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As others have commented, the film does (on its face) have things to
(potentially) enjoy: Judy's singing, Arthur Freed's handiwork, Cohan's
songs, and a possible musical and comic look at Irish immigrants in New
York. But in almost every way the film stiffs. Judy climbs from the
wreckage (as usual) unscathed: her freshness and energy nearly making
the film and songs rise to the level of entertainment. But George
Murphy is the complacent stiff, the songs are mostly mediocre at best
(except for a jazzy "Singin' In The Rain' by Judy), and worst of all
"Grandpa" is a character who - although meant to be curmudgeonly and
adorable in his irascibility - comes off as almost criminally abusive,
ruining his daughter's one leap at married bliss, and doing a good
number on his grand-daughter's as well. The actor in that role (the
usually reliable Charles Winninger) gives an unlikeable and near
one-note performance which constantly grates, until the viewer wants to
strangle him. This may or may not have been purposeful, but - in terms
of making the film (a light musical affair) bearable to watch - it is a
disaster. You feel both aggravated by Grandpa's insistent hostility
towards the happiness of others, and put off by the passivity of others
toward his ugly and pointless behavior over the course of years. I
don't think this is the stuff of light entertainment, but of a
psychological essay. Grandpa's just a jerk...
It is true that every now and then you will find an unheralded film to be undeserving of its anonymity. This is not one of those cases: the film drags along, forgettable song after forgettable song, stiff actor after stiff actor, sentimental stereotype after sentimental stereotype, and all made worse by that horrible Irish stew pot of a Grandpa. This one can be skipped without feeling cheated.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Judy Garland was a sensation in THE WIZARD OF OZ and BABES IN ARMS--but
in 1940 she was eighteen years old, and LITTLE NELLY KELLY finds her in
transition between the child star she was and the adult star she would
Based on a George M. Cohan play, the film offers Garland a double role: first as Irish-born Nelly Kelly and later as her teenage daughter, "Little" Nelly Kelly. The storyline is sentimental. Against father Charles Winninger's wishes, Mother Garland marries George Murphy and leaves Ireland for America--with her stubborn and ill-tempered father in tow. After becoming an American citizen, she dies in childbirth (Garland's only death scene, and she plays it very well), leaving possessive grandfather and police officer husband to wangle over the future of daughter Garland.
The first portion of the film is the weakest, with neither Garland nor Murphy entirely at home with their Irish accents; another flaw is the fact that Winninger's irascible grandfather eventually becomes a shade too obnoxious to fully engage our sympathies and Murphy is none-too-convincing in old-age make-up. Although not a musical per se, the real highlight of the film are Garland's few songs, which include "A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow," "A Great Day for the Irish," and an elaborate staging of "Singin' In The Rain." Although she still shows traces of the affectations forced upon her in previous films by director Busby Berkley, she performs both her numbers and her scenes with a playfulness and sincerity that is quite charming.
Although expertly made, LITTLE NELLY KELLY is essentially an inexpensive programmer designed to test Garland's potential as an adult actress--a test which she clearly passes. But the film is so greatly overshadowed by both her earlier and later achievements that it is negligible in both her cannon and the musical genre as a whole, and as such will be of interests more to Garland completest than to casual viewers. Recommended for hardcore fans only.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
I have to confess some disappointment in Little Nellie Kelly. Not that
I was disappointed with the performances of Judy Garland and the rest
of the cast. But I was actually hoping to see an adaption of some kind
of George M. Cohan's musical comedy that ran 276 performances during
the 1922-23 season on Broadway. But other than the title song and
another number, this is not what ran on Broadway at the time. Pity
because I would like to have seen just what a George M. Cohan musical
comedy was all about. Other than the straight drama/mystery Seven Keys
To Baldpate none of Cohan's work was ever brought to the sound screen.
