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Being a Marilyn Monroe fan, I have been trying to collect her films on DVD over the past couple of years. One of these I have is Theres No Business Like Show Business, but I hadnt seen this film for a long time, so I decided to sit down and watch it again.
The film was made in 1954 and stars an impressive list of big Hollywood names. Besides Marilyn Monroe, the cast includes Donald OConnor, Dan Dailey, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray and the larger than life Ethel Merman.
The film begins in 1919, where Molly and Terence Donahue (played by Merman and Dailey) are making a living in Vaudeville theatre. With their three young children, their act becomes The Five Donahues and they become successful. Then their children grow up and begin to make their own life choices. Will they stay in the theatre? Will they find good partners?
Yes, thats pretty much all there is of a plot. But you dont watch Theres No Business Like Show Business for the plot! You watch it for the cast and the amazing Irving Berlin musical numbers.
The tone is set immediately with an opening number set on stage. The bright colours, elaborate costumes and vibrant sets are visually stunning and these continue to appear regularly throughout the movie. There is a big cast with lots of extras in the musical numbers. This adds to the glamorous feel it has overall. The film comes across as being somewhat dated, but charming.
The acting is less important to the movie than the singing and dancing, but still of a high standard. Each of the films stars gets their share of solo performances and a chance to display their personal strengths.
Ethel Merman plays the matriarch Molly Donahue and manages to deliver a controlled and restrained performance. Dan Dailey is somewhat overshadowed by his on-screen wife, but he portrays Terence as stoical, strong and well-intentioned.
The Donahue children all convey their different characteristics well. Steve (Johnnie Ray) is the quietest of their children and rather serious while Tim (Donald OConnor) is gregarious, full of fun and enjoys himself. Their daughter Katy (Mitzi Gaynor) is independent and a strong character initially, but seems to soon be taken under the spell of a man and fits into a more stereotypical role.
Of the three, I enjoyed Mitzi Gaynors role the most, with her fresh-faced and youthful enthusiasm showing through. But if anyone enjoys watching fast-paced routines with lots of tap dancing, Donald OConnors solo will be a highlight for you.
Marilyn Monroe, in her 25th film, plays Vicky, Tims main love interest. In some ways, Marilyn seems to be playing herself here. Vicky is steadfastly trying to better herself, wanting to be seen as a serious actress and taking elocution lessons.
Marilyn has several big production numbers in the film, her main ones being After You Get What You Want (You Dont Want It), Heat Wave and Lazy. She deals with them really well and shows her versatility and genuine talent.
If people are unfamiliar with Marilyns work, they might well be expecting her to fulfil the public image of dumb blonde with no talent who has only got where she is with her looks. But it is soon obvious that she can act, sing and dance with the best of them. She has a really good voice, great vocal range and dances with a graceful and natural movement. She wears beautiful costumes and looks stunning in them, but despite her indisputable sexiness, she comes over as a very classy lady in all her scenes.
The one time when I felt Marilyn was eclipsed in the movie was the performance of the title song by Ethel Merman near the end. Merman excels, it really is her song and I always associate her with this. She looks so much at home during this number and comes across as a complete professional, totally at home on the stage and in front of a camera.
Overall, Theres No Business Like Show Business is good old-fashioned family entertainment. It is fine for all ages and I am sure grandmothers would particularly enjoy watching it. It is predominantly a musical, of course, but also a light comedy with some cute, funny bits.
The plot is thin, but the performances make up for this. There is an impressive cast here and they all add their own particular brand of star quality. While it is nowhere near my favourite musical, I did enjoy it and found it a happy, feel good kind of film.
So, what is wrong with it? Well, it does have its faults. Sometimes the production numbers seem to go on a bit long and my interest dwindled at times. But at 117 minutes, it is very long for a film from this time.
As for potential viewers, I cant see many straight middle-aged men watching this out of choice, but most other demographic groups will get something out of it. There is also an embarrassingly bad version of Alexanders Ragtime Band near the start, which includes some cringe-worthy bits that seem to pander to every national stereotype!
Overall, Marilyn Monroe fans will love it, as will those who adore these kinds of big production visually impressive musical extravaganzas.
The version I have has only a few extras, but that is to be expected with films this old. It has two different versions of English-language theatrical trailers and one in Portuguese. There is a section on the restoration taken and a comparison between the old and new prints. Finally, there is a one sheet which is basically a picture of the poster of the film.
Theres No Business Like Show Business is part of the Marilyn Monroe boxset - The Diamond Collection Vol. 2 (£23.97 on Amazon new) or is available as an individual film DVD for £12.99.