Friday, July 28

Husband-Hunting Trios

Hollywood certainly never had a problem with recycling. It was accomplished most effectively with a trio of young women (often roommates) in search of husbands. The stories were all pretty trite and pointless but the actresses were almost always quite fetching and once in awhile the locations (usually European) made the film look more like an exciting travelogue with pretty hostesses. 20th Century Fox made a fortune with this well-worn plot.  Here are a dozen of them:

Ladies in Love (1936)

I've never heard that the later How to Marry a Millionaire was a remake of this early 20th Century Fox fluff piece, but it surely was. It concerns three young women who pool their meager resources to rent a swanky apartment (in Budapest, no less) so they can snag some husbands. Actually Loretta Young wants to open a hat shop (is that exciting... or what?), Janet Gaynor wants to settle down and raise a family and Constance Bennett wants a rich man.  The pairing of Young with Tyrone Power was so successful and generated so much fan mail that they were paired in four more films... all better than this one.

Three Blind Mice (1938)

This time Fox has the three women as Kansas sisters (Young again and not-so-well-known Marjorie Weaver and Pauline Moore). They receive a small inheritance and move to California to get themselves some rich husbands.  At least that was the plan but only Young remains steadfast in her determination.  What probably makes the film somewhat less enjoyable is that her character becomes increasingly unpleasant. She alone gets to choose between David Niven and Joel McCrea, both of whom are the best thing about this semi-stinker.  Its remake is next.

Three Little Girls in Blue (1946)

It's the musical remake of Three Blind Mice but the story is the same.  They're still Midwestern farm girls but this time they're heading for Atlantic City.  It was probably dusted off and hauled out to fit June Haver whom Fox was trying terribly hard to turn into a star.  Her sisters were the talented dancer, Vera-Ellen, and Fox's favorite supporting actress and a good singer, Vivian Blaine. Another blonde, Celeste Holm, made her film debut as a romantic rival.  I thought we were lucky indeed to have George Montgomery in the male lead.  

Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951)

Warner Bros had to get into the action, too, of course, but it's too bad it had to be such a B film.  It settled for actors who had seen better days, sets that were cheesy, an unimaginative script and did you catch that title?  Talk about cornball.  This time the hunt for the millionaires is focused on Las Vegas and one difference, perhaps, is that some of the relationships overlap causing the expected plot points. Dennis Morgan, Virginia Mayo, Gene Nelson and Lucille Norman are the stars.  A reward is certainly the LeRoy Prinz-choreographed dancing of Nelson and Mayo to Birth of the Blues Unlike some of these musicals, at least this one had some songs that were popular such as With a Song in My Heart, Tiptoe Through Tulips, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and the title tune. 

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

The familiar plot improved here a bit with a film that was brilliantly cast and highly anticipated, I can tell you.  I was there.  I only lived a few blocks from 20th Century Fox and billboards for the film were everywhere. Fox was saying goodbye to one blonde cash cow and costarring her with her replacement and adding a third equally famous actress to the mix.  Of course we are speaking of Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall. The title rather says it all but these New York temptresses each get two men to deal with. That was a switch from the usual plot. MM got her most frequent costar, David Wayne, and comically continental Alex D'Arcy, Grable got smiling hunk Rory Calhoun and Fred Clark (ouch!) and Bacall got seasoned and suave William Powell along with Cameron Mitchell who was never more appealing.  Bacall, although third-billed, actually had the focal role and oddly, was the only one who ends up with a millionaire. Starring these actresses together was the stuff of Hollywood dreams and Fox knew it. Additionally, the film was just the second to be presented in Fox's new wide-screen Cinemascope process and that didn't hurt. 

Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)

... and even more coins at the box office for Fox when it brought out this one just six months later.  Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Fox newcomer Maggie McNamara got to go to Rome and take part in throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain in the hopes that their romantic wishes would come true. McGuire works for a stuffy novelist (Clifton Webb) whom she has secretly loved for years. Peters, who is about to return to America, is the only one paired with an Italian (Rossano Brazzi) and he sweeps her off her feet. Wholesome McNamara falls for a womanizing prince (Louis Jourdan) whom she not only plans to marry but tame.  It didn't hurt that it had an blockbuster of a title song sung by Sinatra.  I would guess that Coins and Millionaire are the most financially successful of the films mentioned.

From left, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara

Hit the Deck (1955)

We can call it three girls in search of love but they don't have the man-eating aspect that some of the trios have in the other films.  In some ways its focus is on the men because, at its heart, this is a naval musical.  MGM surely hoped for another of its frequent musical blockbusters, but let's face it, most of those needed to star Fred Astaire, Judy Garland or Gene Kelly.  Here, things turned out a little more ho-hum.  Paired for the third and final time were two real-life buddies who shared a birthday, Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds.  Powell and Vic Damone sure had the pipes, Reynolds and Russ Tamblyn the cutes and Ann Miller and Tony Martin handled the grownup chores.  Walter Pidgeon and singer Kay Armen are around to lend an air of dignity.  

