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THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, 1964
Movie Review

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THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN,    MOVIE POSTERTHE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, 1964
Movie Reviews

Directed by Charles Walters
Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Harve Presnell, Ed Begley and Hermione Baddeley.
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya


SYNOPSIS:

Determined young Molly leaves her poor family and heads to Denver hoping to marry rich and become educated. After meeting the humble Johnny Brown and striking it rich, Denver society refuses to accept Molly. Thirsty for approval, Molly’s relentless attempts to win their favour puts the relationship with Johnny and her family at risk.

NOMINATED FOR 6 OSCARS – Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume, Music and Sound.

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REVIEW:

“Nothing nor nobody wants me down like I wants me up!”

Surviving a flood as a baby, growing up with brothers who constantly tease her and withstanding the tough Colorado wilderness, Molly was born to handle whatever life threw her way with humour and guts. Loosely based on the real-life story of Titanic survivor Margaret Brown, The Unsinkable Molly Brown was a 1964 film release based on the Broadway musical. After surviving the Colorado Flood, Molly (Debbie Reynolds) is adopted by a kind but poor man (Ed Begley) and his sons. Grateful for his kindness but wanting more for herself, she sets out towards Denver, vowing to learn to read and write and only marry rich.

Instead, Molly meets Johnny Brown (Harve Presnell) on her way to Denver. He’s charming, gracious and hospitable. But he’s not rich. Declining his offer to stay with him, Molly continues on her way, earning her keep at a saloon where she serves drinks and plays the piano badly. When she meets Johnny again, she has a proposition for him: teach her to read and write. Enamoured, he takes up the challenge and they fall in love and get married. Suddenly striking it rich in gold, Molly and Johnny move to Denver, build a gigantic house and enjoy the luxurious life – except they have no friends as the rest of Denver society isn’t impressed with the “nouveau riche” couple on Pennsylvania Street. But that won’t stop Molly from climbing up, because “up means hope. And that’s just what I got!”

As a musical, the songs are fun and sweet; entertaining for the most part because of Debbie Reynolds’ incredible energy and Harve Presnell’s extraordinary voice. Memorable songs include “Belly Up To The Bar, Boys” which has a high-kicking Debbie Reynolds lead a barroom of men in a frenzied dance. “He’s My Friend” is a large-scale number utilizing a ballroom of dancers and impressive choreography, finishing off with an elegant Molly performing a somersault in an evening dress.

Nominated for an Oscar for her performance, Debbie Reynolds dives into the role, creating a woman who is optimistic and determined if sometimes misguided. Her thirst for the finer things in life and a sense of belonging motivate her choices. Reynolds takes a grubby young girl who throws punches and merges her with a refined woman who throws parties, all the while maintaining the strength and heart that characterizes Molly. Through physical movements, Reynolds displays Molly as a woman who can maneuver between scrappy and graceful seamlessly. And that’s probably because Molly refuses to change. She wears gorgeous dresses and can speak different languages, but she holds Colorado values close to her heart and never apologizes for it. Harve Presnell reprises his role from the stage, and is really great in this role. He’s handsome, kind and funny, instantly creating chemistry with Molly. Together they make each other laugh and explore their newfound wealth with a sense of fun. Presnell has a booming voice which is versatile enough to be sometimes Elvis and sometimes Opera. Quite impressive.

Also Oscar nominated for its cinematography, the film has some breathtaking shots of Colorado Mountains, ridges and landscapes. As well, the sets are gorgeous with Johnny’s humble but lovely cabin in the woods to the huge house in Denver filled with red – an entire room of red. The costumes vary from loose fabrics and neutral colours to tight-fitting evening dresses, top-hats and lush colours.

As Molly and Johnny climb higher in European society, Molly begins to embrace the good life whereas Johnny yearns to return to Colorado. The film handles their differing ambitions and disagreements well. With her marriage at risk, Molly travels back to Europe alone and finally realizes that her quest for money was actually her journey to discovering herself and what truly matters: love.

Although Margaret Brown famously survived the sinking of the Titanic, keeping up the spirits of a lifeboat of passengers, the film rushes through this event. The sinking occurs in the last fifteen minutes with quick cuts of Molly shouting orders and a stock image of the Titanic sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Returning to Denver, Molly is finally accepted and celebrated by all those who snubbed her before. The film doesn’t delve into the event further, choosing to focus on the relationship between her and Johnny and Molly’s acceptance of all her accomplishments and mistakes.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown is an entertaining musical with energetic performances from the entire cast. Reynolds carries the film well, creating a spirited character with life and verve. Following the story of an underdog who accomplishes her goals, almost loses it all and finally triumphs is hugely satisfying.

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THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN


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