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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Sister Eileen

Time for another installment of "Movies for Theatre Geeks."
Facebook friends and Twitter followers have read my raves about this film before, but there is a lot more to say about My Sister Eileen.
Here's the backstory: Ruth McKenney wrote a series of short stories about the trials and tribulations she and her sister Eileen experienced upon moving from a small town in Ohio to New York City. Ruth aspired to become a writer, while the glamorous Eileen aimed to become a star of the stage.
The stories were published in The New Yorker and eventually became a book in 1938. The book was adapted into a play in 1940 that became a movie in 1942 and was adapted into the Comden and Green musical Wonderful Town in 1953. Wonderful Town was a big success, and Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, wanted to buy the rights to make it into a movie musical. However, he didn't like the cost, so Mr. Cohn's solution was to hire Richard Quine (who also directed), Blake Edwards, Jule Styne and Leo Robin to adapt an all-new musical version of the play. This was cheaper but tricky since the new musical could not be too similar to Wonderful Town. So, the new movie, My Sister Eileen, has its musical numbers at different points in the story than its Broadway counterpart.
I happen to like them both.
My Sister Eileen boasts an impressive cast. Ruth is played by Betty Garrett, a now highly underrated performer who at the time hadn't been seen on film for a few years because of running afoul (unjustly) of the House Un-American Committee. Her beautiful, blonde sister is none other than the stunning Janet Leigh. The rest of the cast is filled out with the likes of Dick York, Tommy Rall, Jack Lemmon, and  a young Bob Fosse who also choreographed all of the very impressive dance numbers.
While there's a lot of great stuff in this movie, I consider it an essential for theatre aficionados because of the Fosse factor. Not only is it a chance to see some of his ingenious choreography, it's also a chance to see the master kick up his heels himself. The dance-off between Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall is not to be missed.
A fun movie, a fun musical, and a couple of giants of Broadway preserved on celluloid make My Sister Eileen a must-see if you want to be considered a full-fledged theatre geek.

Okay, I found this, which is that dance-off between Fosse and Rall and one of the most memorable scenes in the film, and I'm tempted not to include it for fear that you won't then go out and find this movie.
I guess I'll just have to trust you. There's a whole lot more in this movie that's worth seeing.

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