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Ruth and her beautiful sister Eileen come to New York's Greenwich Village looking for "fame, fortune and a 'For Rent' sign on Barrow Street". They find an apartment (such as it is!), but fame and fortune are a lot more elusive. Ruth gets the attention of playboy publisher Bob Baker when she submits a story about her gorgeous sister Eileen. She tries to keep his attention by convincing him that she, (a "spinsterish old-maid writer") and the gorgeous, man-getting Eileen are one and the same person. Written by
I had heard that this second musical version of "My Sister Eileen" (the first being the Broadway show "Wonderful Town") was very underrated. Well, it's not.
Columbia Pictures owned the movie musical rights to "Eileen" and when Leonard Bernstein wanted too much money for "Wonderful Town", Columbia passed on adapting the Broadway hit, and created its own musical film adaptation. Unfortunately, this version isn't just inferior to "Wonderful Town" - the score and script are truly mediocre in their own right. The songs are all forgettable, which is surprising given that the composer is the great Jule Styne who went on to write "Gypsy" and other shows. Either he and lyricist Leo Robin had very little time to write the score or inspiration took a vacation.
The two saving graces in this film are Betty Garrett, who plays the more tomboyish Ruth. Unlike Rosalind Russell who played Ruth both in the non-musical film and in "Wonderful Town," Garrett can really sing and she's less self-conscious about being the center of attraction - she's much more natural in the role.
The other occasional grace is Bob Fosse's choreography. In some numbers, especially one dancing "duel" between him and the terrific Tommy Rall, the film comes alive. Unfortunately, some of the other dances - particularly the climactic "Conga" sequence, fall flat, perhaps due more to director Quine than Fosse.
Janet Leigh plays Eileen and she's very charming, though not quite the kind of looker who would have men literally at her feet all the time. She sings fairly well, and dances rather better. And since she's top billed, the script gives her character more emphasis than the original play. Jack Lemmon plays a publisher on whom Ruth has a crush; Lemmon is good, though his one song is far from a highlight - he's no singer.
It's a pity that Columbia and Bernstein didn't see eye to financial eye
it would have been great to see Garrett do "Wonderful Town," though
Leigh and Lemmon would never be able to handle their parts in that score.
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