I'm surprised that this film is not run as often as The Quiet Man in and around St. Patrick's Day every year. The story has Judy Garland playing a mother and daughter. Mother marries George Murphy over in Ireland to the distress of her father Charles Winninger. After all of them emigrate to America, Judy dies giving birth to Judy. So the young girl is raised by her father and maternal grandfather.
Which wasn't easy to do because Winninger and Murphy quarrel rather stupidly and don't speak to each other even though they're living in the same household. If it wasn't for the fact that Winninger is helping to raise Garland his granddaughter by staying at home, Murphy would have and should have thrown him out years ago. Winninger is just plain allergic to work.
In the scenes he's in Winninger's a lovable loafer and really steals everything he's in. Barry Fitzgerald must not have been available though his brother Arthur Shields is in the film as the father of Douglas MacPhail that the younger Garland falls for. Winninger is playing a part Barry would normally have been cast in. He and Garland clicked so well that they were cast as father and daughter again in Ziegfeld Girl the following year.
The soundtrack is an odd mix of Cohan's songs, Irish ditties, and some new numbers and for Judy, a revival of Singing In The Rain which producer Arthur Freed coincidentally enough wrote the lyrics for. However her best number is with Douglas MacPhail, It's A Great Day For The Irish which she made a Decca record of as a solo backed by The Wearing Of The Green. It's a more modern version of the same type of song as MacNamara's Band.
Judy's worldwide legion of fans will love Little Nellie Kelly. Still it might have been nice to have one of George M. Cohan's musicals done in some fashion.
When the film begins, Nellie (Judy Garland) is living with her father,
Michael (Charles Winninger), in Ireland. Inexplicably, Michael is
against Nellie marrying Jerry Kelly (George Murphy)--and the reason for
this is never explained in the film. Soon after Jerry and Nellie marry,
they head to America--and Michael follows (even though he vowed never
to leave Ireland). Then, Michael moves in with them--though this makes
no sense. Michael refuses to talk to Jerry and is a nasty old b--, I
Later, Nellie dies during childbirth--and still Michael won't talk to Jerry---yet he continues to live with him! The child, also called Nellie, grows up to be...Judy Garland!! Yes, Judy plays both her mother and daughter--a bad Hollywood cliché. And, during all this time, STILL Michael won't talk to Jerry--yet is allowed to live with them. Considering all the divisiveness caused by Michael, the film made no sense--Jerry SHOULD have thrown the old jerk out long ago. Oh, and did I mention that Michael refuses to get a job and doesn't work for decades?! Overall, he's a terribly written and completely unsympathetic character who seemed to take pleasure in ruining his daughter's and granddaughter's lives. He really needed to be written better--a serious weakness in the film AND people in the film shouldn't have put up with his abusiveness. He should have been written as a lovable grouch--instead he comes off as a nasty creep who you want to see get hit by a bus or beaten to death by all the people this nightmare of a character insults during the course of the film!!!
It's a shame because Winninger's boorish character completely overpowers Garland's nice performance. At only 18, she is very poised--especially when playing the mother. And, while I didn't love the song selection, she did a great job. This film didn't seem to hurt her career any--but it SHOULD have been a much better showcase for her amazing talents, not a showcase for poor writing and a hateful character.
By the way, although it didn't hurt the film any, George Murphy's Irish accent was amazingly absent. With a name like Murphy, you'd have thought he could have done better. Additionally, on a sad note, Judy's love interest later in the film, Dennis (Douglas McPhail), killed himself just a few years after making this picture. He had an incredible voice.
Not a great movie, by any means, but with judicious use of your fast
forward button, you can enjoy a delectable performance by Judy Garland,
both as actress and singer.
Up to this point in her career--with the exception of "The Wizard of Oz"- -Judy Garland had been playing second fiddle to Mickey Rooney pretty much non-stop. Now, without him, she comes into her own, and becomes the belle of the ball.
The rest of the cast is mildly appealing, with the exception of Charles Winninger. He plays a man so selfish that everyone else's indulgence of him seems astounding.
My advice: fast forward to Judy as young Nelly Kelly.
