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Ella Peterson is a Brooklyn telephone answering service operator who tries to improve the lives of her clients by passing along bits of information she hears from other clients. She falls in love with one of her clients, the playwright Jeffrey Moss, and is determined to meet him. The trouble is, on the phone to him, she always pretends to be an old woman whom he calls "Mom." Written by
Made late in the cycle of great MGM musicals, with the reliable producer-director combo of Arthur Freed and Vincente Minnelli, this is a fairly clunky adaptation of a Broadway hit. Despite some location filming, it looks stagebound, and the stylized playing and jerrybuilt musical-comedy plot look false as hell. Some excellent musical numbers from the original are badly truncated or left out entirely, and what's left is grotesquely over-orchestrated. One senses that Minnelli, in particular, didn't trust the material--look at how quickly he dispenses with the "Mu-Cha-Cha" number, seemingly embarrassed by its musical-comedy silliness--and the supporting cast seems to be playing to the second balcony.
That's the bad news; now we get, thank heaven, to Judy Holliday. Having played this part on Broadway for two years and toured with it longer, she looks amazingly spontaneous. Given her health problems at the time, she looks happy and healthy. And while we can't expect to experience her legendary warmth and charisma as stage audiences did, it's an incomparable performance. Every reaction, every inflection, every seemingly improvised movement rings true and lends depth and poignancy to a paper-thin character traipsing around in a contrived plot. What a lesson for any young actor in transforming everyday material into something memorable. My favorite moment comes early, when she's reclining on a sofa and looks up dreamily and starts singing, a capella and with perfect naturalism, "I'm in love..." I'm in love, too, Judy. We miss you.
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