I recently attended a screening of How to Marry a Millionaire, a 1953 movie in which three of the era’s renowned screen sirens, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall, go on the prowl for rich husbands. It’s arguably the most straightforward depiction of gold-digging in cinema history. Yet during the pre- and post-film Q and A, no one made any objections (granted, it was an older crowd) to the film’s merciless portrayal of mercenary females or even mentioned it. Though central to the film’s plot and theme, hypergamy was not worthy of comment. Apparently, the concept is as entrenched in the modern cultural woodwork as it was in 1953. Well, what can you say except the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Well, times have certainly changed since 1953 (duh!), but How to Marry a Millionaire got me thinking. I pulled out some movie history books and took a look back at some other films that were released that year. What might appear to be a random assortment of good, bad, and mediocre films to a contemporary blue-pill man is a treasure trove of revelations to a red-pill man.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, for example, has a lot in common with How to Marry a Millionaire. Once again, Marilyn Monroe is out to snag a rich husband, but this time, she has just one partner in crime, Jane Russell (film critic Andrew Sarris characterized Monroe and Russell as “pagan goddesses of protuberance, fore and aft”). In one of the movie’s most famous scenes, Monroe croons the hypergamous “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” This was an appropriate time for Monroe to dig that gold because she turned 27 in 1953, and “Men grow cold as girls grow old,” according to the song lyrics. Russell prefers a different sort of alpha male, the buff, square-jawed type (a case of art imitating life, as she was married to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield). Her big musical number is “Ain’t Anyone Here for Love?” a bizarre set-piece in which she slinks her way among a group of scantily clad Olympic athletes working out and totally oblivious to her presence. I wouldn’t be surprised if this scene didn’t enjoy some sort of cult reputation in homosexual circles.
Speaking of musical numbers, 1953 also offered Kiss Me Kate, a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. I’ve got to believe this movie could never be made today. You might as well try to fund a remake of Birth of a Nation.
So women behaving badly was much in evidence on screens in 1953. Curiously, MGTOW, a key post-red-pill response was also front and center in three prominent movies that year, though the acronym was decades away from being coined. The most honored film (eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture) was From Here to Eternity. It has a lot to say about male disposability, male mother need, physical courage, and MGTOW. “If a man don’t go his own way, he is nothing,” declares dogface Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift). Well, said, Private MGTOW…but the U.S. Army probably isn’t the ideal arena for carrying out that plan.
Another film with military ambiance was Stalag 17. As difficult as life was for Montgomery Clift, it was no easier for William Holden (Oscar for Best Actor) as a MGTOW hemmed in by Allied POWs in a Nazi prison camp. As a black marketeer dealing with both his captors and his fellow POWS, he becomes the likely suspect when it becomes obvious that someone in the barracks is a spy for the Nazis. As with Montgomery Clift, he is not in the best environment to activate a MGTOW lifestyle, but he does have the last laugh.
One of the most prominent MGTOW movies ever, Shane is often described as a classic, albeit self-consciously so. Shane is a former gunfighter, the perfect profession (indeed, almost the perfect metaphor) for a man going his own way. Nevertheless, he parks his pistol and goes to work as a hired hand for a pioneer family, only to return to his lethal ways to defend them, and by extension, the community. Realizing he can never fit into the tight-knit pioneer community, he rides away and makes a U-turn towards MGTOWism. The message is that a MGTOW can sometimes be quite useful to the collective. If he’s willing to do the dirty work for the group, he won’t be shamed. You can almost imagine a gunman holding up a sign saying “MGTOW for hire…will kill for food.”
Compare and contrast Shane to Hondo. According to film historian William K. Everson, Hondo is “the best John Wayne vehicle not made by John Ford.” This time around the MGTOW comes to the aid of a single mother, albeit a pioneer woman with considerably more life skills than her modern counterpart. Unlike Shane, however, Hondo “mans up” and doesn’t ride away. Since he’s the killer of the woman’s husband (admittedly, not a credit to his gender), he can’t just shrug and ride away. Not that he’s pussy-whipped. After all, this is a 1950s John Wayne movie, so traditional masculine virtues are front and center.
If you’re into a man’s-gotta-do-what-a-man’s-gotta-do movies, then The Wages of Fear, the only foreign film in this survey, is for you. This French film deals with four desperate men doing dangerous – very dangerous – work, namely driving trucks laden with nitroglycerine over rough roads in a remote region of South America. Full-frontal male disposability is the theme here. Unlike Ghostbusters, this film will never be re-made with an all-female cast. There are some jobs women just won’t do, and even the most progressive movie producer wouldn’t throw money away trying to prove otherwise.
