Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tonight's Movie: My Sister Eileen (1955)

I had time for some good movie viewing during our whirlwind trip to Flagstaff this week!

Yesterday afternoon I enjoyed streaming MAN OR GUN (1958) on my Kindle Fire, and last evening I was able to watch MY SISTER EILEEN (1955) for the first time in several years, thanks to Turner Classic Movies.

I'm quite a fan of the original 1942 comedy MY SISTER EILEEN, which provided Rosalind Russell with one of her best roles, but I'm also fond of the 1955 musical remake. I particularly like the cast of this Columbia film, which -- as Robert Osborne also mentioned on TCM -- is curiously filled with longtime MGM contract players: Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Bob Fosse, Tommy Rall, and Kurt Kasznar.

The movie tells the familiar tale of "plain Jane" Ruth Sherwood (Garrett) and her adorable younger sister Eileen (Leigh), who arrive in the Big Apple from Ohio looking for success as a writer and actress, respectively.

They rent a rickety basement apartment from Papa Appopolous (Kasznar), which comes with an upstairs neighbor, a former football player who does housework (Dick York in an early role). Eileen meets a helpful soda fountain manager (Fosse) and a newspaper writer (Rall), while Ruth tries to sell a story to a magazine publisher (Jack Lemmon).

That's about all there is to the story, but it has many bright moments with its engaging cast. The Jule Styne-Leo Robin score admittedly isn't particularly memorable, but the Fosse-choreographed dances, on the other hand, are pure dynamite.

My favorite scene in the film is a knockout dance teaming Fosse and Rall, two of cinema's all-time greatest dancers. It's utterly fantastic. Rall, the film's last surviving principal cast member, is now 82. I once read that Gene Kelly -- whose centennial is coincidentally being celebrated today -- considered Rall the greatest all-around dancer he'd ever known.

There's also a very good dance in a gazebo featuring Fosse, Rall, Leigh, and Garrett; the two ladies acquit themselves well opposite their more experienced dance partners.

There's a thread of music in the climactic conga routine that I could swear is also heard in the "Hernando's Hideaway" number Fosse choreographed in PAJAMA GAME, which had opened on Broadway the previous year. There are other aspects of that number which were vaguely reminiscent of "Hernando," but then Fosse's style is nothing if not distinctive!

I really enjoy Fosse's film persona, in films such as THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS (1953), KISS ME KATE (1953), and GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953); his boyish, sweet charm is an interesting contrast to his sizzling dance moves! I wish he'd done more musicals in front of the camera.

Jack Lemmon doesn't have a lot to do in the film, but he's genial in the role, and Dick York is a scene stealer as the innocent, helpful "Wreck," who takes turns platonically sharing an apartment with his girlfriend; he sleeps while she works nights, and he does housework while she sleeps. Garrett and Leigh are perfectly cast; my only quibble is I don't care for the bedtime scene where Garrett, an old favorite of mine, must make herself up to look awful.

This 108-minute movie was directed by Richard Quine, from a screenplay by Quine and Blake Edwards. Quine, as a matter of fact, played Fosse's role in the original stage production and also in the 1942 film, so he was well acquainted with the material.

MY SISTER EILEEN is available on DVD. It also had a release on VHS. It can currently be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

August 2018 Update: I had the chance to see this film in a lovely digital presentation on a big screen at UCLA, with Betty Garrett's son Andy Parks in attendance.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I had seen it again a few years ago and have always liked it--happened to tune in last night right when my favorite number, Leigh and Garrett singing "There's Nothing Like Love," was starting so I watched that.

Yes, Richard Quine, once an actor but even better as a director--he had real gifts over a range of films (DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD, FULL OF LIFE, STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET)--had been in the original though the role was smaller than the revamped version Fosse plays. I must dissent, Laura--I caught up with the 1942 version, which I'd never seen, not long after seeing this again, and I don't think it's remotely as good. I can't remember in exactly what way now, but the whole relationship between the two sisters seemed much changed for the better in this 1955version and it's a lot more appealing to me--this is a movie I'd always be glad to go back to but wouldn't see the 1942 version again. That's just my own reaction I wanted to share.

12:27 AM  
Blogger David Lobosco said...

I always enjoyed the movie - even though I didn't love it. It was amazing that they cast non singers like Jack Lemmon and Janet Leigh, but in 1955, Hollywood really did not know what to do with Jack Lemmon yet.

I'll have to dig out the musical again.

5:17 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

The genuine or real life Eileen married Nathaniel West and was killed in an automobile accident. There is or are some serious political elements revolving around the Ruth Sherwood clan. None of which, by the way, do I agree with.

8:09 AM  

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