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For years I have read that Rosalind Russell was miscast as Mama Rose in this film production of "Gypsy." I disagree. I thought she brought great humanity to this hard-boiled character. Russell proves that no person's persona is black or white, but a mixture of both. In short, her performance is excellent and very touching.
I have LOVED this musical for about seven years... and seen both Roz & Bette's versions... now, I know most people prefer Bette... but I don't. I mean... I've read reviews where people said "Forget the '62 version... go rent Bette's!" Maybe I'm crazy... I mean, I adore Bette Midler to death, but I think Roz did a better job of actually PLAYING the part. Sure, she may not have the vocal talents of Midler and Merman... but who does?! She's more of what I imagined the real Rose Hovick to be... and she's just so... I don't know. The way she delivered her lines... it was perfection. She also made me feel just a tad sorry for Rose... now I never saw Ethel Merman play the part, but Bette never made me feel sorry for Rose. Roz does. And that's a great talent whenever you can play a part where you have people hating and yet, at the same time, feeling sorry for the character. She was absolutely brilliant in the part and I don't see how people cannot recognize this! I also enjoyed Karl Malden in the role of Herbie better than Peter Reigert (I believe that was his name). He brought such life to the role. And although Cynthia Gibb did a good job of playing Louise... Natalie Wood... I mean, who can top THAT? Natalie Wood was GREAT!!!! She was perfect as the sort of quiet, shy child that grew up into a glamorous queen of the striptease. Diane Pace who played Louise as a child did a FINE job too! Cute little girl. And then... Morgan Brittany (who is billed as Suzanne Cupito) and Ann Jillian as Baby and Dainty June... how awesome is that?! Who knew that Ann Jillian could SING? I sure didn't. Paul Wallace was awesome as Tulsa... lots of talent. It's a GREAT movie, even if it WAS a bit altered from the Broadway play... but hey, the play was a bit altered from the true life story so... what does it matter?! A GREAT MOVIE, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!!
Rosalind Russell, a true world-class actress, brought perfect line readings and comic timing and delivery, along with a nice patrician air, to the role of Rose, and no one has matched her -- before or since. I've seen every Mama Rose -- Merman, Peters, Midler, Lansbury, Betty Buckley, Andrea McArdle, Mary McCarty, Joanne Worley and Giselle MacKenzie -- and none of them touches Russell in the role, certainly not in the kind of nuanced humanity she brought to it. (There have been a lot of caricaturing, mugging and over-acting in this role.) And Natalie Wood is the only actress I've seen to do anything remotely three-dimensional with the underwritten role of Louise/Gypsy. Bravo to both!
No, it didn't have Ethel Merman. Most films didn't have Ethel Merman. That's because Ms. Merman was always something of a Sherman Tank personality- regardless of vocal strength- and her vocals and mannerisms would've been entirely too big on film. The jury will be forever out as to whether or not Rosalind Russell did her own singing or was partially looped by Lisa Kirk, but it ultimately doesn't matter. She captures perfectly the nuance of a driven stage mother whose ambitions cause her daughters to simultaneously love her and be frustrated by her. (In hindsight, the best possible Rose probably would've been none other than Judy Garland, named in an early casting package. Can you imagine?) As it is, I thought the most amazing performance came from Natalie Wood- who appears to age roughly fifteen years throughout the film. Note her first appearance in the film celebrating a lonely birthday with a baby lamb; she looks roughly thirteen years old. All through the troupe's vaudeville adventures she remains in the background until the train depot sequence; she then grows up overnight- first as a counselor to her mother (as 'Rose-Louise'), then begins to find her voice in the Wichita burlesque sequences as a seamstress and bit player with the strippers, then finally in the "star strip," we actually see her turn into Gypsy Rose Lee- all grown up and gorgeous. Wonderful support from manager Karl Malden and sister Ann Jillian.
This enjoyable class act has Natalie Wood as Gypsy Rose Lee and Rosalind
Russell as her overbearing mother Rose. And they are both terrific. Ok, so
Russell isn't Ethel Merman and the OBC has that bit of an edge where the
songs are concerned, but as an actress she is great in this role, especially
in the scenes where June and Louise (Gypsy-to-be) are auditioning and she
constantly interrupts; and in the Mr Goldstone number.
Natalie Wood looks the part and gives Louise a sympathetic edge, particularly in 'Little Lamb'. The best musical numbers of the lot though are Tulsa's song and dance number rehearsing his imaginary double act, and the truly brilliant 'You Gotta Have a Gimmick'. It is also a joy to see Karl Malden in a nice supporting role as Rose's long suffering beau Herbie.
