Thursday, March 15, 2018

a millennial "millionaire"

Jean Negulesco's irresistible comedy of 1953, "How to Marry a Millionaire," opens with an overture of sorts - Alfred Newman's "Street Scene," with the composer himself on screen conducting the vast Twentieth Century-Fox Orchestra - before it segues to the main titles and Lionel Newman-Ken Darby's "New York!," a song performed by a chorus with pile-driving intensity:

"New York, New York! You high and mighty, bright and shiny fabulous place, New York!
New York, New York! You busy, dizzy, razzle-dazzle, scandalous place, New York!
Guys with easy money tryin' to blow it! Dolls with hidden talent dyin' to show it!
Take off for Broadway by taxi, by subway! And land on the town! A merry-go-round!
New York, New York! Where millionaires and Cinderellas rendezvous at the Stork!
In Central Park, romantic babies and their fellas rendezvous in the dark!
Crazy city with its hat on the steeple!
Noisy city with its millions of people!
Doorway to glory and fortune and fame!
You'll never get your fill of it! Never forget the thrill of it!
Glorious, glamorous wonderland - New York!"

I took the liberty of printing all the lyrics in case you want to indulge in an at-home sing-a-along the next time Turner Classic Movies airs the film.

Which is often.

That said, its memorable opening, unusual for its time, was a conceit to introduce moviegoers to the wonders of Stereophonic Sound and the new CinemaScope process. "Millionaire" was planned as Fox's first presentation in a modern anamorphic format but its release was delayed. And so, "The Robe," a 1953 biblical epic considered the more important film by the studio, introduced CinemaScope. (The two titles were filmed concurrently.)

But "How to Marry a Millionaire" was perhaps hastily and prematurely dismissed as a playful trifle back in '53, given its narrative about three models sharing a luxury apartment as a ploy to ensnare super wealthy men. More than 60 years after its release, however, the film remains impressively modern and has grown in stature with time. It seems to get better every time I watch it on TCM.

Which is always.

To say that it's aged well is to seriously underestimate the film. It's effortlessly funny and incredibly watchable, thanks largely to the three-way chemistry and off-screen camaraderie of its leads - Betty Grable (a Fox veteran who receives top billing on screen), Marilyn Monroe (Fox's new darling who received top billing in the ads) and, in her first comedy, Lauren Bacall (who, of the three, provides the film with its titanic supporting structure and, despite its status as an ensemble piece, is the movie's actual star).

"Millionaire" was the first of  "three gals" pictures by director Negulesco (seen here with Marilyn, on her left) - followed by "Three Coins in a Fountain," "Women's World," "The Best of Everything" and "The Pleasure Seekers," all Fox releases.

And scenarist Nunnally Johnson (with Marilyn, on her right) - the author of "The World of Henry Orient" - based his fizzy script on two plays, "Loco" by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert and "The Greeks Had a Word for It" by Zoë Akins.

All of this is in preamble to a conceit of my own - a little fantasy casting. While I don't necessarily endorse the idea of remakes, I do appreciate that a few have worked - and must confess that I toy with the idea of a remake of "How to Marry a Millionaire" every time I stop what I'm doing to sit down and watch it yet again - yes, again - on Turner Classic Movies.

I can't resist - either the film or my fantasy.

Even though the movie purist in me bristles at the thought of an actual remake of the film (and would accuse Hollywood of creative bankruptcy if it even dared to try), I continually indulge my own fantasy version.

I'm not singular here. Fantasy casting is something that movie geeks have practiced for ages. But I tend to take it to solipsistic extremes.

That said, my version could be an update but I kind of favor the '50s milieu of the original. I would definitely retain the wacky names of the three women who dominate it and also would populate my version with - now get this - a cast of mostly millennial talent. My unlikely, unorthodox choices might seem blasphemous and worthy of ridicule - and, by all means, feel free to disagree and share your own casting ideas.

But the bottom line is: I believe in my vision. It could work.

