Movie Review by Debbie Winkler
Starring: Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Marilyn Monroe, Dan Dailey, Johnnie Ray
Director: Walter Lang
Release Date: 16 December 1954
Length: 117 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Streaming on Computer
My Rating: 3/5 stars
“Irving Berlin provides the tunes for this engaging musical about the singing and dancing Donahue clan as they ascend to stardom on the vaudeville circuit during the genre’s last hurrah. The superb cast includes Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor and Marilyn Monroe. With splashy production numbers, Merman belting out the title song and Monroe‘s sultry version of “Heat Wave,” this musical extravaganza bubbles over with sparkling style.” — Netflix.com
Hmmm. So I was in the mood to watch an old-fashioned musical and I thought that was what I was watching until it was too late to stop it! I enjoyed the first 30 minutes or so, where they introduced the Donahue family and I loved the variety show performances that the family put on (especially “Rag Time Band” one of the first numbers, which is a real showstopper). They really went all out on some of the numbers! Then the movie started wandering into the children growing up and branching off into their own areas. Okay, fine. But one son became a priest (Johnnie Ray), another (Dan Dailey) lost his heart to Marilyn Monroe’s character, Vicky, and couldn’t keep it together, the dad (Donald O’Connor) ends up feeling guilty and searching for his son, the daughter (Mitzi Gaynor) is pregnant and happily married performing with her mother (Ethel Merman) instead of her brother, the sister was friends with Marilyn, but the mom blamed her for her son’s problems and on and on. I know that stuff like this happens in families, heck, I come from a big family and can tell you that stories get convoluted and confusing, but our lives are not a movie. I thought that this movie could have been strengthened by focusing on one of the children or the parents or just try to streamline it in some way. The movie is about 2 hours long, which was 30 – 40 minutes too long for me.
The singing and dancing in this movie is pretty strong. “There’s No Business Like Show Business” is performed multiple times and to great effect. Most of the performances were huge cast numbers with crazy costumes, fun songs and lots of dancing. I enjoyed this part of the movie a lot. I also liked the family that the movie was focused on, but I thought some of the choices the kids made were a bit weird. I also did not particularly care for Marilyn Monroe in this movie and could have done without her. I didn’t believe the romance between her character and Terence Donahue (Dan Dailey). Well, I believed that he loved her, but I did not believe that she loved him. The mom was a real character in this movie. She is bold, brassy and bigger than life. In many ways, Ethel Merman & Donald O’Connor completely stole the show from their younger costars.
If you are looking for a good, old-fashioned song-and-dance musical, then this is kind of one of those. It is not as happy as most musicals are and the plot kind of wandered, in my opinion, but I still had a fun time watching it. I especially enjoyed the performances at the beginning and end of the movie. If you want my advice, I recommend that you watch the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes. I don’t think you are really missing anything in the middle. Still, I had a fun time.
Some of the costumes are kind of risqué in this movie as they are made of tan/flesh colored fabric with a few spangles and starbursts on the fabric. I thought having jewels on the tips of Marilyn Monroe’s breasts was a bit much, too. Still, everyone is covered (even though you cannot tell sometimes). One of the sons comes home drunk and is a car accident while intoxicated. Appropriate for viewers of all ages, but recommended for ages 8 and up.