Play It Again – My Sister Eileen. By Jess Lomas.
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
“I’d love for a young man with tender eyes but my competition’s too keen. My name is mud; I’m a real dud, as soon as they see Eileen.”
It’s clear Ruth Sherwood (Betty Garrett) has some issues when it comes to her younger, blonder, slimmer, prettier sister Eileen (Janet Leigh). We meet the Sherwoods as they arrive in New York City from Ohio; Ruth to find work as a writer, and Eileen chasing her dream to become an actress. Taking a less-than-desirable basement-style apartment in Greenwich Village, the girls are soon out in the Big Apple chasing fame and fortune while fighting off potential suitors, and, of course, stopping along the way for a few song and dance numbers.
Richard Quine‘s My Sister Eileen is a dark musical horse; it certainly doesn’t rank alongside the likes of classics like Singin’ in the Rain, and isn’t as widely known as other golden favourites like Kiss Me Kate or Anchors Aweigh, but it’s a quirky and delightful film that makes for perfect Sunday afternoon viewing.
Rounding out the cast is Dick York (the first Darren in Bewitched), as apartment building resident Ted “Wreck” Loomis, the always agreeable Jack Lemmon as publisher Robert “Bob” Baker who has an eye for Ruth, and famed choreographer Bob Fosse as Frank Lippincott, the Soda Fountain manager who tries to woo Eileen.
Based on the 1940 play Wonderful Town, the rights to the score proved too costly, so Columbia Pictures hired Jule Styne and Leo Robin to write an entirely new one. Judy Holliday was originally slated to play the second fiddle character of Ruth but thanks to contract disputes the role was passed on to Garrett, who hadn’t acted in a film since 1949’s On the Town.
Bob Fosse choreographed the film’s dance sequences, including the spectacularly understated Alley Dance, starring himself and Tommy Rall as slimy journalist Chick Clark. The scene is reminiscent of something Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly would have done, and it’s one of those classic scenes that remind you just how wonderful the golden age of movie musicals really was.