One of the all-time testosterone-heavy movie stars was Lee Marvin (“More male than anyone I ever acted with,” said French actress Jeanne Moreau; “Probably the most pure man I have ever known in my entire life,” said his mistress Michele Triola), whose singular talents were on display in The Big Heat, a police thriller dealing with civic corruption. In those days, violence against women in the cinema was a dramatic, not a political, act. In this film, for example, Marvin puts out a cigar in Carolyn Jones’s hand and throws a pot of scalding coffee in Gloria Grahame’s face. This scene horrified audiences in 1953, so today it would likely require a trigger warning in ultra-bold capital letters.
The Wild One also featured Marvin in a memorable supporting role, but the film is largely remembered today as the first biker movie, as well as for Marlon Brando’s brooding performance as an enigmatic rebel. Famously, when asked what he’s rebelling against, Brando replies, “What have you got?” He was literally a rebel without a cause two years before James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Today such behavior in young men would be described as toxic masculinity. Back then it was called juvenile delinquency – a term that seems to have fallen into disuse.
While Brando was solidifying his image as a mumbling male sex symbol, more traditional men were still on the screen. Mogambo was a remake of Red Dust, a 1932 movie about a love triangle on a rubber plantation in Indochina. Notably, both films starred Clark Gable. In Mogambo, even at age 52, he was still superb at projecting virility on screen and was just as popular with men as with women. You can see why he was called the King before Elvis Presley came along.
While traditional men had not gone out of fashion, believe it or not, gender fluidity was also onscreen n 1953. Glen or Glenda is one of the best-known works of legendary low-budget schlockmeister Ed Wood. The film came out one year after Christine Jorgensen, the world’s first transsexual, hit the headlines. Since Ed Wood himself was a transvestite (yet another obsolete term these days), he was likely a sympathizer. Notably, Wood not only directs but stars as Glen/Glenda, with an angora fetish sweater, which he had in real life (a 1994 video biography of Wood was called Look Back in Angora).
Another B-movie worthy of attention today is Cat-Women of the Moon. The eponymous protatgonistas are contending with a deteriorating atmosphere on the moon and want to migrate to earth. Fortunately, there is a spaceship on its way to the moon. The cat women (all with black leotards, heavy eyebrows, and widow’s peaks – but no tails) employ all the manipulative techniques in their bag of tricks to obtain a pussy pass good for a one-way voyage from the moon to earth. According to the advertising campaign, “They’re fiery…fearless…ferocious.” Don’t know why they left out “feline” and “female.” Also, don’t know why the MST3000 guys passed on this one.
Speaking of lunar cinema, The Moon Is Blue received a great deal of attention after the Catholic Legion of Decency gave it a Condemned rating, the only one dished out in 1953. The highly influential Francis Cardinal Spellman also condemned it. The film was released without the Production Code seal of approval, which was pretty much a given for every major feature in those days. So what were the film’s infractions? The dialogue actually had words like “seduction” and “virgin.” Thanks to changing times, the film got its Production Code seal eight years later. Today the film’s raciness wouldn’t rise to the level of a PG romcom. The movie was directed by Otto Preminger, who played the prison camp commandant in Stalag 17.
Also doing double duty in 1953 was Jean Negulesco, who directed not only How to Marry a Millionaire but also Titanic. The latter bears comparison to the overblown 1997 movie by director James Cameron, who always seems to go overboard (pun intended) when it comes to female empowerment. That isn’t a meme in the 1953 film, but there is a memorable scene where one of the passengers dresses up as a woman to gain access to a lifeboat and is duly shamed. Unlike Glen or Glenda, this film was not so sympathetic to gender fluidity.
Finally, we must bring Walt Disney into the mix. Peter Pan deserves mention because the title character gave birth to a syndrome synonymous with protracted adolescence in contemporary young men. Even though the original play (full name: Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up) by J.M. Barrie dates back to 1904, the Disney cartoon character is still the image in the public’s mind.
All movies, not just the ones mentioned above, are products of their times, but some manage to linger in the collective consciousness, and not just as curiosity pieces. The aforementioned movies speak to us just as they spoke to audiences in 1953, but the messages and meanings have been filtered by the passage of time.
After two-thirds of a century, marrying for money, as in How to Marry a Millionaire, is as popular as it ever was. But after a couple of waves of feminism, no red-pill man would view it as the lighthearted romp it was intended to be in 1953.