Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Seeing is believing



I watched How To Marry a Millionaire last night and (dialogues on sex and class aside) I was most capitavated by all of the visual gags, metaphors, and euphemisms for loss of sight.

Most obviously, Marilyn Monroe as the visually impaired Pola, stumbles around the film walking into walls and mitaking burglars for house guests. Afraid that no-one will love her with her spectacles on ("Men aren't attentive to girls who wear glasses," as she puts it) she sacrifices her vision for an ideal vision of herself. After mistakenly taking a plane to Kansas City when she had intended Atlantic City, Pola ends up seated next to her future husband who is also, "blind as a bat," and whom she has unwittingly met twice before. He is the man who persuades her to keep her glasses on, and well, from then on she sees everything differently, even ditching her gold-digging plans to go underground with her fugitive lover.

Lauren Bacall, as Schatze, is equally unable to see what's right under her nose, continually rejecting Tom Brookman, and his $300 million fortune, mistaking him for, "a gas pump jockey," due to his continual lack of a necktie. Though she loves him, she turns Tom down and almost weds a man she knows to be, "loaded," J.D. Hanley. J.D. asks her, "Do you believe in love at first sight," a question which brings us immediately back to Schatze's first, dismissive meeting with Tom, and her admitted attraction to, "grease monkeys." Her desire is in plain sight here, but love is not the aim of her game, so she tries to disguise the obvious by telling J.D. how ardently she believes in love at first sight, and teasingly, adds fifteen years to her age to make them look like a more compatiable couple. Of course, with age her suitor has developed clearer sight and announces that though it would thrill him endlessly to marry her, "nothing would be worse for you." Though he doesn't quite recognise himself to be on the doorstep of a marriage of convenience, he's still sharp enough to see the relationship for the dead end it is. Meanwhile of course, Schatze sees no other alternative to her dire financial situation, and constantly bemoans her secret millionaire suitor (Tom) for his lack of assets.

Up in Maine, Betty Grable's character, Loco, tends to an admirer she mistakenly agreed to spend the weekend with, alone. He is obsessed with not being seen together with Loco, being that he's a married man, and goes to great lengths to avoid detection. Falling ill with measles, and with Loco as his nursemaid, we see him bedridden with cooling pads of cotton on his eyes, unable to watch over Loco who starts a genuine affair with a ranger. The ranger shows Loco all the land that is 'his', and in viewing the panorama she is convinced he must be a timber tycoon and thus falls for him. Realising she has mis-seen, Loco later has to break it off, only for the characters of both admirers to be fully revealed when she is caught on camera with her grumpy millionaire in front of a pack of paparazzi. Her ranger however comes through as an allr-round good guy and the two marry. There's some sort of "true riches" metaphor running here, but you can look at that in your own time.

Bacall, Monroe and Grable all play models in the film, and in one of the most famous scenes, they display the Summer beach collection for Mr Brookman's private perusal. The tension her between the women the ladies and Tom is of particular note, he in effect conjures them up, they materialise before his eyes, on his command, he forces them to be seen. The rub is that Schatze still steadfastly refuses to see him for what he is.

Interestingly all three female leads have two love interests pursuing them throughout. Schatze has the millionaire she can see and the one hidden from her. Pola has her phoney tycoon, who himself wears an eye-patch, and the near-sighted man she marries, who is never seen without sunglasses or spectacles. Loco is stuck in the cabin with the rich man and the ranger. All three ladies marry the apparently flat-broke men over the millionaires, and it is not until the final scene that Tom comes into focus as the well-heeled gent he is. Of course, upon the revelation of this hum-dinger all three wives faint (off-camera) and disappear with a thud, out of sight.

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