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The Helen Morgan Story (1957)

Not Rated | | Biography, Drama, Music | 5 October 1957 (USA)
Torch singer Helen Morgan rises from sordid beginnings to fame and fortune only to lose it all to alcohol and poor personal choices.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Helen Morgan
...
...
Russell Wade
...
...
Benny Weaver
...
Dolly Evans
...
Sue
...
Florenz Ziegfeld
...
Mrs. Wade
...
...
Mark Hellinger
Sammy White ...
Himself
The De Castro Sisters ...
Singers
Jimmy McHugh ...
Himself
...
Himself
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Storyline

The 1920's and 30's career of singer Helen Morgan is followed from her early days singing outdoors in a carnival, through her speak-easy and chorus-girl days, to her stardom on Broadway in Ziegfeld's "Show Boat". Her involvement with Larry Maddux, a gin-runner and con-man, and Russell Wade, a prominent, married New York lawyer, and her decline thanks to these failed romances and alcohol are punctuated by performances of many of the songs she made famous. Written by Ron Kerrigan <mvg@whidbey.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

No star ever climbed higher...or fell lower! See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama | Music

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

5 October 1957 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Jazz Age  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

As with many other films made in the 1950's, this movie was preceded by a television episode of an anthology series. The original, live production of _"Playhouse 90: The Helen Morgan Story" (1957)_, starring Polly Bergen, was presented on CBS TV five months before the release of the film version. Miss Bergen won that year's Emmy Award for Best Single Performance, Lead or Support, by an actress. See more »

Goofs

Paul Newman's character, Larry Maddux, repeatedly refers to Florenz Ziegfeld as "Ziegfield." All the other characters say Ziegfeld's name correctly. See more »

Quotes

Larry Maddux: Do yourself a favor. Hire the kid.
Whitey Krause: I hope your hooch is better than your suggestion, Larry. What's the canary to you.
Larry Maddux: Nuthin'. I'm just a music lover. Besides, I don't go for that sad stuff she sings.
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in The Carol Burnett Show: Episode #2.21 (1969) See more »

Soundtracks

Sweet Georgia Brown
(uncredited)
Music by Maceo Pinkard and Ben Bernie
Lyrics by Kenneth Casey
Performed by Cara Williams and ensemble
See more »

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User Reviews

Why was she born?
25 November 2002 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

Clearly inspired by other biopics like Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), this is another tale of a chanteuse whose career success is affected by booze and bad men. Helen Morgan was a star in the 1920's, a nightclub singer who crossed-over into theater for Flo Ziegfeld on Broadway in Showboat. However like so many others, a rapid ascent gave way to a slow decline.

The screenplay by Oscar Saul, Dean Reisner, Stephen Longstreet, and Nelson Gidding, rationalises that the sado-masochistic love of Helen (Ann Blyth) for Larry Maddox (Paul Newman) is what brings her success and failure. Her alcoholism is an ironic symptom of the era of prohibition. Helen is ambitious, but her love for Larry tells us that she would give it all up if he would agree to marry her. However as Larry isn't the marrying kind, she is miserable, not a good state for an entertainer to be in. The lower class milieu that accompanies showbusiness is a breeding ground for these crooks, who see talented women as their meal ticket and a way to improve themselves, and it's no coincidence that Ruth Etting and Fanny Brice too had their troubles with gamblers. When Larry slaps Helen repeatedly and calls her a tramp, the scene could be from any number of biopics.

The dialogue uses period slang for amusing affect eg 'You made those dames look like they were hanging out to dry', Larry is 'stuck on' Helen and tells her 'You're hooked'. When Helen is drunk at a rehearsal, it is said of her 'She's only running on 4 cylinders. It's the gasoline she uses'. The narrative has period oddities such as a lesbian at a rent party, and the wife of lawyer Russell Wade (Richard Carlson) who has an arrangement where it appears she too can be a lesbian, though she refuses to release her meal ticket. Helen gets the standard self-pity in 'I'm no good' and 'Everything I touch turns bad', and we hear the tale of the death of her father when she was a child (Freud, anyone?). However what no one seems to notice is that when Helen is appearing in Showboat and at her nightclub AND drinking, the plain fact seems to be is that she is overworked. Also when Ziegfeld offers her the part of Julie in Showboat that would make her famous, there is no indication that she can even act.

Although the biopic is one of Hollywood's most corrupt genres - revisionist history existing as a star vehicle - it is redeemed when the person biographed is presented as a star. Although Ann Blyth can sing, her vocals are (inexplicably) dubbed, not with Morgan's recordings - Morgan died in 1941 - but by Gogi Grant. Grant's voice is lovely, has that Garland loudness and heartthrob sincerity for ballads, and is also able to jazz it up for 'On The Sunny Side of the Street'. Director Michael Curtiz only lets us see Helen as a star in two numbers

  • 'The Man I Love', and Why Was I Born?', both when she is supposedly
drunk and of course, in perfect voice. Curtiz uses the genre standard cut-aways so we have others opinion of how wonderful Helen is, but otherwise we get Helen singing numbers interrupted or up-staged by drama. There are two other numbers which Helen completes in full - her two songs from Showboat performed in non-Showboat settings, Bill and Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, but the songs are less showy.

Blyth uses Morgan's signature scarf and sits on the accompaniest's piano as she sings, however often her buck teeth up-stage her. Blyth had been memorably directed by Curtiz in Mildred Pierce (1944) with Joan Crawford, and the later Helen recalls Crawford, in her stark make-up and, in a scene where she is required to tell a lie, where her face is a grimace. Curtiz uses expressionist camera-work to indicate Helen's drunken point of view, and the numbers she falters in when performing are camp - her tipsy rehearsal for 'Somebody Loves Me' wearing a hideous dress, and 'You Do Something to Me' where she falls off the piano. Curtiz cuts from her fall to a newspaper headline 'La Morgan stops Broadway show - flat on her face!'. When Helen is 'missing' on a drunken binge, she gets splashed by a passing car, and is ridiculed in a bar when she sings along to a radio broadcast of her own vocal. However, Blyth's screams of Helen in detox jump over camp into empathy.

Curtiz uses the cringe-worthy orchestration of Morgan songs behind dialogue scenes - you can bet 'The Man I Love' gets a workout in the Helen/Larry scenes, but also the silhouette of someone who hangs themselves. Newman is too young for his role - he was actually older than Blyth when the film was made, but he seems younger - and his technique shows. But although he has practically nothing to do, Alan King is good to have around.


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