Thursday, March 24, 2011
THE HELEN MORGAN STORY
THE HELEN MORGAN STORY (1957). Director: Michael Curtiz.
"I always get involved with men who are wrong for me."
Set against a back drop of the 1920's, prohibition, and the depression, this tells the "true" story of torch singer Helen Morgan (Ann Blyth), her rise to fame, her appearance in Show Boat, and her romantic entanglements with two men, bootlegger Larry Maddux (Paul Newman) and wealthy married lawyer Russell Wade (Richard Carlson), as well as her battles with alcoholism and her despiar over her faded career. This entertaining, well-acted picture, well-directed by Michael Curtiz and beautifully photographed by Ted D. McCord, boasts lots of atmosphere as well, but it lacks three-dimensional characters. Filmed in CinemaScope [and black and white], the film has only one major close up of Blyth [and one of Newman]. Curtiz guided Blyth to a fine performance as the venal Veda in Mildred Pierce, and she gives a superlative interpretation of Morgan in this picture. [After Mildred Pierce, Blyth appeared in a number of films, often musicals, none of which made a lasting impression. Despite her fine performance and obvious ability to carry a picture -- Newman really has only a supporting role -- The Helen Morgan Story was her last theatrical film; she did only TV work thereafter.] Newman is fine as Larry, and there are good supporting performances from Cara Williams and Alan King. Gene Evans of The Giant Behemoth and Park Row plays another bootlegger, and Ed Platt of Get Smart is a government man. I believe Blyth's singing was dubbed by an uncredited Gogi Grant, who does a superb job with "The Man I Love" and other great standards. Other movies about alcoholic singers include Smash Up and I'll Cry Tomorrow, both starring Susan Hayward. In real life Morgan was married three times (and gave up a baby for adoption) but in this film she just pines for Larry and never gets married.
Verdict: Classy biopic but take with a grain of salt, especially the ending. ***.