and cigars frequently. Within the movie it's pretty matter of fact, but it's glamorized a bit by the mere fact that everyone looks good doing it.

What parents need to know

The only objectionable content in How to Marry a Millionaire is the premise, which is that the best thing a woman can do with her life is marry into money. It's a good opportunity to start a discussion about when in the past that was true (if ever), how things have changed, and whether more change is still needed. It's also a good opportunity to talk about how smoking in movies has changed over the years, what kind of influence it may have had on audiences, and how and why attitudes about smoking have changed. Otherwise, two or three brief kisses are shown, and there's a fair amount of social drinking.

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What's the story?

Three young women friends (Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe) decide that their best chances to meet rich, eligible bachelors will come if they live where the wealthy live. So they scrape together every penny they have to pay first and last month's rent on a luxurious Manhattan apartment, which serves as their base of operations. But landing a millionaire doesn't happen overnight, and soon they're forced to sell off the apartment's furnishings to maintain their lifestyle. As the apartment empties and they're reduced to folding chairs and camping cots, they of course find themselves falling for guys without a penny to their names. Will their hearts be able to resist?

Is it any good?

Parents and kids who are fascinated by old Hollywood will get a tremendous kick out of seeing three legends, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall, and Marilyn Monroe, playing to their strengths. (Not to mention a delightfully understated, elegant turn from William Powell.) It's a sheer pleasure to watch them do what they do best. Everything about the production under director Jean Negulesco (1953's Titanic, Johnny Belinda) showcases the star power of the three leading ladies, with the fashion-show sequence as a real highlight not only of the stars' appeal but also of Negulesco's careful eye and Nunnally Johnson's (The Grapes of Wrath, The Dirty Dozen) tight, clever script.

Although there's nothing kids shouldn't see, the movie's appeal will be fairly limited. Some extended shots showcasing the glory of CinemaScope probably thrilled audiences in its initial theater run, but today they seem intrusive and clunky. Also, the plot's about trying to find someone to marry, and the pacing is quiet and gentle. To go along for the ride, modern audiences need to set aside modern sensibilities about what a woman's best options are. If you (and your kids) can do that, you're in for a real treat. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the film's premise. Is marriage the biggest thing you can do in life? What's more important than having lots of money?

  • Why are classic Hollywood romances still so popular? Why do we enjoy watching them so much?

  • Three Hollywood legends star in this movie: Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe. Had you heard of any of them before watching? How do they compare to the biggest stars in movies today?

Movie details

For kids who love classic tales

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