"Gypsy" is a very difficult movie to have achieved from a writer's standpoint. As is true of "Dr. Zhivago" and "The Searchers", much of the film is told from the point of view of a younger person, who serves as the viewer's alter ego within scenes while the central character does little. This book, play and film was the result of Rose Louise Hovick's biography of herself and her mother before and at the beginning of her celebrity as "Gypsy Rose Lee", burlesque icon. The film is filled with famous songs and comedy scenes, alternating with moving confrontations that for once gain by having been real ones. Among the songs are "Some People", "Everything's Coming Up Roses", "All I Need is the Girl" and "You Gotta Have a Gimmick", "Small World" and more. The memorable comedic scenes involve the repetition of Dainty June and her boys coming onstage in various guises, with a two-person cow dancing behind her; the three strippers who try to teach Louise how to succeed; the children singing, "Momma Get Married"; and "Please Mr. Goldstone" in gratitude to the producer who inexplicably likes their corny act. The moving scenes are Herbie, Mama's boyfriend, trying to convince her to give up her hard-minded pursuit of show business fame, Louise realizing the girl a young boy dancer says he needs is not she; her realization just before she goes onstage at a burlesque theater at her mother's insistence that she has one talent--she is a pretty girl, etc. the songs by Jule Styne all work, but only some are classics. the direction of the film by Mervyn LeRoy is very good, economical, and only occasionally look staged the device of theatrically closing out a scene by artificially dimming the lights for me works in this fictionalized biography; we get as viewers the feeling we are seeing glimpses of an interesting life, partly because of this device. Costumes by Orry-Kelly, Howard Shoup and others, the cinematography of Harry Stradling, Sr., excellent period sets, art direction and more are major assets to this colorful but never-splashy musical success. not the last of director LeRoy's here is that we see theatrical scenes and scenes in a theater as well or better handled than in any other film I know. The actors including the three strippers, Faith Dane, Betty Bruce and Roxanne Arlen are wonderfully funny; Benny Lessy as Mr. Goldstone, Louis Quinn, Guy Raymond and Harry Shannon get all they can out of their small parts. the children who play Rose's girls are all good, particularly Ann Jillian as June. As Herbie, Karl Malden is energetic and first-rate at conveying his love and his desire for a normal life, for the children and himself. Natalie Wood is too thin-voiced to be great but she is a seasoned performer and underplays Louise intelligently. As Rose, Rosalind Russell occupies the active center of almost every scene. There is another way to play Rose other than as someone coldly obsessed with fame; I saw Giselle Mackenzie do the role onstage as a caring obsessive, one who would not be denied justice for her children as she was for herself. But Rosalind Russell is alternately brassy and wheedling, working everyone for exactly what she needs while pretending to be pushing for the sake of her daughters. She is intelligent, always interesting and frequently epic in her hunger for what has eluded her in her own performing career. And in "Rose's Turn" we see that her extraordinary charisma and courage were indeed something special. This is a show business biography of unusual believability and intelligence for all its laughter. And a memorable musical biography that works differently on film, but does work very effectively.
Let's start out with this: Just because an actress or actor was a hit
in a Broadway Show doesn't mean that they are perfect for the movie
version. Ethel Merman was great as Madam Rose on Broadway, but she's
never been a crowd pleaser in the movies. It's true that she did the
movie version of her Broadway hit "Call Me Madam" but it was not her
name that brought the people to the movie theaters; it was Donald
O'Connor, Vera Ellen, George Saunders and Billy De Wolfe. Even in
"There's No Business Like Show Business" the cast of Dan Daily, Mitzi
Gaynor and Johnny Ray were the ones who brought the paying movie public
to the theaters. It's true that at one time 20th Century Fox was going
to film "Gypsy" with Ethel Merman and Mitzi Gaynor playing Gypsy Rose
Lee, but that didn't pan out, so Warners bought the rights and Rosalind
Russells husband made a deal that would give Rosalind Russell the right
to make the movie.
So, what about Rosalind Russell singing her songs: In Rosalind Russells autobiography she states, "No matter what anyone says, that's Roz up there singing the songs". Well, that's not exactly true and one of the proofs is that on the soundtrack album they don't give Russell the credit for singing her songs. Actually most of the singing was done by her, but when it came to "Everythings Coming Up Rose" she just couldn't hit the ball into the outer-field, so Warners paid Lisa Kirk a hefty sum for dubbing that song for Russell. Now, whether Natalie Wood could or could not sing is not a problem. After all, neither could Gypsy Rose Lee, but Woods numbers at the end of the film as the stripper are excellent, and she favored Gypsy Rose Lee more than Mitzy Gaynor would have.
So, why doesn't a lot of people like this movie version of Gypsy? Well, to thoroughly enjoy it, stop comparing Russell with Merman. That's a beginning. Merman could not bring the people into the movie theaters, maybe so on Broadway, but there is not enough Broadway fans out there to pay for the cost of the movie, but there were with Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, and Carl Malden. The next thing: You have to see this movie in a movie theater where you can experience the sweeping Technirama Wide Screen process with Stereophonic Sound. Seeing this movie on T.V. doesn't get it although if you can get a Letter-Box Version of it with a very big T.V. screen, it can be quite enjoyable, but the movie theater is the best place!
