Year of Release: 1962 Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Starring Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Ann Jillian, and Suzanne Cupito.
“I had a dream, a dream about you, baby.” So sings Rose Hovick (Rosalind Russel) as she begins Gypsy’s most famous number, which serves to prep her daughter Louise (Natalie Wood) for the show business. It does not matter that Louise has never showed tremendous talent as her younger sister June (Ann Jillian) did. Never mind that Rose’s attention had previously been solely focused on making June a star. Now that June has left, she can be forgotten. It is all about Louise now, or so Rose claims.
Anyone who has any familiarity with Gypsy will of course know that Rose’s plans for June’s stardom were never about June, and later those modified plans were certainly not about Louise. Rose wants a child who will be a vaudeville star. It does not matter who that child is, and ultimately, it does not matter in what venue she is a star. Nor does it matter what the child wants. When June tells her mother that she wants a certain opportunity, Rose dismisses her as a child who does not know what she is talking about.
To underscore Rose’s projection of her own ego onto her daughters, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics for “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” utilize a brilliant conceit. The first and last words of the song are both first person pronouns, and the music emphasizes them. The title of the song also references Rose’s name, further underscoring that the obsession with show business is for her, not her daughters. Whenever the song’s title is sung, a rhythmic augmentation stresses the importance of these words, and orchestral accents highlight “roses,” again depicting that Rose’s passion is for herself.
The other songs are equally well crafted. Louise and June’s duet “If Momma Was Married” contains several witty references to show business, which Louise and June wish to pursue on their own, without their Mother overseeing their every move. Naturally, the word that receives the most rhythmic elongation is “momma.” “Let Me Entertain You” is a straightforward, vaudeville-style swing that serves to showcase the talent of the Hovick daughters as they are exploited by their mother. It is the first number when June performs it, and it returns at a crucial moment much later in the film. Rose is sweet and manipulative with “Small World,” and the melody descends as she lures Herbie (Karl Malden) into being her business partner in her small show business world.
The entire cast gives decent performances. Both Russell and Malden, neither of whom were known for musicals, perform and act their songs very convincingly, merging the music into the storyline naturally. Natalie Wood captures both the initial awkwardness of Louise and then her debonair talent that emerges later. Both Ann Jillian and Suzanne Cupito are very talented as the adult and child June respectively. They both make Rose’s focus on June believable and clearly show that June was the more talented daughter in musical theatre. Both of them also portray June as a kind and caring sister, who wants what is best for herself and her sister, and she is clearly conflicted about leaving her mother.
Any good production of Gypsy will belong to the actress who plays Rose, and the movie mostly belongs to Russell, even if she is less than convincing in her big final number. She is domineering when everything is going her way and vulnerable when others leave her and her small world is threatened. After she steals silverware from a restaurant to save money, she is oblivious to the irony of asking the waitress for a spoon to stir her tea. Her selfishness drives everyone away from her sooner or later, and yet she always blames them for leaving her. Louise is the only person who is still remotely with her at the end, and the effect of the relationship shows in the way that Louise has become a star. Rose may have achieved her dream, but at the same time it is the opposite of her original dream. However, this is not surprising; just as Rose reflected her ego onto her daughters, she reflected her immorality and relativism onto Louise as well. Additionally, Louise’s career spirals more and more out of control, just like Rose’s ambition has done throughout the musical.
Director Mervyn LeRoy stages the production very well, successfully moving it from stage to screen. The choreography is skilled and appropriate for era. The lip-synching is accurate and professional. There is a brief sound mixing problem on “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” and the ending is robbed of its full potential because Russell cannot quite breakdown the way she needs to. Nevertheless, Gypsy not only entertains the audience in a grand fashion, but provides a serious and realistic look at the allure of fame, which may appear as roses, but in reality has many thorns.
Content Advisory: Several mildly suggestive stripteases, intense family discord, partially revealing costumes, and mild crass language. Not Rated
Suggested Audience: Teens and up with discernment.
Personal Recommendation: B