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GYPSY (director: Mervyn Leroy; screenwriters: Leonard Spigelgass/based on the musical by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim/adapted from Gypsy, a Memoir by Gypsy Rose Lee; cinematographer: Harry Stradling, Sr.; editor: Philip W. Anderson; music: Frank Perkins; cast: Rosalind Russell (Rose), Natalie Wood (Louise aka Gypsy Rose Lee), Karl Malden (Herbie Sommers), Paul Wallace (Tulsa No. 2), Betty Bruce (Tessie Tura), Parley Baer (Mr. Kringelein), Morgan Brittany (“Baby” June), Ann Jillian (“Dainty” June), Faith Dane (Mazeppa), Harvey Korman (Phil, agent), Jack Benny (Himself); Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mervyn Leroy; Warner Home Video; 1962)
“Abloated musical that is far from great and more like average.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mervyn Leroy (“Little Caesar”/”Five Star Final”/”Mister Roberts”) makes things a long boring slog, as he directs this vaudeville musical hit stage show that starred Ethel Merman on Broadway. It was considered one of the greatest stage musicals ever. For the movie it engaged popular movie star Rosalind Russell (hubby owned the movie rights and she had more star appeal because of her film career). The result was a fair box office success, and some critical acclaim for the music, costumes and photography. Since Roz’s singing range was limited, Lisa Kirk provides the singing.

It’s a bloated musical that is far from great and more like average. It’s based on the 1957 memoirs of noted burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, who tells of how in the early days her pushy showbiz mom Rose (Rosalind Russell) got her into the business. The bubbly music is provided by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, and includes such numbers as “Let Me Entertain You” “Baby” June, “Dainty”; “Some People,” “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Rose’s Turn”; “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”; “Mr. Goldstone”; “Baby June and the Newsboys”; “Little Lamb”; “Dainty June and Her Farmboys”; “If Mama Was Married”; “All I Need Is the Girl”; “Together Wherever We Go”; “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”.

Domineering Mama Rose has two daughters, the older June (Morgan Brittany), billed as “Dainty June”, and the younger Louise (Natalie Wood). Nice guy Herbie Sommers (Karl Malden) is a stage director in love with Rose and becomes the manager-agent who gets gigs for the child stars on the vaudeville circuit. Rose is more interested in career ambitions for her daughters than marriage to Herbie, which eventually turns him off and leaves her alone until the climax. Even though June has the better roles as a singer dancer, Mom pushes Louise to be the star of a burlesque show. With the decline of vaudeville, the shy Louise goes against mom’s wishes and works her way into becoming Gypsy Rose Lee –the world’s most famous stripper stripper.

June outgrows her childish act and goes it solo, eventually becoming famous as the actress June Havoc.

A miscast skinny Natalie Wood no way can convince as being the voluptuous stripper, while the unappealing Russell is no Merman and does the pic no great favor as its scene stealing brash star; which are only two of the mistakes that keep things phony looking. The uneven bittersweet musical about the “mother” of all pushy stage mothers has some entertainment value, but never sizzles as it should have.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”