Helen Morgan Story, The (1957)

Helen Morgan Story, The (1957)

“Why does it always have to be you?”

Torch singer Helen Morgan (Ann Blyth) falls in love with a married producer (Richard Carlson) and retains a lifelong attraction to a charming hustler (Paul Newman) while rising to the top of her field and then beginning a steady descent into alcoholism.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
  • Ann Blyth Films
  • Biopics
  • Downward Spiral
  • Michael Curtiz Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Singers

Twelve years after directing Ann Blyth in her breakthrough role as scheming Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945), Michael Curtiz worked with Blyth once again in her final film, this big-budget biopic about talented torch singer Helen Morgan, viewable in real life by film fanatics in two Peary-listed titles — Applause (1929) and Showboat (1936). Blyth fully inhabits the title role, playing Morgan with sympathy and emotional depth — though it’s unfortunate the storyline plays so lightly with the true details of her life; for instance, Newman’s fictional character is an amalgam of all the no-good heels Morgan encountered and couldn’t seem to stay away from, thus playing conveniently into the sentiments of her two most famous songs from Showboat: “Bill” and “Can’t Help Loving’ Dat Man”. Morgan’s alcoholism (the direct cause of her death at the age of 41) isn’t quite glossed over, but isn’t handled with nearly as much candor as it could have been. With that said, the film is fluidly directed, with impressive CinemaScope cinematography, and the musical sequences (dubbed by Gogi Grant, despite Blyth’s own fine voice) are enjoyable — so it’s worth a one-time look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ann Blyth as Helen Morgan
  • Fine CinemaScope cinematography

  • Many well-staged musical numbers

Must See?
No, though fans of Morgan will of course be curious to check it out.


One thought on “Helen Morgan Story, The (1957)

  1. First viewing (10/30/18). Not must-see. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Everything I touch turns bad.”

    ‘The Helen Morgan Story’ (1957): Acc. to Wikipedia: “…most of the wobbly plot is fictional, which is unfortunate since Morgan’s true story was much more spectacular and, had it been followed, would have provided a finer film.” However, if you also look up Helen’s name, you more or less get a story that’s not that removed from Michael Curtiz’s film. As usual, Curtiz has done a sturdy job of storytelling and things move along swiftly, with visual flair. As Morgan, Ann Blyth (who apparently had a fine singing voice but not quite the powerhouse voice supplied by Gogi Grant) does her valiant best through one melodramatic scene after another… until the bottle grabs hold of her (alcohol claimed Morgan at age 41). [There’s a ‘down-and-out in the bar’ sequence which seems to have been lifted almost word-for-word for Patty Duke’s “That’s me on that jukebox” scene in ‘Valley of the Dolls’.] We don’t really get a clear sense of why (exactly) Morgan went from being a wildly ambitious talent to someone who simply stopped caring about herself (but perhaps alcohol doesn’t have room for such answers – or perhaps someone reading this knows more about Morgan). Paul Newman and Richard Carlson play the two men entwined with Morgan (~and, is it just me?, or is Carlson sexier?) If you get nothing much else out of this flick, you *do* get a superb soundtrack comprised largely of classic torch songs.

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