Saturday, May 9, 2020

Happy Mother's Day! - Gypsy (1962)

Warner Bros, 1962
Starring Rosalind Russell, Karl Malden, Natalie Wood, and Ann Jillian
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Music by Jules Styne; Lyrics by Stephan Sondheim

Not all mothers are as sweet as Myrtle Burt from last year's Mother's Day review Mother Wore Tights. Rose Hovick is the ultimate stage mother, pushing and shoving her young into show business, no matter what else they might want. The show remains wildly popular on Broadway to this day, but how does the first film version look now? Let's head to a small-time children's talent show, where two girls are about to audition, and find out...

The Story: Rose (Russell) is determined that her pretty blonde daughter June (Jillian) will be a vaudeville star, at the expense of her shy and less-talented older child Louise (Wood). Snitching money from her reluctant father, she hooks up with Herbie (Malden), a candy salesman with show business connections. Herbie helps her round up boys to perform in a vaudeville act centering around girlish and personable June, with Louise among the boys.

The act goes over well for a while...until the kids grow into teens, and Herbie begins to demand Rose marries him. June and the boys are tired of Rose regurgitating the same old act in different costumes and ultimately quit. Louise and Herbie are fed up as well, but Rose has another brainstorm. Now, the girls are boys, Louise is at the center, and Rose figures they're back on top.

Trouble is, it's now the 1930's. Not only is it in the midst of the Great Depression, but the one-two punch of radio and sound films is killing vaudeville. The new act ends up in burlesque, which with its strippers and slapstick comics, was the lowest possible rung for performers. Rose is ready to give up and marry Herbie...but she still wants to make Louise a star. If not vaudeville, Louise will become a star in burlesque, as the most famous stripper in history, Gypsy Rose Lee!

The Song and Dance: There's a reason this is considered to be one of the greatest musicals of all time. For once, the script of a musical is its strongest asset, making us understand why Rose can be such a force of nature and still attract Herbie and Louise. Russell does well enough with the book scenes, especially arguing with Wood towards the end, when she's finally realizing that her daughters are grown and don't need her constant fussing anymore. Wood more than matches her as the tomboy who's spent her life being told she has no talent, only to discover that her innocent womanhood may be her greatest "talent." Malden does equally well as Rose's soft-hearted lover, who loves her, but just wishes she'd stop shoving at her girls and be a wife.

Favorite Number: "Let Me Entertain You" is sung several times throughout the film, starting with June and Lousie performing it as a cutesy kid number at the children's talent show. It ends with Louise turning it into her big stripper number when she gets onstage at the burlesque show and realizes where her talent really lays.

Wood and Jillian also get the lament "If Mama Were Married" at the Orpheum theater, when they wish their mother would just give up the act and marry Herbie. Rose lures Herbie with the ballad "Small World" after he helps her when her car breaks down on the way to Seattle, and again when she thinks they're going to hit the big time, "You'll Never Get Away From Me." One of the boys (Paul Wallace) shows his dreamed-about solo act "All I Need Is the Girl" to a hopeful Louise. Three low-down but good-hearted strippers give Louise the advice that "You've Gotta Get a Gimmick," as they show hilariously just how different and similar to one another their "gimmicks" are.

Trivia: "Together Wherever We Go" and Herbie's part of "You'll Never Get Away From Me" were filmed, but cut. They exist and are included as extras on the DVD and Blu-Ray (though not in the best shape).

Ironically, given Rosalind Russell was dubbed, Natalie Wood did her own singing on "If Mamma Was Married," "Let Me Entertain You," and "Little Lamb."

What I Don't Like: Russell doesn't do as well when she's actually called on to sing. She was dubbed by Lisa Kirk, which leaves the big first and second-act closers "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn" without the necessary oomph to really portray Rose's determination. And it's obvious this is a Broadway adaptation of the 1960's. The movie is too long and very stagy; it's basically a filmed Broadway play.

The Big Finale: Come for Russell as the ultimate domineering stage mama; stay for the strong supporting cast, delightful score, and one of the best scripts in any musical.

Home Media: Easily found on all formats, including streaming; the Blu-Ray is from the Warner Archives.

Amazon Prime

No comments:

Post a Comment