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While working as a counselor at a summer camp, college-student Marjorie Morgenstern falls for 32-year-old Noel Airman, a would-be dramatist working at a nearby summer theater. Like Marjorie, he is an upper-middle-class New York Jew (born 'Ehrman'), but has fallen away from his roots, and Marjorie's parents object among other things to his lack of a suitable profession, such as medicine or law. Noel himself warns Marjorie repeatedly that she's much too naive and conventional for him, but they nonetheless fall in love. As they pursue an on-again-off-again relationship, Marjorie completes her studies at Hunter College, and works to establish an acting career, while Noel first leaves the theater for a job with an advertising agency, but later completes a musical he'd started writing before he and Marjorie had first met. Meanwhile, their relationship deepens (though, consistent with '50s Hollywood mores, the more full-fledged sexuality in their relationship is never explicitly communicated... Written by
If you grew up in a Jewish home or even a mixed household as I did there were two books in every domicile. One would have been Leon Uris's Exodus and the second was Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar. I guess I can appreciate the film more than most since I saw a lot of the characters in my youth and afterwards.
Everett Sloane and Claire Trevor, formerly of the Bronx, now reside in a doorman building in Manhattan. Everett is a self-made man who's now living the American dream, albeit Jewish style. And Claire, if she's gone a bit high hat, is still a very concerned mother and a pretty shrewd judge of character or the lack thereof. In fact Claire Trevor has the best performance in the film.
The Morgensterns have two children, daughter Marjorie and son Seth. It's Seth's bar mitzvah that the story opens with, but it's Marjorie who the film is about.
Remember this is post World War II America and Claire wants for her daughter a man as successful as the one she married. No great thoughts about alternative avenues for women. But Marjorie is determined to explore alternatives.
With best friend Carolyn Jones, who's very into alternatives, Marjorie takes a job as a counselor in a summer camp. And in a neighboring camp she meets Noel Airman, the camp theater director. Now Marjorie's smitten and wants a show business career.
Though Natalie Wood plays Marjorie and the title role, the most complex part is Gene Kelly as Noel Airman. Kelly as a dancer has just the right theatrical background to understand an underachiever like Noel Airman. He's all surface charm, and even talented. But there are a lot of people in the theater who never become successful at it in monetary terms. The few that do are lucky, they might get the right breaks, but they all work hard at what they love.
Noel won't commit to work. He wants it all, but he doesn't want to work for it. He also doesn't realize that show business is a business and there are a lot of people out there as talented as he without his issues.
In fact the key scene in the film is when Claire Trevor on meeting him, sizes him up correctly in five minutes. Kelly sizes Trevor up as well that she's a bit of a snob, but at least she has her's.
This film brought Natalie Wood real star status. It was her break out role from what was essentially brat pack pictures from the 1950s. She's so beautiful here it's hard to imagine the tragedy that awaited her. A perfect Jewish princess, in the nicest sense of the term.
Ed Wynn who never was able to translate his vaudeville and radio success to Hollywood until late in life also shines here as Everett Sloane's Uncle Samson. He's the happy go lucky contented man, but not terribly successful of the previous generation. He represents as much as the family loves him, what they've escaped from.
In life and more so in Hollywood life, things do have a funny way of resolving themselves. And Marjorie in a way she and we don't expect gets her real heart's desire. But for what and how you have to watch this very nostalgic re-creation of upper middle class Jewish life in New York City.
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