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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gypsy (1962)

An ambitious and ruthless stage mother (Rosalind Russell) is determined to make her little girl (Morgan Brittany, later Ann Jillian) a big vaudeville star and won't let anything stand in her way. Her focus on the girl has her ignoring the needs of her other daughter (Diane Pace, later Natalie Wood). Based on the smash 1959 Broadway musical that starred Ethel Merman in what many consider her greatest role, the film version has been much maligned and no one more so than Russell for stepping into Merman's shoes. Russell is not a singer and she's dubbed by Broadway star Lisa Kirk (KISS ME KATE) but Merman wasn't much of an actress. I'm in the minority that thinks Russell does a very good job as Mama Rose and in fact, she does most of her big number Rose's Turn in her own voice with Kirk taking over toward the very end. It's that rarity in musicals in that it has a very substantial book with complex characters and isn't totally dependent on its songs for its strength. But thankfully the songs are there and what terrific songs Jule Styne (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) gave us. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. With Karl Malden, Paul Wallace, Jean Willes, Harvey Korman, Jack Benny, Parley Baer and as the three scene stealing strippers with a "gimmick": Betty Bruce, Roxanne Arlen and Faith Dane.

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