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Release Date(s)1962 (November 20, 2012)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. (Warner Archive)
By the 1960s, the old-fashioned Hollywood musical was beginning to show signs of fatigue. Sure, there were the occasional blockbusters that eventually became beloved classics like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music. But the decade racked up a lot more misses than hits with expensive flops like Doctor Dolittle, Paint Your Wagon and many others. Because of this reputation, I always approach musicals from the 60s with some trepidation. So imagine my surprise upon putting in Gypsy and, within the first 10 minutes, finding it to be well-nigh irresistible.
Rosalind Russell delivers a powerhouse performance as Rose Hovick, a domineering stage mother hell-bent on turning her daughters, June and Louise, into vaudeville stars. She teams up with self-appointed booking agent Herbie Sommers (Karl Malden, perhaps the last actor you’d expect to see in a big musical extravaganza). The act they create, Baby June and Her Newsboys, becomes a sensation, running for years as Baby June matures into Dainty June and the less-talented Louise (Natalie Wood), relegated to the newsboy chorus, waits for someone to finally notice her. When June quits the act, Rose turns her attentions to Louise but it’s too little, too late. Vaudeville is dying and the only booking they can get is in a burlesque house. Here, Louise finally finds her true calling and becomes the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee.
The entire cast of Gypsy is excellent, never giving less than 110%, but this is really Russell’s show. She delivers her dialogue with the same rat-a-tat rhythm she had in His Girl Friday but with a drive and desperation that makes Rose both a little sad and a little frightening. As was typical of musicals of the era, most of Russell’s singing was dubbed but her face still manages to convey the emotion of the great songs by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim.
My only complaint about the movie is in Natalie Wood’s rather abrupt transition from Louise to Gypsy. She becomes a star in the space of a montage and from there, the movie’s on a skateboard to the finish line. I would have liked to see more of Wood as she becomes the star no one ever thought she’d be. Still, it’s rare for a movie, particularly a musical, to leave you wanting more rather than less.
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presentation of Gypsy is truly a treat to watch. This is a beautiful, vibrant picture with outstanding detail and solid, eye-popping color. With music this good, I’d love to be able to report that the disc sounds spectacular. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite. It certainly isn’t bad. It’s just a little uneven and kind of flat. It’s probably the best that can be expected but don’t expect miracles. The disc also includes the original trailer and two deleted songs, “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” and “Together Wherever We Go”. The scenes aren’t missed in the movie but they’re fun to watch on their own.
I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Gypsy and I’m extremely impressed with Warner Archive’s Blu-ray work to date. The films they’ve selected to date truly benefit from an HD presentation and each one has suffered a rather lackluster DVD release in the past. They’re off to a great start and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke