“Star Of The Month (March 2021)” Featuring Gene Kelly in… Marjorie Morningstar (1958)

It’s the last Sunday of the month, and so we’ve got one last Gene Kelly film to end out his run as Star Of The Month! This time, it’s the 1958 movie Marjorie Morningstar (based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Herman Wouk), which also stars Natalie Wood! But first, we have a fun theatrical short!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Vitamin Pink (1966)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 25 seconds)

The Pink Panther is selling some pep pills out west, but finds himself stuck as a deputy when he gives some to an escaped convict. Of course, the fun here is in watching those pep pills work, first for an older man who is given new life to chase after a young and attractive woman (in one of the short’s more dated moments), and then the bandit, who gets away with a lot of money. It does admittedly repeat itself a little while the bank robber steals from a second and third bank, but the way that the Panther captures the villain is rather amusing, and a proper ending for the short (with everything coming full circle for the robber). I certainly know I enjoyed seeing it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

College student Marjorie Morgenstern (Natalie Wood) is unsure of what direction in life to take. She wants to be an actress on the stage, but her parents, Arnold (Everett Sloane) and Rose Morgenstern (Claire Trevor), want her to marry and raise a family. Her mother is particularly thrilled when Marjorie’s boyfriend, Sandy Lamm (Edward Byrnes), proposes, but Marjorie turns him down. Her family is planning a summer vacation with Sandy’s family, but Marjorie wants to be apart from them. She ends up taking a job as the dramatic counselor at Camp Tamarack in the Catskills, along with her college friend Marsha Zelenko (Carolyn Jones). One night, at Marsha’s insistence, they take a canoe to the South Wind resort on the other side of the lake. Since they aren’t guests at the resort, they sneak into the theatre there, where Marsha runs off with a musician, and Marjorie stays to watch the rehearsals. She meets the director, Noel Airman (Gene Kelly) and his assistant Wally Wronken (Marty Milner). Wally is instantly smitten with her, but she only has eyes for Noel. Later that night, while waiting for Marsha to return, Marjorie is caught by resort owner Mr. Greech (George Tobias), but Noel bails her out by offering her a job. Soon, her uncle Samson (Ed Wynn) comes to the resort to work in the kitchen (and keep an eye on Marjorie for her parents). Marjorie and Noel become close, but trouble arises when uncle Samson dies of a heart attack when entertaining visitors. Marjorie returns to the city and finishes college. After she graduates, she runs into Noel, who has now become an advertising executive and seems to be doing well. However, his insecurities come to light when his former assistant Wally becomes a success on Broadway, and so Noel starts drinking. Again, Marjorie tries to leave him, especially after discovering him with another woman. Soon, Marjorie’s friend Marsha gets married, but she tells Marjorie off for leaving Noel, who very obviously loves her. Noel returns, announcing that he has finished a musical play that he had been working on, and Marjorie gets Marsha’s new husband to help finance it. Things still don’t go right, as the critics attack the show savagely, and Noel disappears once again. Can Marjorie find him this time, or will she let him be?

I’m now coming off my first time seeing Marjorie Morningstar (unlike the other Gene Kelly films that I’ve reviewed this month, which I’ve generally seen quite a few times at this point). I will readily admit to the fact that he is the main reason I wanted to see this movie. At the time he made this movie, Gene was coming off of his contract at MGM ending after nearly fifteen years. I’ve mainly seen his musicals from that era (and at least two of his non-musical roles), and this film feels like quite a departure. He’s not playing his usual cocky and self-assured self here. Instead, his character is full of insecurities, as he tries to figure out what to do with his life, especially as his new love for Marjorie pushes him to try and be better (although without much success). It’s a different role than I’m used to seeing from him, and yet, his performance here works for me. He does do some dancing here. It’s nothing big, and certainly nothing that would make us forget all the wonderful dances he had already done earlier in his career. Still, it doesn’t take away from the movie.

For actress Natalie Wood, this film was part of her transition from mostly childish roles into adult characters. I feel that she does a fairly good job here with the role. We do see in her a character that is trying to break the mold, trying to break away from tradition (mainly the old idea of getting married, settling down and raising a family instead of having a career). I wouldn’t say that her performance is anything special, necessarily, but she does well enough to sell the movie. Admittedly, she does have one dance routine (and not even with Gene), and it does feel awkward to watch. Quite frankly, I wonder why they even bothered putting it in the movie, as it would be just as good (if not better) without it.

Overall, though, I do enjoy the movie. Ed Wynn’s appearance in the movie is fun. Definitely different from many of the (mostly Disney) roles I’ve known him for most of my life, but he’s still entertaining, and makes you like his character. The movie’s main song, “A Very Precious Love” (by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) ended up being nominated for an Oscar. Personally, it didn’t stick with me after one viewing, but we’ll see in the future. Like I said, this is a decent movie, and one I’m glad was pulled out of the vaults so that it could be seen again. It’s not as good as many of Gene’s earlier films, but it’s still one I would recommend giving a chance!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics (although last I knew, it was part of their “While Supplies Last” sale, so when it’s gone, it’s gone).

Film Length: 2 hours, 3 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Les Girls (1957)Gene Kelly

Miracle On 34th Street (1947) – Natalie Wood – Kings Go Forth (1958)

Raw Deal (1948) – Claire Trevor – Two Weeks In Another Town (1962)

Silk Stockings (1957) – George Tobias – The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

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