As far as other versions of Gypsy are concerned: Bette Midler was awful in the role of Madam Rose. They should have lowered her singing into a lower key. She just sounded like she was straining to get to her top notes that you wondered if she was going to make it, and even though Midler said she was born to play Madam Rose; "Oh no she wasn't!" Bad version. Didn't have the slick quality of the movie. I saw Mitzi Green do it on the stage, and even though she was no Ethel Merman, she did a great job in the road company. Joann Whorley of Laugh in Fame played Madam Rose at Dayton, Ohio's "Kenley Theater" and she quite frankly rocked the joint. She was loud, brassy and wonderful, but if anyone is Ethel Mermans successor, it's Tyne Daly who played Rose at Lincoln Center and won a Tony, and the critics said that "Merman would be proud!" So, even though I'm not really a fan of Rosalind Russell, if you erase Merman from your mind, this is a wonderful, rousing, screen adaptation of "Gypsy" and it shouldn't be missed!
This is a great film. It is not an exact duplicate of the stage show, but
what movie musical is? Funny Girl on film is not the same as Funny Girl on
stage, but both are very entertaining. The same is true here.
Rosilind Russell shows us the shades of a character that is very complex. She didn't do her own singing, but, so what? She did a great job of performing during the songs, and her overall performance throughout the movie is wonderful. She is not Bette Midler, but who is? For that matter, if you listen to the multiple versions of the cast albums and soundtracks, I am not sure you wouldn't find Angela Lansbury's performance the best one out there.
The rest of the cast is also wonderful to watch. To this day, I cannot watch Natalie Wood in the "Little Lamb" number without tears coming to my eyes. Her interpretation of a lost little girl who always plays second fiddle and doesn't even know how old she is always gets to me. And the duet "If Momma Was Married", with Ann Jillian, is a memorable number. For those who didn't know Ann Jillian could sing, she has played on Broadway for years, most notably in "Sugar Babies".
I think we all can appreciate the fact that this is a version which can be loved on its own, while still having a similar degree of affection for the 1993 version.
This is a terrific filmization of the 1959 Broadway show which starred Ethel
Merman. Although some may argue that Rosalind Russell is not effective in
the role of Mama Rose, I can't see how anyone could complain. Russell is
excellent in the role, she's funny, entertaining, and sincere. Although I
understand her singing voice was dubbed, it still sounds more pleasant to me
then the loud, brash singing of Merman that I heard from the Broadway
As for the others, Karl Malden is great in his role, as is Ann Jillian as June. The real star here, to me, is Natalie Wood who is both believable in her role as the neglected Louise, and stunning in her transformation to Gypsy Rose Lee. The moment where she looks in the mirror prior to her first solo performance ("I'm pretty!"), is one of the best screen moments ever.
The songs and musical scenes here are all wonderful too, "If Mama Was Married" is a great duet between June and Louise, "Everything's Coming Up Roses" is terrific too, as is "Rose's Turn" and most of the others. If there is one complaint to be made about this film, it's that the wonderful "Together, Wherever We Go" number was cut out. Worse then that, no prints with that number intact seem to exist on 35mm. Other then that, though, it is a great film with excellent Technicolor photography and excellent music. If you love musicals, see it, and be sure to see it in the wide screen version.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By all accounts La Merm was the cat's pajamas in the Broadway production. I wouldn't know and I care even less; I've always found Merman something of a joke, just a belter with all the subtlety of the Jerry Springer Show but Roz Russell in this movie is sensational. Okay, so Lisa Kirk helped her out vocally but NO ONE helped her ACT the bejeezus out of the ultimate control freak stage mother from hell. She did that all on her own AND managed to give us flashes of her great warmth. The Book is more than usually faithful to Gypsy's autobiography which appeared in 1957, two years before the Broadway opening. There really WAS a cow and Newsboys and when the boys were replaced with girls after June DID elope with one of the boys, it WAS her older sister who decided to rename the act Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes - and YES, they did tour in a tent. Basically all Jule Styne and Steve Sondheim had to do was add words and music and they did. In spades. This is definitely on the short-list of all-time great Broadway shows/scores, right up there with Kiss Me, Kate and Guys and Dolls. Both those shows were filmed and neither was wholly successful (Marlon Brando in a Sinatra part? You're kidding, right?) but Gypsy is a TOTAL joy and a total success. Every number enhances our knowledge of the characters and/or moves the story on and every melody is MELODIC and every lyric LITERATE. There's absolutely NO comparison with what passes for a Musical today. This is real Golden Age material and for 'Golden' we may as well read Jurassic. A 10 star gem.
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