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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Robert: I usually can figure out what a person is like from the way they write. But you don't seem to me like a confirmed cynic.
DVD ReviewThere's a lot of quality talent involved in My Sister Eileen, but somehow this perky 1950s musical never reaches the scintillating heights one expects from such an impressive collection of résumés. Despite choreography by Bob Fosse, a screenplay co-written by Blake Edwards, songs by Jule Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl), and a cast that includes Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett, and Fosse himself, the story of two Ohio sisters who struggle to make it big in New York becomes mired in mediocrity early on, and can't muster the muscle to dig itself out.
Okay, so Leigh, Lemmon, and Garrett can't hold a candle to Garland, Astaire, and Charisse, and Columbia ain't no MGM—especially where musicals are concerned. But even if we cut My Sister Eileen the necessary slack, it still comes up short. Few of the songs or dance routines sparkle, and though the plot's premise is cute enough, the execution is often clumsy, and the whole enterprise drags on far too long. Early in his career, director Richard Quine co-starred with Garland and Mickey Rooney in one of their Busby Berkeley backyard musicals, so he's familiar with the format; he also played the Fosse role in the earlier non-musical version of My Sister Eileen, starring Rosalind Russell. But unfortunately, he has trouble parlaying all that experience into a successful motion picture.
With high hopes and a low bank account, plain-jane Ruth Sherwood (Garrett), a practical would-be writer, arrives in New York with her knockout blonde sister, Eileen (Leigh), an aspiring actress. They rent a rundown basement apartment that's constantly rocked by underground subway blasting, and deal with a host of kooky neighbors, including Ted "Wrecks" Loomis, a former college football star played by, of all people, a pre-Bewitched Dick York. A letter of introduction gets Ruth an interview with magazine editor Robert Baker (Lemmon), but when he abruptly rejects her melodramatic love stories, Ruth decides to write about the all-too-true escapades of Eileen and how she effortlessly manipulates the opposite sex. The steamy yarns turn Robert's head, yet Ruth makes him believe Eileen is merely a fictional version of herself—a little white lie that balloons into a great big headache. Meanwhile, soda jerk Frank Lippincott (Fosse) and newspaperman Chick Clark (Tommy Rall) help Eileen break into show business—and vie for her affection.
If all this sounds a lot like Wonderful Town, there's a good reason. Both musicals are based on the same story, yet My Sister Eileen lacks the pizzazz of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green Broadway hit. The cast wrings a few laughs from the script by Edwards and Quine, but much of the humor seems forced, and though Styne's songs sound bright and melodic, they're instantly forgettable.
Enthusiasm, however, abounds, and helps transform My Sister Eileen into a painless piece of fluff. Leigh unveils some palpable musical ability, singing There's Nothing Like Love in a surprisingly pleasant voice, and dancing quite capably (with Garrett, Fosse, and Rall) in perhaps the film's best number, Give Me A Band and My Baby. Even Lemmon proves he can carry a tune, but leaves the flashy moves to Fosse and Rall, both of whom deserved far better film careers, and whose acrobatic competition dance showcases their supreme craftsmanship, while providing a glimpse of the choreographic genius Fosse would soon become.
Hollywood also gave Garrett a raw deal, indirectly blacklisting her after her husband, Larry Parks (The Jolson Story), admitted to the House Un-American Activities Committee a former affiliation with the Communist party. Garrett's considerable career momentum, built from key roles in On the Town and Take Me Out to the Ball Game, screeched to a halt, and she was off the screen for six years. She hoped My Sister Eileen would spark a professional renaissance, but even though the film gave her the kind of starring role of which she'd always been worthy, and showcases both her effervescent, wisecracking personality and marvelous talent for musical comedy, it didn't generate any buzz. Garrett would eventually find a niche on TV's All in the Family and Laverne and Shirley, but at the very least, this minor musical, for all its flaws, shows us the type of career this fine actress could have—and should have—enjoyed.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Remastered in high definition, the widescreen anamorphic transfer possesses good clarity, although some interior scenes could stand a bit of brightening. The source print, however, remains largely free of any age-related defects, allowing viewers to concentrate on the vibrant and well-saturated Technicolor hues. Fleshtones look natural, blacks are solid and inky, and though some sequences possess more grain than others, the transfer preserves the film-like feel. My Sister Eileen has certainly never looked better, and the lush treatment will please fans of the musical genre.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 4.0 track really impresses, taking full advantage of stereo separation during the musical numbers, and never failing to provide clear, dynamic sound. No surface noise or distortion interferes, and the rumbling bass during the several incidents of tunnel-blasting possesses more sonic oomph than most action movie explosions. (You've really gotta hear it to believe it.) Dialogue is always easy to understand, and the music enjoys solid fidelity. Many classic musicals advertise multi-channel audio, but My Sister Eileen truly delivers it.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring It Should Happen to You, Bye Bye Birdie, Born Yesterday
Extras Review: The film's original theatrical trailer and a few peeks at other Columbia classics are the only extras offered. Chaptering is also a bit thin for a film that runs close to two hours.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsDespite a formidable talent pool, My Sister Eileen still works better as Wonderful Town. This sprightly yet bland musical never quite catches our fancy, but fans of Bob Fosse might get a kick out of seeing the Oscar-winning director in his only leading movie role. Sony's meticulous audio and video transfers add some welcome luster, but can't make this mid-'50s curio truly shine.
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