George M. Cohan's famous musical comedy of the early 1900's became Judy
Garland's first young adult movie role after her role as pre-teenager
Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard of Oz". It was also her best role and best
performance, second to "Oz", prior to "Meet Me in St. Louis". The story
tells of a feisty young Irish lass, Nellie Noonan, who falls in love with a
handsome Irish cop, Jerry Kelly (George Murphy), then moves to America. Her
pig-headed Irish father, Mike Noonan (Charles Winnger), follows, in spite of
the fact that he hated seeing his beautiful little girl get married and
leave him. When Nellie gives birth to a little girl, tragedy strikes,
leaving Jerry and Mike to pick up the pieces and raise Little Nellie Kelly
Little Nellie is equally as feisty as her mother, but is modernized and very American. She has the affection of many local boys, most especially Dennis Fogarty (Douglas MacPhail), a clean-cut young lad who has the approval of Jerry, but not Grandfather Mike who wants to keep Nellie all to himself. Nellie triumphs by singing in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and later at a huge party.
During her teenage years, perky Judy Garland appeared mostly opposite the sometimes too energetic Mickey Rooney; MGM always seemed to consider her not as glamorous as their other young stars, Ann Rutherford and Lana Turner, but in "Little Nellie Kelly", she is the epitome of confidence and youthful joy and happiness. There are no down-putting ballads here, like "In Between", "I'm Nobody's Baby", and "But Not For Me" from the Rooney films. For example, as the older Nellie Kelly, she delivers a very poignant "A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow", later reprised by the younger Nellie in a swing version. In the St. Patrick's Day parade, she leads the chorus in the production number "It's a Great Day For the Irish!" with a confidence her characters lacked in the Rooney films. Then, at the party, she sings a swinging version of the decade old standard "Singin' in the Rain", with special introduction lyrics added just for Judy. Later, Judy herself is serenaded by her admirers in the George M. Cohan song from the original show, "Nellie Kelly, I Love You!". While it is obvious that the play's story was somewhat altered to modernize it for the early 40's, it still retains Cohan's charm. Judy also lost the nervous gestures she was forced to use in the Rooney films and acts with grace and confidence.
Charles Winninger is amusing as the lovable but hard-hearted grandfather, especially in a sequence where he stirs up a union struggle when Little Nellie tries to get him to work at a construction site; George Murphy goes from young romantic hero to proud and loving father without blinking an eye; The future senator is totally at ease here, and is quite likable. Douglas MacPhail went from second lead in "Babes in Arms" to Garland's love interest, singing "Nellie Kelly, I Love You" with his surprisingly mature deep voice. The rest of the cast is fine too, in much smaller roles, most notably familiar character actress Almira Sessions in the brief role of baby Nellie's nurse.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In honor of today being St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd check out this Judy Garland movie, adapted from Irish-American George M. Cohan's musical comedy and about and with many other Irish or at least other Americans of such descent, on YouTube. In this one, Ms. Garland plays two roles of which one is of Nellie Noonan whose father Mike (Charles Winninger) is so possessive of his daughter that he hates anyone who he thinks will take her away, even one as nice as Jerry Kelly (George Murphy). After the senior Nellie dies during childbirth, Mike and Jerry raise the same-named title character who grows into the spitting image. Unfortunately, Mike is as stubborn as ever despite Jerry's repeated attempts to ingratiate himself. And then there's the 2nd generation Nellie's potential suitor, Dennis Fogarty, (Douglas McPhail) to deal with...The story, despite the now-shopworn elements, is still touching as a tale of "Old World" vs. "New World" ways that threaten to conflict constantly during the whole thing but because of Ms. Garland's appeal as both mother and daughter, never blows completely over. In fact, despite Mike Noonan's mean-spiritedness, there are occasionally touches of tenderness of him with the daughter when no one else is around that make him not so bad which shouldn't be too surprising since he's played by one of the most lovable of character actors in Mr. Winninger even if his character is somewhat of a freeloader, or slacker as he now would be referred as. And Ms. Garland is thoroughly fine whether crying or laughing as both mother and daughter. And of course, her singing is divine throughout especially during the "Singin' in the Rain" number. And classical singer McPhail is also in fine form when serenading her to one of the few of Mr. Cohan's songs retained for the film. Unfortunately, the version I saw had a segment missing (Part 7 on YouTube) because of a copyright issue with WMG (Warner Music Group). Still, I liked what I saw and hope someday to eventually see the whole thing. In the meantime, Happy St. Paddy's Day everyone! P.S. Once again, I like noting when a cast or crew member is from my birthtown of Chicago, Ill., in this case, it's director Norman Taurog.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
MGM, as was its unfortunate habit, sure lays on the patriotism and sentiment with a trowel, but this handsome Arthur Freed production gets the main thing right: It provides the young, post-Dorothy Garland with a successful transition into adult roles. Playing a feisty Irish-American colleen and her own mother, she gets to be both girlish and womanly, does an affecting death scene (Garland was far more of an actress than most of her song-and-dance peers), and of course her vocals are tops (more music wouldn't have hurt, and why was only one Cohan song retained from the stage original?). She's pretty much the whole show, since her respective sweethearts George Murphy and Douglas MacPhail seem incapable of appreciating her sufficiently, and Charles Winninger's lazy-but-bellicose Irishman act was old hat even then. Highlight: The title song, fluidly staged and a real showcase for Judy, who's radiant.
Irish-accented Judy Garland (as Nellie) ignores the objections of lazy
father Charles Winninger (as Michael "Mike" Noonan) and marries
ambitious George Murphy (as Jerry Kelly). The trio immigrate to the
United States and become citizens. The years pass quickly and center
stage switches to identical singing daughter "Nellie" (also played by
Ms. Garland). She is attracted to Irish import Douglas McPhail (as
Dennis Fogarty). History repeats itself when Mr. Winninger strongly
objects to granddaughter Garland's courtship...
For most of this film, Winninger's character displays an intense hatred for his son-in-law. His other traits include laziness and drunkenness. This character is so relentlessly unflattering, the hopeful ending does not count for much. There is little Winninger can do with the script, but he manages. The real main attraction is Garland, who gets to emote and sing. Her incredible voice shines throughout, but especially on the amazing highlight "A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow" and the MGM standard "Singin' in the Rain".
***** Little Nellie Kelly (11/22/40) Norman Taurog ~ Judy Garland, Charles Winninger, George Murphy, Douglas McPhail
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Little Nellie Kelly" is a huge burst of Irish pride, filmed in glorious black and white. Judy Garland plays the double role of Nellie Kelly Sr. and Nellie Kelly Jr. Nelly Kelly and her husband, whom she married against her father's wishes, decide to move to America, despite their deep love for Ireland. Nellie's father follows them over, though he hardly says a word to Jerry (the husband), he lives off of them. Not long after settling in New York, Nelly has a child but dies soon after the labor. After a tear jerking performance, we see a charming montage of the baby Nellie growing up into a pretty seventeen year old.
Though husband and father never stop their fighting, with both Nellies acting as referee, the family is fine until Nellie becomes interested in boys. The incidents that take place after that are mostly centered around getting the grandpa to grow up and forget his stubborness.
This was Judy's first true "grown-up" role -- she plays it to the hilt, giving two incredibly sweet renditions of an old Irish folk song, "A Pretty Girl Milking her Cow," once as the original Nellie, and again as the young Nellie -- with lots of Garland swing. There are so many fantastic performances here.
It's an absolutely delightful film -- a real joy to see young Judy in what most consider her prime. The rest of the cast, despite a few sketchy versions of Irish accents, positively shines. The plot itself is better than most musicals -- much thought is given to the immigrant experience -- more than you'd expect from a musical.
Though the movie is out-of-print, it's well worth a rental -- happy hunting!
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