The Helen Morgan Story

1957, Movie, NR, 118 mins

Review

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In the Jazz Age days of flappers, gangsters, and bathtub gin, Helen Morgan was the greatest torch singer, a petite brunette who sat atop pianos plaintively warbling sad songs about the men who mistreated her. More a profile of those songs than a detailed exposition of her life, this film offers only a slice of a fabulous and unforgettable career. In this version, the fates of Morgan (Ann Blyth) and tough guy Larry (Paul Newman) are inextricably linked from the time he first spots her in Chicago, where she sings and does the hula in sideshows, through fame and ill-gotten fortune (strong-arm sales of bootleg hooch), on to the collapse of both their careers--hers in alcoholism, his in prison. Along the way, they part, she takes up with Wade, a lawyer (Richard Carlson), and the three become partners in the House of Morgan, though Larry acts as if he and not Wade had financed the nightclub. Although it looks as if the story is headed for a tragic ending, the final moments of the film are upbeat, if a little maudlin. Most of the wobbly plot is fictional, which is unfortunate since Morgan's true story was much more spectacular and, had it been followed, would have provided a finer film. Blyth is effective as the fragile torch singer and Newman is terrific as the leather-skinned hood who shows that tiny soft spot at the end. Carlson as the rich man is a prop, but Alan King is good as Larry's uneducated, goony sidekick. Gogi Grant dubbed Blyth. Songs include "Bill" (Jerome Kern, P.G. Wodehouse), "Don't Ever Leave Me," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Why Was I Born?" (Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II), "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" (Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh), "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" (Clifford Grey, Nat D. Ayer), "The Love Nest" (Otto Harbach, Louis A. Hirsch), "I'll Get By" (Roy Turk, Fred Ahlert), "Body and Soul" (Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton, John Green), "Avalon" (Vincent Rose, Al Jolson), "Breezin' Along with the Breeze" (Haven Gillespie, Seymour Simons, Richard Whiting), "Someone to Watch over Me," "Do Do Do," "I've Got a Crush on You" (George and Ira Gershwin). leave a comment

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