I was very disappointed in Gypsy. I went into the film expecting at least slightly interesting characters and a decent plot line, but that is definitely not what I got. The film is watchable and the last 15 minutes or so are decent, but that’s about it.
This is a musical based on the life of real life burlesque queen, Gypsy Rose Lee. The majority of the film takes place in Gypsy’s childhood, when she went by Louise. Louise is part of her mother’s vaudeville act starring her sister, Baby June. Louise is just background noise for now. Louise’s mother, Rose (Rosalind Russell), is the typical stage mother, pushing her daughters hard and not listening to anything anyone else has to say.
On an audition for an act in Hollywood, Rose meets Herbie (Karl Malden). At the time it doesn’t seem important, but when the two of them meet again by accident in Oregon, something starts to brew. He offers to drive her and her children up to her father’s house in Seattle on his way to Chicago.
While on the road, Herbie becomes quite attached to Rose, June, and Louise, and promises to book them an act in Chicago at the Weber Theatre. It’s not long before a telegram comes from Herbie, informing them they’re booked and on their way to the big time. All they have to do is get some boys in the show, which they do.
Once in Chicago, the Baby June show really takes off. They’re booking vaudeville circuits weekly all over the country. The success continues for several years, but then the Depression hits, and people aren’t interested in vaudeville anymore. The shows are becoming less frequent, and the venues less prestigious.
June is getting fed up with playing the same role night after night, and wants to pursue other activities, so she runs off and gets married. The boys are aware that vaudeville is dead, and leave to pursue other interests. The only people left with Rose are Louise and Herbie, who knows vaudeville is dead, but is too in love with Rose to leave her.
With June gone, Rose has decided to make Louise a star. The problem is, she isn’t talented. Rose, of course, won’t accept this fact and is determined, so she hires a group of girls to back Louise and creates the vaudeville act, “Rose Louise and her Hollywood Blondes.” Herbie does everything he can to promote it, but the only gig he can get is at a burlesque house.
The show is a flop, but it pays. At the end of the run, Herbie and Rose are to be married – something Herbie has longed for years. As Rose and Louise are packing up to leave the burlesque, Rose overhears the owner complaining that he doesn’t have a star stripper booked for the next two weeks. Rose is elated and rushes in, insisting Louise have the job. Louise must be a star, even if it is just burlesque. The men are desperate, so they agree.
Herbie is infuriated and he leaves Rose for good, but Louise won’t leave her mother. She goes on stage as the classiest and most beautiful stripper you’ll ever see. It is this act that leads to her famous career as Gypsy Rose Lee, queen of the burlesque.
The story is good enough, but director Mervyn LeRoy takes way too long to get you there. The music is mediocre at best and there’s maybe one song with a slightly catchy tune. The rest you won’t remember right after they’re done singing it. They don’t even give Natalie a scene to show off her acting prowess until near the end of the picture.
The only way I’d recommend Gypsy is if you live for Stephen Sondheim musicals. If not, then do yourself a favor and skip it.
Overall 1.5/4 Stars
Grade = C-