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   GYPSY (1962) 

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CAST
Rosalind Russell
Natalie Wood
Karl Malden
Paul Wallace
Betty Bruce
Parley Baer
Harry Shannon
Morgan Brittany
Ann Jillian
Diane Pace
Faith Dane

DIRECTED BY
Mervyn LeRoy

PURCHASE


DVD




Memoirs




About Wood




Time: 143 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Musical/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Music.


The main reason I wanted to see this picture was for Natalie Wood. Though I haven't seen many of her films, there's just something about her that inherently intrigues me. She's got this smart, sexy, dangerous vibe about her that not many actresses can pull off. She seems innocent when you look into those big brown eyes, but you get the feeling she's hiding a dark secret behind them. Since I like musicals and this one was supposed to be pretty good, I decided to settle in for a wild ride. God knows the life of one of the world's most famous burlesque strippers had to be at least worth the price of admission...and not for the obvious reasons. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I knew with Wood and Russell heading the bill and directed by Mervyn LeRoy it was going to be entertaining.

Since the film is about the mother of all stage mothers, the musical numbers aren't as abrupt as they are in some musicals because the characters here are entertainers. They still burst into song every once and awhile, but most of the numbers are incorporated into the scenes quite seemlessly. The story begins a few years before the Depression at the height of vaudeville. Momma Rose (Russell) is relentlessly pursuing show biz careers for both her daughters, though it's clear that Baby June has most of the talent. Louise (Wood), the older less co-ordinated daughter, is relegated to being a prop for her sister's singing and dancing routine. She doesn't mind, she's just glad to be part of the show and is sure that one day momma will discover what she's good at. Though June is talented it's her mother's iron will that gets them onto the vaudeville circuit with a sell-out show. That and the connections of one Herbie Sommers (Malden), who used to be a big shot on the circuit himself. Herbie is wild about Rose and wants to marry her, but Rose is only concerned with her daughters' success and has been down that path a few too many times already. He sticks around because, despite her protests to the contrary, Rose needs him and promises him once they hit the big time she'll tie the knot.


"If I could've been, I would've been. And that's show business."

Well, the years go by and Baby June becomes Dainty June and the show keeps creeping along. The troupe struggles to survive payday to payday and Rose forces the girls to play young to keep the show alive. Unfortunately, they are in their early teens and they are starting to have dreams of their own. An audition for June with a New York heavy, splinters the mother/daughter relationship. June is offered the chance to become a real actress, which she desperately wants, but Rose says no. If she can't control June's career, she won't have one. However, June is more her mother's daughter than Rose ever anticipated. She runs off with one of the boys from the troupe to capture her own dreams. Rose is knocked for a loop by this betrayal, but comes back fighting with an idea to place Louise on center stage. Herbie's dream of a quiet home life is again dashed. There are several problems with the new plan: Louise doesn't have much talent, the show is decades old and the Depression is in full swing. The only reason Louise continues to go along with the plan is because she wants to be a star.

Her dream ends up coming true, just not in the venue she had in mind. Forced by circumstances to perform as a burlesque stripper, Louise finally discovers where her true talent lies. Though it was originally Rose's idea, Louise becomes a mega-star and it's more than Rose can stand. Rose hates the new wealthy lifestyle Louise has acquired for herself, because she's no longer in control and it's not hers. Louise thought that once she became famous her mother would finally love her. What she discovers is that her mother was pushing her into show business because she wanted to be a star herself. In the end, each comes to accept the other's strength and desires, forging a new bond of honesty and respect. Rose may never be able to realize her dream, but she was able to make it happen for Louise and that's nothing to sneeze at. She may be a stripper, but she's the best one in the country, which is better than being a housewife...at least according to Rose.

I always thought Rosalind Russell was great in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, but that performance doesn't hold a candle to the tour de force she gives here. This entire film rests on her shoulders as the driving energy behind the story. It can't have been easy to make this character likable. Rose is the pushiest, most relentless character I think I've ever seen onscreen and even though you know she's only doing it for herself, you still go along for the ride. There's something about her undying desire that keeps you on her side, despite the fact that she's torturing her kids. Maybe it's the secret yearning we all have for our moment in the sun that keeps us from hating her. All I know is, I couldn't take my eyes off her. The same goes for Natalie Wood, though she has the more thankless role in this adventure. The always demure Louise does whatever her mother tells her, but there's a fire inside this girl just waiting to come out. Louise's transformation from wallflower to heartbreaker is a show stopper. Once this quiet, young woman finds her voice, there's no stopping her.

It's their performances that make this stage play turned movie musical watchable. The sets and costumes are fun and colorful, but the staging is fairly tight and theatrical. It never quite makes the leap to a full force filmic experience. Because the film is more about their relationship than show business, it works well enough, but it's not the most visually interesting musical of the bunch. I didn't really find the songs to be that engaging either, but they get the job done, illuminating the story when they need to and adding some humor and flair at other points. All in all, not a worthless effort, but certainly nothing one has to rush out and see. Unless you like period musicals or Natalie Wood. Then you'll probably find this worth checking out sooner rather than later.



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