Rose Hovick is determined to make her daughters vaudeville stars by immersing them into the world of show business – whether they want to or not. In a desperate attempt for fame, Rose pushes her daughter Louise to perform at a burlesque theatre, eventually creating Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous stripper. But as the relationships in her life begin to crumble, Rose is forced to face her mistakes and insecurities if she wants to keep the people she loves.
NOMINATED FOR 3 OSCARS – Cinematography, Costume Design, Musical Score
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“If I die, it won’t be from sitting, it’ll be from fighting to get up and get out!”
She commands the stage like she was born to entertain; she’s a star – except no one knows her. Shouting orders behind curtains and conducting the conductor, Rose Hovick is the classic stage mother. And her children are going to be stars damn it, because in show business, “you gotta grab every opportunity!” Based on the 1959 Broadway production, Gypsy was released in 1962 and follows the rise of shy Louise Hovick (Natalie Wood) into famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee with the urging of her ambitious mother Rose (Rosalind Russell).
Rose is driven to succeed. She’s gutsy, pushy and quick on her feet. Married and divorced multiple times, her only focus is her two young daughters, June and Louise. June is the quintessential American beauty – blond, sweet and lovely. Louise is shy and awkward. So June becomes the headliner, the family’s bread and butter. Traveling across America, Rose takes her daughters and a troupe of young boys on a rigourous vaudeville tour, booking as many shows as they can get. Teaming up with Herbie (Karl Malden), a stage director who falls for Rose, the traveling act becomes a hit. But it comes at a cost.
The performances are the highlight of the film. Garnering a Golden Globe win for her performance, Rosalind Russell is fearless and vulnerable, displaying her insecurities through her desperate need for success. The film provides her with many monologues and songs with which to exhibit her acting skills and she takes advantage of every opportunity. Natalie Wood as Louise/Gypsy is a beautiful blend of innocence, sadness and joy. Her transition from shy mouse to sexy stripper is well done; she becomes hard and driven – just like her mother. Karl Malden plays Rose’s exasperated lover, amused and frustrated with Rose’s ambition. His realization that that Rose is never going to marry him because she’s married to the stage is heartbreaking yet inevitable.
The film uses the convention of a musical within a musical to showcase most of its songs. Many performances are with the children auditioning on stage or rehearsing. The children in the film are phenomenal singers and dancers, performing challenging choreography and displaying great timing. Choreographer Jerome Robbins’ (West Side Story) touch is apparent in the dance “All I Need Is The Girl.” Quick, bold steps, use of the surrounding sets and smooth, fluid movements mark the number as one of the more delightful performances.
The songs are fun “Some People,” “Mr. Goldstone,” and sometimes sweet, “Little Lamb.” The most memorable songs however are “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Let Me Entertain You” which is sung twice by both June and Louise, giving the song a different meaning and feeling. The young “Dainty June” decked in layers of white lace and a ribbon in her hair sings:
Let me entertain you/Let me make you smile
But when Louise is shoved on stage in a figure hugging dress and told to strip, the song takes on a darker feel, with Natalie Wood giving a performance that is both sad and sexy. The women go head-to-head in dressing rooms; Rose forcing Louise to strip and then years later when Gypsy Rose declares, “I am Gypsy Rose Lee! And I love her! And I'll be damned if you're gonna take it away from me!” As Rose finally deals with the fact that both her daughters have moved on, she takes the stage, staring out into the abandoned theatre and asks, “When is it my turn? Don't I get a dream for myself?” It is a heartbreaking and hopeful moment as Rose and Louise discover a new aspect to their now adult relationship.
Gypsy is a well-made musical with fine performances that explore the delicate relationship between mothers and daughters. While the first half of the film is light and fun, the last half delves into issues of loss, regrets and relationships making this a musical with some grit and heart.