And so, throwing caution to the wind, here's my dream cast...

~The Women~

Kristen Stewart as Schatze Page (the Lauren Bacall role) - Stewart is arguably the best actress of her generation and she's done varied, compelling work with fascinating filmmakers ever since she freed herself from the yolk of the "Twilight" series (a franchise that brought her fame, fortune and a lot of negative publicity). Stewart has the perfect slouch and cynical air that the character Schatze demands. And, much like Bacall back in the day, it's time for her to have some fun and do a comedy. And I'd give anything to hear Stewart snap out the line, "Nobody's mother lives in Atlantic City on a Saturday night!," something that I'm certain that she'd invoke with the hauteur of a Lauren Bacall.

Emma Stone as Loco Dempsey (the Betty Grable role) - Loco is the most unaffected and least manipulative of the three women - friendly, down-to-earth and accessible, the same qualities that Stone has conveyed so effortlessly on screen. But the character is no pushover and is actually a lot smarter than she looks. As one of the potential monied targets in the film learns, it's unwise to underestimate Loco. It can be humiliating.

Miley Cyrus as Pola Debevoise (the Marilyn Monroe role) - Pola is something of a cartoon character, oblivious to her good looks and self worth because she wears glasses. She literally bumps her way through life and sometimes has no idea who's in front of her. She mistakes a thief for a visitor, and her date for a waiter. And about that date, does he have a black eye? Or is the guy wearing a black patch? The ever-playful, mischievous Cyrus, who has potential to spare, could be a revelation channeling Monroe's creation in a wholly contemporary way.

~The Guys~

Justin Timberlake as Freddie Denmark (the David Wayne role) - With Miley in place as Polo, I'd cast Timberlake as the seemingly shady guy with whom she keeps having unexpected encounters and who commiserates with her about the advantage of wearing eyeglasses. Timberlake hasn't made many movies, let alone film comedy, but he's always been witty and game on SNL and has a lightness about him. And like Wayne (who is just about perfect in the original film), he would be an attractively sensible, regular-guy foil for sweet Polo.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Tom Brookman (the Cameron Mitchell role) - Tom is a genuine millionaire who is written off by Schatze largely because he doesn't look like a millionaire. He doesn't carry himself as one. She sizes him up as a "gas-pump jockey" who eats "horseburgers" (which she kind of likes herself). Gyllenhall could be terrific sparring with Stewart, alternately challenging her and flirting with her, and I can already see him showing up with a golf club in tow for the design-house sequence in which Schatze and others model the latest couture fashions for him.

Chris Evans as
Eban Salem (the Rory Calhous role) - Thanks to a weekend trip to his "lodge" with Waldo Brewster (see below), Loco meets Eban who she thinks is a rich land baron with a ga-zillion trees. But Eban is just a dedicated forest ranger who enjoys overseeing said trees. This is a relatively small role but Eban's laid-back personality is in line with Evans' easy-goingness.

But then there's the other Chris - Chris Pine as Eban. Pine would be more than perfect, too. Decisions, decisions.

Warren Beatty as J.D. Hanley (the William Powell role)  - J.D. is a patrician and represents Old Money which is catnip for Schatze. Beatty has just the right amount of reserve and mature good looks for the role.

But then there's the temptation to see George Clooney as J.D. He's a bit younger and less reserved and might be more credible opposite Stewart.

John C. Reilly as Waldo Brewster (the Fred Clark role) -  It's difficult to imagine anyone but Fred Clark as a patented Fred Clark/conservative character but it's easy to imagine Reilly trying to impress Loco by complaining ad nauseam about his wife and her family and bragging about how he disinherited his daughter because she ran off with a guy he pegs as "a gigolo."

Sasha Baron Cohen as J. Stewart Merrill (the Alex D'Arcy role) - Again, it's not much of a role - a bit part really - but I can't think of anyone more appropriate to play the faux exotic guy who dazzles Polo with endless wealth. Plus, Cohen would look appropriately suspect wearing that eye patch.

