1 Rhino MGM Musical Scores

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THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN: Songs: Meredith Willson
Arrangements/Orchestrations: Leo Arnaud, with Alexander Courage, Leo Shuken, Jack Hayes

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Rhino Handmade R 2 72465, TT: ??.??, 28 tracks (stereo)

**** Excellent

Producer: George Feltenstein, Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus, Conductor: Robert Armbruster by Ross Care The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) is based on the musical by Meredith Willson. The Broadway version was the follow-up to Willson’s The Music Man, and was considered something of a letdown after the phenomenal 1957 success of Willson’s first show. Nonetheless Molly Brown became the last of the big MGM musicals, directed by veteran Charles Walters and arranged by some of the surviving members of the studio’s celebrated musical unit. The lengthy film is also a product of the shift in Broadway musical adaptations that came with the end of the studio era and the emergence of what I call the “behemoth” Broadway movie musical adaptation, a genre launched by such films as West Side Story (1961) in which every grace note and fermata of the original score was transferred to film, overloading the movie versions to epic, but often tedious proportions. Amazingly, MGM did not follow this procedure with Molly Brown. As they did with On the Town, Brigadoon, and other adaptations, the studio blithely tossed out much of the Broadway score and produced a movie that actually moves. (The spectacular location shooting is the way Seven Brides for Seven Brothers should have been filmed!) The fact-inspired script is based on the life of Molly Brown, a poor Colorado backwoods girl who got rich and fought her way into wealthy (and snobbish) Denver society. (Her story is also hinted at in James Cameron’s Titanic, the “unsinkable” Molly becoming the determined heroine of one of the doomed ship’s lifeboats). Debbie Reynolds plays Molly, replacing Broadway’s Tammy Grimes, but Harve Presnell was maintained from the Broadway original. Many of Willson’s songs were also dropped, with “I Ain’t Down Yet”

2 and “Belly Up To The Bar, Boys” the main survivors. Reynolds gives her all to these numbers, but also has the annoying habit of half-speaking the opening phrases, which somewhat negates the melodic impact of the two best tunes in the score. Not so with Presnell, a power baritone who can still be heard on the CD reissue of Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Philadelphia Orchestra (and who was recently seen in Fargo). MGM obviously thought Presnell the successor to Nelson Eddy and Howard Keel in the studio’s roster of leading music men. And indeed he could have been if the classic movie musical had not been dying out about the time of Molly Brown. (Presnell’s next film featured Herman’s Hermits and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs!) At any rate, Presnell is given the movie debut of a lifetime as the camera loving examines every virile inch of him in his opening numbers, notably “Colorado My Home”. Willson wrote one new tune for the film, “He’s My Friend,” which, along with “Belly Up,” provide the film’s major production numbers, and some of the last great MGM dance sequences. Rhino includes all the energetic dance music, as well as the film’s many underscore cues, some adapted from the Broadway score. Rhino’s 2000 restoration is a pleasant souvenir of one of the last of the big MGM Silver Age musicals, and the profuse underscoring is an especially appealing reminder of the studio’s brilliant arrangements and orchestral sound.

Ross Care