Les Girls (1956)

This film is usually panned by whoever is discussing it but it is better than a few of the others we're visiting.  That's not to say it was perfect because it clearly was not.  It concerns a lawsuit brought on by one of the former members of a dance troupe over a tell-all book about who was doing what to whom and when. The troupe is run by Gene Kelly who is involved in dancing and romance with three roomies, Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg.  It is told Roshomon-style where we get several versions of the same tale.  As a whole, the film doesn't work.  There are sloppy transitions and more tedium than was probably planned.   But taken in bits and pieces, it shines.  Most impressive is the deft comical timing of the wondrous Kendall (who would die two years later at age 33) and the talented dancing of both Kelly and Gaynor.  It had sparkling glamour because that's the way director George Cukor wanted it.  It would be the last movie under Kelly's long MGM contract and the last score that Cole Porter would write for a film, and sadly, not among his best. Jean Simmons, Leslie Caron and Cyd Charisse were supposed to be the title stars.  Wouldn't that have been something?

Gene Kelly and Les Girls

The Best of Everything (1959)

The majority of these films are of a light-hearted nature but this one, from Fox, is a drama and is my favorite of the bunch.  I've mentioned it a number of times in numerous postings.  It was based on a popular novel by Rona Jaffe about women working in the publishing business in Manhattan.  I saw it because its two stars, Hope Lange and Stephen Boyd, were great favorites of mine. Although they eventually paired up in the film, she loved another (who remembers Brett Halsey?) for much of it.  Suzy Parker plays a would-be actress who makes a fool of herself over a director (Jourdan once again).  Diane Baker is involved with an egotistical playboy, played to perfection by Robert Evans. It also has an orange-haired Joan Crawford as an executive at the company and a title song made popular by Johnny Mathis that I listen to to this day.  

Where the Boys Are (1960)

I've always had a fondness for this one from MGM probably as much as anything because it deals with college kids who travel on spring break to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for sun and romance.  At the same time I was a high school kid loving spring break on Balboa Island, California, doing... oh stop, I can't tell you.  This film actually deals with four women but we'll stop it here because just the usual three find what they're looking for.  The women are Dolores Hart, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss and the most popular girl singer of the day, Connie Francis.  Both Prentiss and Francis were making their film debuts.  Hart had a touch and go relationship with George Hamilton while Prentiss and Jim Hutton had the same. Francis' coupling with Frank Gorshin provided most of the comedy.  Mimieux played the loose girl whose life is spiraling out of control.  It was a screaming hit with the younger set, aided unquestionably by Francis' popular recording of the title song.

On the way to Fort Lauderdale

Come Fly with Me  (1963)

Still at MGM, we're now dealing with stewardesses looking for rich husbands.  If it feels like a true travelogue, it must be intentional. To its credit there were some lovely European locales used but by 1963, life was getting heavy, man, and this frothy stuff just didn't mix so well with the things that the youthful movie-going public was into. You get my drift?  The general plot was worn so thin by this point but that's not as much the point as is this casting.  It is among the most dreadful.  It's not that the acting is bad (exactly) but the cast is not well-chosen.  I don't know what Karl Malden was thinking... an actor of his caliber in this.  He and Lois Nettleton (not the typical ingenue type that populates these flicks) didn't get the memo that they were in a comedy.  This whole thing was probably made because of Dolores Hart.  The studio was still pinching itself over Where the Boys Are.  But she wasn't a very suitable actress for comedy.  She took life far more seriously (and it showed on her face) which may be why this was her last film before becoming a nun.  Virtually unknown Karl Boehm as her rather odd boyfriend was so depressing.  Only Pamela Tiffin and Hugh O'Brian seem to be having any fun at all. She showed what a wonderful comedienne she could be and he looked like he was having a ball poking fun at his own playboy image.

The Pleasure Seekers (1964)

Director Jean Negulesco knew his way around this format since he directed both Three Coins in the Fountain and The Best of Everything.  But it didn't work out quite as well this time for the very same reason as mention above... it was too late by 1964. Nobody cared.  Well, that's not entirely true. Fans of Ann-Margret cared. She had her batteries charged for this outing... flamenco dancing (it's Madrid), fiery eyes, a tussled red mane and all that bad acting. It's not likely her biggest fans cared much about whether she could act.  They gave her the lead and therein lies another problem... her story (with AndrĂ© Laurence as her intended) is the least interesting of the trio.  Tiffin is back in another amusing turn, trying to make her relationship work with Tony Franciosa. And Carol Lynley had the more serious role trying to juggle a career and an affair with her married boss, Brian Keith, and fend off, as the mood suited her, the romantic gestures of Gardner McKay.   As if...

And finally...

This is by no means an inclusive list.  There are more but really, how many can you take? I think luckily we don't see this storyline much anymore or at least I don't. It's been all but retired for a number of years.  Perhaps audiences are more jaded today and popular movies have to knock you off your feet with violence, car chases, space exploration, Marvel, CGI.  I'd like to think we've become more sophisticated in some ways.  The very notion that a woman's well-being depends on a man.  Who thinks like that? Still, if you want to see three wily women out to rope a man and do it in beautiful clothes and a few stunning locations, make some hot chocolate, curl up in your favorite chair and watch one of these.  If you don't expect much, you'll get more.  Tell your husband to make his own lunch. 

Next posting:
A good 70s film

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