So much for my solipsistic fantasy. Now share yours...

Notes in Passing: "How to Marry a Millionaire" was adapted into a TV series - by Johnson himself - in 1957 and ran for two seasons until 1959. In syndication. It reportedly has the distinction of being the first syndicated television show, although I would love to know why Fox didn't market it to one of the three major networks at the time. Anyway, it starred a young Barbara Eden (center) in one of her first roles as Loco Jones, the only character whose name was (partially) retrained from the movie. Merry Andrews (on Eden's left) played Mike McCall and Lori Nelson (on Eden's right) was Greta Hanson.

I'm a little surprised that the material hasn't been revived since, given that TV is into so much rebooting these days.

Also surprising is the fact that no one has thought to adapt it into a stage musical, given that Broadway has become so dependent on movies for (not-so-)fresh material. It's called ... creative bankruptcy.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

* * * * * * *

~images from "How to Marry a Millionaire"
 ~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1953©


Tracy said...

How about Jennifer Lawrence in the Bacall role?

Marvin Halpern said...

What about Christoph Waltz (sp?) as J. Stewart Merrill? Marvin

joe baltake said...

Marvin! Clever casting. Waltz could be a hoot in the role. -J

Kiki said...

I'm fine with Kristen and Emma but I think I'd do Scarlett Johansson. for Marilyn's part. AND she looks great in glasses.

joe baltake said...

Actually, Kiki, I think she’d be better suited to the Bacall role. There is nothing sweet and light and innocent about Johannson. But I’d believe her as tough-as-nails.

Daryl Chin said...

Tried to post yesterday but maybe it didn't take; just wanted to give a little background to HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. In 1931, Samuel Goldwyn bought the rights to Zoe Akins' play THE GREEK HAD A WORD FOR IT and proceeded to make a movie, though the title was changed ("IT" was deemed too salacious, so the title became THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR THEM). The stars were Ina Claire (top-billed, as Jean), Joan Blondell (as Schatzi) and Madge Evans (as Polaire); the movie was directed by Lowell Sherman, and the screenplay was by Sidney Howard (based on Akins' play). In 1936, 20th Century Fox decided to do a version of "three girls sahring an apartment"; it was called LADIES IN LOVE, directed by Edward H. Griffith from a screenplay by Melville Baker, based on a play by Ladislaus Bus-Fekete; the setting this time was Budapest, and the stars were Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, and Constance Bennett. (The line-up indicated the pecking order at Fox: Gaynor had been Fox's top female star since 1927, Loretta Young had just been signed to take over for Gaynor, and Bennett had been a top star who was freelancing.) In 1953, Fox tried again, and this time they actually got the rights to Akins' play, adapted by Nunnally Johnson, and directed by Jean Negulesco; the movie starred Betty Grable (Fox's number one star of the 1940s, on her way out, as Loco), Marilyn Monroe (taking over Grable's spot as Fox's number one star, as Polo) and Lauren Bacall (now freelancing after her Warners contract was over, as Schatze). Fox decided that this formula was gold, so no matter what the material, it was slotted to fit into this template. So John Secondari's COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (which was about various Americans in Rome, not centering on three girls) became THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN in 1954, with Negulesco again directing (as he would on all future variants); this time, the big star was Clifton Webb (who was actually Fox's biggest male star of the 1950s) and the female stars were Dorothy McGuire (freelancing, but Zanuck had a fondness for her because she had saved Fox when she took over from a pregnant Gene Tierney on A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN), Jean Peters (a Fox contract star coming off VIVA ZAPATA and PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET), and Maggie McNamara (under contract to Otto Preminger but he sold her contract to Fox). Then there was WOMAN'S WORLD in 1954, again helmed by Negulesco, though here the three women are housed in the same hotel, and the casting was June Allyson (borrowed from MGM, but on the verge of leaving MGM), Lauren Bacall, and Arlene Dahl (freelancing after leaving MGM), though it should be mentioned that Clifton Webb was once again topbilled. THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959) is a classic example of how Fox changed material to fit into a prescribed pattern: Rona Jaffe's novel had been about women working in publishing - secretaries, editors, aspiring writers. Somehow this was winnowed down to three girls, who wind up sharing an apartment: Hope Lange (coming off her Oscar nomination for PEYTON PLACE), Suzy Parker (being heavily promoted by Fox as a new star) and Diane Baker. Then there was THE PLEASURE SEEKERS (1964), which was supposed to be a remake of John Secondari's novel COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN though transferred to Madrid. By this point, Fox had few (if any) people under contract, and so the girls were played by Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley and Pamela Tiffin. (Secondari himself was very vocal in his denunciation of THE PLEASURE SEEKERS; he thought the material had been cheapened.) But there's no reason why HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE couldn't be remade, since Fox essentially did it several times over.

