Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… Little Nellie Kelly (1940)

“My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.” -George M. Cohan (James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy)

No, I’m not doing Yankee Doodle Dandy at this time, but it’s still worth thinking of George M. Cohan, since the movie I am discussing, is the 1940 musical Little Nellie Kelly, which is based on one of the shows he originally wrote (and for those eagle-eyed enough to spot it, is briefly mentioned during one montage in Yankee Doodle Dandy). The movie stars Judy Garland (as both a mother and her daughter), George Murphy, and Charles Winninger.

The movie starts in Ireland, with Nellie (Judy) becoming engaged to Jerry Kelly (George Murphy), much to the objections of her stubborn non-working father, Michael Noonan (Charles Winninger). They all immigrate to America, and study to become citizens, with Jerry planning to become a policeman. Nellie becomes pregnant, and gives birth after Jerry becomes an officer. Apparently, the birth had some complications, and Nellie dies. Between the feuding Jerry and his father-in-law, they raise Little Nellie (Judy again) together. The question remains, will Michael ever learn to work and learn to get along with Jerry?

As I mentioned, this movie was based on the 1922 Broadway show written by George M. Cohan. How much of the show made it into the movie, I don’t know, beyond about two songs. While much of the music can be fun, the real treat is hearing Judy do “Singin’ in the Rain” her way! I can see why Gene Kelly’s version remains so popular, but I actually prefer hearing Judy swinging it her way! The song was not written for this movie or the original show (and had been introduced in the movies nearly a decade earlier).

The rest of the movie is still fun, and it’s such a delight to watch Judy in her first grownup role as Nellie (and we certainly get to see her put her dramatic abilities to use in the hospital). For her alone, this movie is worth it!

The movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #11 in Top 11 Movies Watched in 2018

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Strike Up The Band (1940) – Judy Garland – For Me And My Gal (1942)

Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) – George Murphy – Tom, Dick And Harry (1941)

Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939) – Charles Winninger – Something In The Wind (1947)

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