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  Gypsy I'm A Pretty Girl
Year: 1962
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Stars: Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Paul Wallace, Betty Bruce, Parley Baer, Harry Shannon, Morgan Brittany, Ann Jillian, Diane Pace, Faith Dane, Roxanne Arlen, Jean Willes, George Petrie, Ben Lessy, Guy Raymond, Louis Quinn, Jack Benny
Genre: Musical, Comedy, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Louise (Natalie Wood) was not quite born in a trunk, but her mother Rose Hovick (Rosalind Russell) was determined that she and her other daughter June (Ann Jillian) should be a success in vaudeville, and she placed them on the stage as soon as she could. Known as Dainty June, the younger sister was the one she stored all her hopes in, first establishing her song and dance act with Louise dressed as a cow in the background and a collection of young boys as dancers to support her. She met Herbie Sommers (Karl Malden) on the road and he offered to become the manager of the act in return for marrying Rose, but she was just too caught up in June...

This was the movie adaptation of the long-running, hit Broadway musical, one of those plays that took a certain loosening of censorship to be judged acceptable for the big screen, as happened as the nineteen-sixties progressed. Why was that? Because Louise was actually Gypsy Rose Lee, the famed stripper, though handily for access to family audiences she was well-known for keeping most of her clothes on during her performances, getting by on sheer personality and showbiz sparkle rather than showing herself au naturel. Natalie Wood was presumably quite happy about that too, and indeed spend over half the movie covered up in dowdy costumery.

This was to contrast with the transformation in the latter part where, as anyone watching this would be aware, she transformed butterfly like into a lovely lady of burlesque, you know, like Dita von Teese did later on when the form made a comeback as an attraction, though more as kitsch than anything seen here. Actually, the picture of the entertainment industry this painted was bloody miserable, and if it was not for the regular bursts of song you would never be able to identify any joy in this tale whatsoever, depicting as it did a stage mother so overbearing that she forces her daughters onto the circuit whether they want to be there or not; one escapes, the other doesn't.

It should be pointed out that Dainty June became June Havoc, a grown-up star who lived a long and fruitful life largely in theatres, though she had a movie career as well, and she was seriously unhappy about her sister's portrayal of her in her book, the musical, and finally this film. At the time, however, audiences and critics were grumbling about something else: Rosalind Russell, in a role they believed should have been played by the original star Ethel Merman, that bulldozer of a Broadway barnstormer who was always pitching to the back row of the auditorium, and after all, Everything's Coming up Roses from this musical was her signature song. Would she have been a better bet? In truth, though a legend on the boards, Merman never really caught on in cinema thanks to her outsize personality which rejected all subtlety, and Russell has latterly been reassessed as the preferable choice by more recent fans.

Mind you, Russell did not do her own singing for most of it, and she did look dubbed whenever Rose bursts into song in a way that Wood, who was allowed to use her own voice, did not. Though Wood did not get that many of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim's songs to sing, she performed them adequately, despite she too being accused of miscasting. Coming off West Side Story, another musical, where she was dubbed and had to play in brownface, you would have thought this was a better fit, especially as she also had a pushy mother who demanded her offspring become an actress from a young age, but she seemed more comfortable when dressed down for the earlier scenes rather than dressed up in sequins. That said, she may be the reason movie buffs return to Gypsy on film (it was remade as a Bette Midler TV movie) because of her notorious and still unsolved death keeping her in the consciousness, not to mention sensational stories of her sex life and her mental breakdowns she would probably not have thanked her fans for harping on about. But she was not really the main character: Rosalind Russell was, and as often swept all before her in overacting.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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