A couple of years ago, one of my friends went to New York City with our dorm as part of a trip. Like me, she’s a big theater buff, and so she, along with out Resident Faculty Leaders (we were both RA’s), went to go see the Broadway production of Gypsy. The way she talked about, it seemed like she really enjoyed it. When I saw that the 1962 film adaptation starring Natalie Wood, Rosalind Russell, and Karl Malden was coming up next on my Netflix queue, I got sort of excited. Well, my excitement was for naught. While parts of the film were good, particularly Rosalind Russell as the stage mother, the film turned out to be an over-long melodramatic affair with musical numbers that mostly left me wanting.
Gypsy is the autobiographical and musical tale of Louise (Natalie Wood), her sister June, and their stage mother Rose (Rosalind Russell). Louise grows up to be the most famous burlesque act of all time, Gypsy Rose Lee, but when she’s younger, she lives in the shadow of her sister June who her mother ships all across the country performing in various vaudeville shows. Rose is the archetypal stage mother that pushes career and stardom ahead of her daughter’s happiness. Karl Malden is also in the cast as Herbie, a traveling salesman/booking agent that enter’s Rose’s life and tries to help the girls find venues in which to perform.
Rosalind Russell is just spectacular in this movie. Every second she was on screen, the film was actually great. She played her with so much campiness and ham that it should have been ridiculously over the top but she made it work. She may be one of the worst mothers of all time, but I still kind of felt terrible for her at times. Karl Malden is one of cinema’s great character actors and he nails his role as well, but that’s what I expect from him. The only other Natalie Wood movies I’ve seen besides this are The Searchers and Rebel Without a Cause, and I thought she did a better job in both of those films. She’s not a great singer, and it really comes through in her performance.
This was a Stephen Sondheim musical, and the music was just of an infinitely inferior quality than the other Sondheim that I’ve seen, Sweeney Todd. There was only one really memorable number in the whole film, “Rose’s Turn”, and Chris Colfer did a better job with it on Glee than the movie did. He actually sang another song from the film and did a better job than Gypsy did with it as well. The only good thing I can say about the film’s arrangements was that it got post-modern at times by having so much of the film take place on a theatre stage since it was an adaptation of a stage musical and therefore it recaptured that aspect of the true experience of Gypsy.
I can recommend this to hardcore musical enthusiasts but that’s about it. At two and half hours long, it’s just far too much for anyone else to bear since the pacing is terribly slow. Honestly, the film has ruined any desire I have to see the stage version, although I should know that film adaptations often fail to capture the spirit and fun of musicals. The terrible Phantom of the Opera film by Joel Schumacher taught me that. I saw that live and it’s one of my all time favorite stage shows. Hopefully, my next film is more entertaining than this one.
Final Score: B-