joe baltake said...

Daryl! Great stuff, as usual. Invaluable info. Thanks for sharing. -J

mike schlesinger said...

Wow, you managed to pick a whole passel of my least-liked actors; I'm surprised you left out Rebel Wilson. I shall ponder and come up with my own choices later.

Fox had actually used the story twice before HTMAM: as a B+ called THREE BLIND MICE in 1938, and then again as a full-blown musical in 1941, MOON OVER MIAMI. And Universal did a 1955 knock-off called AIN'T MISBEHAVIN'.

Also, the TV version of HTMAM is available on DVD.

joe baltake said...

Mike! Although I', here to please, I never said anyone would be pleased with my casting choices. I support my picks (like them all) but REBEL Wilson? Never!
That said, thanks for the additional information. And, yes, share your picks if you are so compelled. -J

mike schlesinger said...

Okay, you want a MILLIONAIRE cast, I'm giving you a MILLIONAIRE cast!

Schatze: Needs to be a bit older than the others. Smart, tough, sexy, funny. There's only one actress who's perfect for the role. You know it, I know it and in her heart Jessica Chastain knows it.

Loco: Down to earth, not as dumb as she sometimes seen, but a force of nature, and again, a bit older. This screams Laura Benanti all the way.

Pola: Young, blonde, gorgeous, also a lot sharper than she appears. The most criminally underrated actress working today, Rose McIver, nails this spot.

Freddy: A likable nerd, not particularly handsome. Paging Paul Giamatti.

Tom: Needs to be someone who can play rough-hewn and still be believable as a rich guy. I'd give this to Jon Hamm.

Eban: Crusty but lovable outdoorsy guy. My pal Jim Beaver in a runaway.

Hanley: Suave, polished, courtly. That would be Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan.

Brewster: Bald, mustache, hot-tempered tycoon. Who else but J.K. Simmons?

Merrill: Aging European Lothario. Perfect for Jean Dujardin.

When do we start shooting? :-)

joe baltake said...

Mike: Good cast! But way, way too old. I had a reason for titling my essay “a millennial ‘millionaire.” Think younger. -J

mike schlesinger said...

Oh, I thought you meant appealing to millennials more than casting them. Most of the characters need to be grown-ups, not whiny-ass kids glued to their phones and bitching about "safe spaces." :-P

joe baltake said...

No, I was clear that I would be casting millennials (and not teenagers, as you make them sound). And when you say "the characters have to be grown-ups," do you mean middled-aged? That would defeat the purpose of my idea.

Sheila said...

Joe- I love this film and my favorite scene is an early one with the girls relaxing on the high-rise balcony, dining on hot dogs and champagne as they plot their strategy. Great moment!

mike schlesinger said...

Middle-aged was 40 then, closer to 60 now. Well, all I can say is it's not a picture that would have much appeal to me. But I still love ya!

joe baltake said...

Mike- Anyone who would think to cast the incredible Laura Benanti in anything has a brilliant mind. -J

mike schlesinger said...

Well, thank you for noticing! ;-)

Vanessa said...

