Gypsy (1962)

Gypsy (1962)

“They’re real dreams — and I’m gonna make ’em come real for my kids!”

A domineering stage mother (Rosalind Russell) does whatever it takes to ensure her daughters June (Ann Jillian) and Louise (Natalie Wood) achieve success in vaudeville, including stretching the long-lasting patience of her loyal suitor (Karl Malden).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Biopics
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Mervyn LeRoy Films
  • Musicals
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Rosalind Russell Films
  • Strippers
  • Strong Females
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque

Mervyn LeRoy directed this adaptation of the hit 1959 Broadway musical of the same name, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original stage star, Tony-nominated Ethel Merman, was notoriously passed over in favor of a more bankable (and well-connected) Hollywood star, Rosalind Russell, who effectively comes across as a royal bitch of an overbearing mother.

While there’s no accounting for tastes, I find it challenging watching Malden allowing himself to be strung along by her for so many years. Meanwhile, Russell’s treatment of her children as pawns of her own dreams for glory is, of course, beyond atrocious.

As DVD Savant writes in his review:

Arthur Laurents’ play subverts the standard showbiz biography to show the ugly side underneath. Stage mother Mama Rose has enough energy and will to keep poor Herbie [Malden] on a string. She relentlessly pushes one of her daughters into the limelight, only to have the shy one [Wood] blossom into a sensational career as a stripper, as the famed Gypsy Rose Lee.

Indeed, the turn of events that leads to Wood’s character suddenly having a chance to shine as the title character — whether she wants it or not (which is debatable) — is a unique spin on the storyline:

… though it should be said that the view on display here of strippers is decidedly sanitized, and primarily milked for laughs.

While this movie has its fans (see Tired Old Queen’s video review, for instance), LeRoy’s direction is uninspired; it’s primarily worth a one-time look simply to hear some of the musical’s most famous tunes — including “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Let Me Entertain You”.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Harry Stradling’s cinematography
  • Several fine musical numbers

Must See?
No; only fans of Russell, Wood, or the musical itself need to check this one out.


One thought on “Gypsy (1962)

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema history, for the score and for Wood and Russell’s performances.

    I’m rather in disagreement re: the assessment given. To me, the value of ‘Gypsy’ as a film is solid. Not only is it one of the best-written scripts for a film musical but its Styne / Sondheim score is among the best in musical history. It’s simply too iconic for ffs not to see. (The average ff is not necessarily the average theatergoer – but there are some musicals that should be no-brainers for ff-viewing and ‘Gypsy’ is one of them.)

    I would agree that Rose’s behavior toward her children is, in a sense, “atrocious” (if not “beyond atrocious”) – and supposedly the play and film versions water it down. However – at least as shown in the story – although she’s incredibly pushy and demanding, it’s not as if she beats the children or actually pimps them for money (and nothing else). She wants success (all of which is explained in the song ‘Some People’). She wants her kids to be noticed as worthy – which, of course, is directly tied to her own neurotic need to be noticed as worthy (the whole point of ‘Rose’s Turn’, among the most powerful of crescendos in musical history). This is all psychological territory rarely explored in a musical (which Sondheim by himself would explore further in works to come).

    I don’t feel that LeRoy’s direction is “uninspired”; ‘Gypsy’ is already flashy-enough material that it doesn’t require going OTT. I do feel that both Wood and Russell are fine in their roles.

    If for no other reason, the hilarity of ‘Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick’ alone makes the film must-see. But, fortunately, there’s plenty more entertainment to go around here.

Leave a Reply