BYE BYE BIRDIE, , 1963
Starring: Ann-Margret, Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh and Maureen Stapleton.
When rock-n-roll star Conrad Birdie gets drafted into the army, struggling song-writer Albert Peterson and his secretary/girlfriend decide to get Conrad on the Ed Sullivan show for a farewell song – which Albert has written. And as a special good-bye to his fans, Conrad agrees to give one girl a kiss on air. Kim McAfee is the lucky fan, but first she has to convince her boyfriend, family and town of Sweet Apple, Ohio that this is a good idea.
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“Conrad Birdie's coming here to kiss me!”
Heartthrob Conrad Birdie has thrown the teenage world into a tizzy. Announcing his enlistment to the U.S Army, he sends the girls wailing and teen boys whooping with joy. Bye Bye Birdie is a film version of the hit Broadway musical about a group of characters who convene in Sweet Apple, Ohio for a monumental event: Conrad Birdie’s final good-bye song and an on-air kiss for one lucky girl. The film spoofs the fan frenzy around Elvis Presley in the ‘60s and his time in the army while creating characters that are amusing and slightly exaggerated.
Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is a sensation and is set to sing a song written by his agent/struggling songwriter Albert Peterson but gets drafted at the same time. Upset that he will never please his overbearing mother (Maureen Stapleton) Albert (Dick Van Dyke reprising his Broadway role), rips up his song, resigned to being a failure. His fast-thinking secretary/girlfriend Rosie (Janet Leigh) however, has a better idea: Conrad will sing his last song on the Ed Sullivan show creating buzz around the song and publicity for everyone involved. Confident in her plan, she plucks out a random fan’s name and sets out to make her “immortal.”
Immortal indeed. The fortunate young teenage girl is Kim McAfee and she is played by the 22-year old Ann-Margret, who shot to stardom after this film was released. Swinging her red hair and singing directly to the camera, Ann-Margret opens the film in a title song (“Bye Bye Birdie”) that is sexy, sweet and charismatic. Kim has just turned fifteen and marvels, “How lovely to be a woman…How marvelous to wait for a date/In simply beautiful clothes!” She’s just been ‘pinned’ – Hugo Peabody has given her his pin which means they’re going steady. The news spreads quickly in one of the film’s memorable musical numbers, “The Telephone Hour.” Energetic choreography mixed with quick lines and hilarious locations for phone conversations (a shower, gym, and library) makes this one of the entertaining numbers.
As Conrad comes to the town of Sweet Apple, screaming and fainting ensues. The citizens all get involved: the ladies act silly, the boys hate his presence and Kim’s father dislikes him and the idea of the on-air kiss. Kim breaks up with Hugo, Rosie leaves Robert because of his meddling mother and everyone is generally stressed. But as events unfold to their natural conclusion, there are moments of humour (“Kids”), genuine sweetness (“Rosie”) and fun (“Lot of Livin To Do”)
Stand-out performances include Paul Lynde as Harry McAfee, Kim’s father, who reprises his role from Broadway. He’s thoroughly funny, displaying excellent comedic timing; playing the disgruntled parent and eager business man perfectly. Janet Leigh as Rosie shines in the scenes she’s in, but unfortunately gets overshadowed by Ann-Margret who gets pushed to the front, getting most of the scenes and musical numbers. Dick Van Dyke brings his slapstick acrobatics; falling down stairs and dancing with a remarkable amount of energy.
Dance numbers, choreographed by Onna White, showcase the talent of Ann-Margret as well as the large amount of dancers needed for some complicated steps. The large fainting scene at the City Hall, the dance in “Lot of Livin To Do” and the sweet steps in “Put On A Happy Face” are well-executed and entertaining.
Although the film tends to be slightly too long, combining corny moments with sometime silly plot points, the film musical is well done and amusing. The characters are enjoyable, the situations funny and the songs are very catchy, replaying in the audience’s mind long after the film ends. Bye Bye Birdie is a fun musical and a vehicle for Ann-Margret, who displays charisma and appeal. She mixes sex, innocence, sweetness and naïveté into an everyday American girl, allowing the film to comment on the intensity of fans and celebrity.