I enjoyed Mike's cast. Simmons is perfect for the Fred Clark role. And Pierce Brosnon is a good fit for William Powell. Great casting all-around.

joe baltake said...

Hey, I think Mike's casting is terrific, too. I went with millennial. He went with casting that makes more sense, dramatically. Hamm and Brosnan - and Benanti - are excellent choices.

Alex said...

Joe, my picks... Jennifer Aniston as Schatze, Kristin Wiig as Loco and Rose Byrne as Pola

Bonnie said...

How about an African-American version with Queen Latifah in the Bacall role (I see her as a full-figure model), Tiffany Haddish as Loco/Grable and Taraji P. Henson in the Marilyn part? The men could be played by Will Smith as millonaire Tom, Michael Keegan Key as the forest ranger, Kenan Thompson as the guy wearing glasses and Denzel as the older guy, Hanley (?)

Daryl Chin said...

Mike's comment on THREE BLIND MICE is wrong: that was a whole other franchise. It was a play by Stephen Powys, about three sisters who search for a rich husband. SISTERS! They were related, which they are NOT in THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR IT! In 1936, THREE BLIND MICE was made as a Loretta Young vehicle, with Marjorie Weaver and Pauline Moore as her sisters (directed by William A. Seiter, written by Brown Holmes and Lynn Starling from a play by Powys). Then it was remade as a musical in 1941, MOON OVER MIAMI, as a Betty Grable vehicle with Carole Landis and Charlotte Greenwood costarring (one change: it's two sisters and their maiden aunt), with Walter Lang directing from a screenplay by Vincent Lawrence, George Seaton, Brown Holmes and Lynn Starling (based on a play by Powys); then in 1946 it was remade yet again, as THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE (again, a musical) with June Havoc, Vivian Blaine and Vera-Ellen as the sisters, with H. Bruce Humberstone directing, from a screenplay by Valentine Davies, Robert Ellis, Helen Logan, Brown Holmes and Lynn Starling (based on a play by Powys). It is not the same as THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR THEM-LADIES IN LOVE-HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE: important distinction: the three girls are related in THREE BLIND MICE-MOON OVER MIAMI-THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE. And there's an inheritance involved. (No inheritance in THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR IT.) And look at the credits, where you will see the distinction (NOT based on Zoe Akins, but Stephen Powys).

a.n. said...

Some enterprising filmmaker would cause a controversy and make bundles if he/she cast the Trump triumverate in the leads - Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and Summer Zervos! I'd buy a ticket!

mike schlesinger said...

Daryl is correct, but the provenance isn't that important. They're all the same plot, and it goes back to SALLY, IRENE AND MARY, a 1922 play that was first filmed in 1925, and has become the de facto nickname for this sub-genre. (We could also throw in THREE WISE GIRLS from 1932, which is ostensibly original.) The fact that Fox went back to this well over and over again is what's key here, not which source material they used as a foundation.

And thanks for the casting compliments, everyone! Sometimes I think I missed my true calling.

mike schlesinger said...

A.N.: Since the operative is "marry," shouldn't the stars be Ivana, Marla and Melania? ;-)

joe baltake said...

Good one, Mike!

m.h. said...

Joe, thanks much much much to Daryl and Mike for the very very informative posts. They both must have been, or maybe are, in the entertainment industry.

wwolfe said...

Each year, the L.A. Conservancy shows old movies at the surviving downtown movie palaces. A few years ago, my wife and I saw "How to Marry a Millionaire" as a part of this series and we were amazed at how enjoyable it was. For that showing, the Conservancy used the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and, although it wasn't one of the classic downtown theaters, it's mid-century modern architecture was perfect for a mid-century modern movie. Thanks for giving this underrated movie its due.

Joanne said...

Some of the casting choices made me laugh out loud. And I learned a new word - solipsistic - so now I have to find a way to use it.

k.o. said...

Abput your and Mike's Trump-oriented casting suggestions, I'd buy a ticket to if lawyer Michael Attavanti was my date!